on orders over $100
GAIA creations are handmade with care by resettled refugee women in Dallas, TX, using vintage, re-purposed, and sustainable materials. Founded by Paula Minnis in 2009, GAIA's mission is to empower marginalized women through employment, encouragement, and dedication to their long-term success in our own local communities. Through a living wage and continued training and development, GAIA's goal is to lead the women to financial independence and self-sufficiency.
\\ Q&A with GAIA's founder Paula Minnis \\
Why did you decide to start Gaia? How did you define the guiding principles of the business?
After working and consulting in the fashion industry for over a decade, I felt a growing desire to combine fashion and business with a sense of purpose. I 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. Her strength and determination really 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 "light bulb moment" (forgive the cliche). I had been reading "Half the Sky" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, 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.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business and at the same time affect social change?
It's definitely not the easiest way to do business, so you should truly have a passion for your endeavor. I love the Steve Jobs' quote, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do." I think any entrepreneur's likelihood of success is greatest if they love what they do.
What has been the most difficult part of running and growing Gaia?
As I said above, this is definitely not the simplest way to do business! Employing women from their home while using vintage & repurposed materials is just not the most efficient and cost-effective method of production. I didn't really have a blue print for this type of business model, so have had to learn as we go. However, it's been said that "there are no shortcuts to any place worth going", and the gratification and fulfillment of meaningful work have definitely made it all worthwhile.
What are some of your favorite moments at Gaia?
One of my favorite moments occurred when Catherin had our family to her home for lunch. We had just finished a delicious Burmese meal, when I looked out onto their patio and saw a live rooster standing there! I asked where it came from, and she answered “from a village nearby” (apartment complex), and that she had purchased two. I asked where the 2nd rooster went, and she answered, “You just ate it!”. The kids were a little shocked at first, then we all thought it was hilarious. Those types of experiences are priceless!
What is the process for designing a new product?
I honestly have never really considered myself a designer! GAIA's product line has essentially been driven by 3 things: the vintage textiles we score, what the refugee women are capable of making, and what our Director of Operations, Lauren, and I personally find attractive and useful. For example, I started with cloth napkins because the sewing is straightforward, and I was personally converting my household away from paper to cloth. Then we've transitioned to zipper pouches, clutches, jewelry, and of course had to do bibs & booties after I had twins 2 years ago! We're definitely working under challenging parameters, in that the women all work from their homes with varying skill levels, and the textiles we use are vintage or repurposed, so we don't have endless amounts of fabric to create a collection. But working within these constraints actually makes the design process more interesting and challenging!
What plans do you have for Gaia for the future?
Since "coming up for air" after having the twins, my goal has been to transform GAIA from a small business run out of my home, into a "big girl brand", with increased distribution across the country. It takes a lot of overhead to support our operations, so we really need to grow our revenue and scale up in order to be sustainable. So far we're off to a great start, with new product lines, monogramming capabilities, a real Lookbook in the works, and the relocation of GAIA HQ from my home into an actual workspace! With all of this, the overarching goal is to provide more opportunities to refugee women in need, so I also plan to focus on enhanced training for the women, to include life skills, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The exposure to different cultures right here in my hometown, trolling for vintage textiles, and brainstorming with the GAIA team.
\\ Paula's Hometown Picks \\
Favorite shops or markets in Dallas?
Forty Five Ten, Cabana, Ten Over Six, Dolly Python, and Canton First Mondays!
Best local eateries?
Mr Mesero, Toulouse, Shinsei, and Parigi
Best place to take kids in Dallas?
Perot Museum & Klyde Warren Park
Summer is almost over, what are you looking forward to this fall?
I’m incredibly excited about an upcoming 2 week trip to Morocco. The first week will be an off-the-grid adventure - a walking safari with nomads in the High Atlas Mountains, followed by a 2nd week of shopping the souks in Marrakech for textiles for GAIA. Major bucket list trip!!
What is your ideal weekend like?
Family dinner out on Friday night (usually something involving margaritas), Saturday afternoon at a museum…or by the pool, weather permitting. Saturday date night with my husband to either see an independent film or watch live music. Sunday morning: twins sleep in so I can read the New York Times while watching “CBS Sunday Morning”. Nothing fancy, just a simple low-key weekend with minimal plans or obligations, and the perfect mix of family time, couple time, and Paula time.