Kelly Christine recently spent an afternoon capturing the beautiful designs of GAIA Empowered Women's newest product line. GAIA is an incredible company with a touching vision. All of their products are created by refugee women who have resettled in the Dallas area. Each has a uniquely incredible story that is worth telling. We are honored to be sharing a piece of Paula and GAIA Empowered Women's with you.
Heirloom: Do you have any morning routines that you believe help set you up for success? If so would you mind sharing with us and why?
Paula: My goal is to wake up at least an hour before my 3 year-old twins, which is not an easy feat. But the extra time is invaluable, as it allows me a moment of meditation, to just unscramble my thoughts to smooth out the day before me. Then of course I immediately hop on social media and/or my laptop to catch up on email!
Heirloom: Tell us about GAIA Empowered Women. How and why did you start?
Paula: I started my career as an apparel buyer right out of college, and after a decade of working in that industry, I started to become disenchanted by it. So I took some time off after getting married and becoming a stepmother in 2008, and began volunteering as a Mentor to a Burmese refugee woman, Catherin, and her 2 young children. After enduring over a decade in a refugee camp in Thailand, she then faced an entirely new set of challenges upon her arrival to the US….everything from learning how to use an ATM to navigating our country’s health care system. It’s overwhelming to even those of us born here, imagine how daunting it is for someone in Catherin’s shoes! Her strength and determination really moved me, and inspired me to do more. One day we were studying vocabulary words, and after describing the word “sew”, I discovered that Catherin had some basic sewing skills, and had a true “lightbulb moment.” I had been reading about how unlocking a woman’s potential is crucial to the prosperity of a community as a whole, and how giving women an opportunity to become self reliant through earning a living wage helps cultivate a brighter future for their children. I realized that I could pay her a living wage to sew pretty things with vintage textiles I had collected, utilizing my background in the fashion industry to bring it to market. So in late 2009, GAIA, for Goddess of the Earth, was born, with the ultimate mission of helping refugee women thrive in their new communities.
Heirloom: What touches you most about the stories you hear on a daily basis?
Paula: I’ve been most touched by the resilience of these women. After already surviving against incredible odds prior to coming here, they then have to completely rebuild their lives in a foreign land, with multiple challenges along the way. We've dealt with domestic abuse, alcoholism, illnesses, break-ins, poor living conditions, and exploitation by other employers and apartment managers. These women face it head-on, with strength and faith unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
Heirloom: Tell us a little about you. Who is Paula and what drives and shapes who she is?
Paula: I’m driven by faith and family, and the desire to continuously strive to be a better version of myself. I’m definitely a work in progress! So I’m on a constant quest to enlighten myself, to gain a higher level of understanding and compassion for others. I do this through traveling as often as I can, reading a ton, and connecting with people from all walks of life — all of which continue to shape who I am.
Heirloom: What legacy do you hope the pass on to your children through your work with GAIA? What do you hope they remember most ?
Paula: I think about this a lot, because I really struggle with the whole work/life balance thing, and often feel guilty about taking time away from my kiddos while I try to grow this business.
But I feel strongly that “From those to whom much is given, much is expected,” so my hope is that they grow up with an awareness of need and struggle in the world, and the compassionate desire to use their own gifts and passions to serve others.
Hopefully, they'll look back on their childhood with a busy working mamma, and will recognize the value of meaningful work, and how gratifying and fulfilling it can be to help those that need it most.