Well before “sustainability” and “socially responsible” became business buzzwords, UT Austin graduate and fashion industry veteran Paula Minnis launched GAIA, a Dallas brand that combined her love of vintage textiles, eco-consciousness, and female mentorship. Over the course of a decade, the design-minded entrepreneur’s brand grew to encompass everything from napkins and pillows to playful handbags, all while empowering women refugees resettled in Dallas through gainful employment.
The cheery brand also became a staple of the Dallas retail scene. GAIA’s beautifully crafted goods and positive ethos filled stores like Forty Five Ten, Madison, and Neiman Marcus, while Minnis’ tale of leaving a career to find joy in another surely inspired many a female entrepreneur. Which is why the news of GAIA’s closure in May of 2019 felt like a particularly painful blow.
In a blog post titled “Project Farewell,” Minnis, who ultimately stepped back to spend more time with family, shared, “Over the years we’ve grown organically and gently, watching in awe as our Artisans have grown as well. And now, as I struggled with what my decision to take a step back would mean for them, I’ve recognized that the time has come where they are actually NOT refugees anymore. They are mothers, wives, artisans, homeowners… and Americans. These women have transformed their lives. The warm cocoon we created at GAIA has served its purpose, and the butterflies are ready to emerge.”
The next iteration of GAIA, however, was derailed in 2020 (a familiar narrative), but the talented women behind the brand continued to find work, donating thousands of face masks and working with thoughtful brands like Dondolo and Le Lion. Now, a new chapter has officially been announced, and the perfect person is filling Minnis’ shoes: Buthayna Matar, a Syrian refugee who joined the GAIA team (and eventually became the artisan trainer) in 2016.
“The time has come to OFFICIALLY pass the GAIA baton to this incredibly talented, inspiring, and deserving woman who will carry GAIA into its next chapter, now to be known as ‘GAIA Mishwar,’” Minnis shared on Instagram on August 2. “The Arabic word ‘Mishwar’ translates to ‘Journey’ in English… it was Buthayna’s idea, and I cannot think of a more apt word to encompass the journey of GAIA, the journey of Buthayna and all the other artisans we employed throughout the years, and the journey of women all over the world.”
After such a challenging year for small, artisan-driven businesses, the return of GAIA’s positivity is a beautiful thing (and will likely lead to the creation of even more beautiful things). Read the full statement below.
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