Back in March, the DFW Style Daily team shopped ’til we dropped at Flea Style Dallas, the cutest flea market we’ve ever seen. At Fair Park between mimosas, we perused the best Texas had to offer in local and handmade. Today, we sit down with the woman behind one of our favorite Flea Style finds: GAIA. We fell hard for the brand’s colorful jewelry, pouches, and handbags at the shopping event and were thrilled to learn about Minnis’ mindful company philosophy. Read on for more on GAIA, founder Paula Minnis, and the female artisans behind these vibrant handmade finds.
Founder Paula Minnis created GAIA after working over a decade in the fashion industry across Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Dallas. A University of Texas at Austin grad, the fashion-savvy Texas native felt a deep connection to a Burmese refugee and mother of two, Catherin, who she was mentoring during her volunteer work with the IRC (International Rescue Committee) a program that helps refugees thrive in America. One woman’s story of struggle and oppression inspired the budding entrepreneur to create a sustainable, socially responsible business in which women could gain transferable skills to create one-of-a-kind pieces for a living wage. Cloth napkins made from vintage fabrics were chosen as the initial product due to Minnis’ love for textiles and commitment to living lightly on the earth and GAIA was born. Meaning “Goddess of the Earth,” the name was chosen to honor all women, from the ones who craft GAIA products to those who purchase or receive them.
Here at DFW Style Daily, we’re all about girl power. We were, after all, founded by a fiercely fashionable female. Minnis created her line GAIA to empower local female refugees through creating handmade accessories and textile items using vintage, artisan-made, and sustainable materials. What began with Catherin soon became a booming business, enabling her and other refugee women to make a living wage, while caring for their children. It all started with Paula’s love for textiles and living lightly on the earth and Catherin creating beautiful handmade cloth napkins.
“When I first started GAIA, I wanted to empower these marginalized women,” she said. “I recognized that refugee population has the greatest need for employment and since then, I stayed more focused on [them]. I realized that my goal is to help these women to rebuild their life in a new country.”
Since 2009, her product line with GAIA has grown with the entrepreneur’s growing family – iPad cases inspired by two tech-savvy step-kids, reversible baby bib + bootie sets inspired by newborn twins in 2012.
After working with Catherin, Minnis started to provide work for other refugee women with diverse abilities coming from different countries. Today, there are seven GAIA refugee women coming from Burma, Iraq, Tunisia, Congo, and Syria. Her biggest goal is the ability to provide women with a new life and a new opportunity to grow. We were thrilled to learn that Paula sees their movement as more than just an activity, but a way to unlock a woman’s true potential, enabling her to cultivate a brighter future for herself, her children, and the community as a whole.
“The biggest achievement is the transformation of the women,” she said. “We recognize the change in women when we first meet them. It’s a transformation from being stoic and nervous to radiant and joyful women. We play a great part in leading them to the new outlook on life.”
Images courtesy of Jennifer Shertzer and GAIA.