Fridays with Flea Style: GAIA Empowered Women
Meet our long-time friend and — fun fact! — former officemate Paula Minnis. Paula and her company, GAIA Empowered Women, have been part of the Flea Style family from the get-go. They’ll be at our Dallas show once again this fall, and if you’ve never seen GAIA’s gorgeous handmade accessories, you are in for a treat!
Paula founded GAIA in 2009 after mentoring a Burmese refugee woman. The line started with cloth napkins and evolved from there. Forty Five Ten and Wisteria in Dallas carry the goods. They’ve been on Goop as well. Now Paula is focused on growing the e-commerce side of the business — all with the goal of helping refugee women become self-sufficient and flourish in their new homes by providing dignified, sustainable employment that pays a living wage.
Here she tells us more about starting a business, the challenges of growth and how often she eats dessert.
What’s behind the name GAIA? Since I created a business with the mission of empowering women, I decided to Google goddess names. I landed on GAIA, from Greek mythology, which means “goddess of the Earth” or “Earth mother.” Given our focus on living lightly on the Earth, this seemed the most fitting. Even though I’ve had to explain its pronunciation about a million times! (Rhymes with papaya, FYI.)
How did you get into the design biz? My background is in the fashion industry as a buyer, merchandiser and consultant. I’ve actually never worked for anyone else as a designer before — I just design what I like, what the women are capable of making and what fits within our brand aesthetic. I’m also fortunate to have a team of fellow fashion lovers who each have a great eye and taste level!
What’s your history with Flea Style? The first Dallas Flea is where GAIA made it’s official debut! I launched the brand in 2009, and a mutual friend suggested I meet Brittany, the founder. I set up a booth at the December show, and the rest is history. Love seeing how far we’ve both come; I’m in awe of everything Brittany has accomplished!
What’s a typical workday like?
Well, I work “mommy hours” so my days are pretty erratic. One of my goals has been to establish more of a set schedule, which helps both with my productivity and my sanity. I typically wake up at 6 a.m. to get a little work done before the kiddos wake up. After I drop my twins off at preschool at 8 a.m., I usually grab a green juice from The GEM in Dallas, then head to the office.
My daily to-do list includes everything from the fun stuff — textile sourcing, product development, sales, marketing, social media and strategic planning — to the not-so-fun-stuff: invoicing, budgeting and bill paying. I also consider myself the “ship-steerer” and “facilitator” of the business. I have an extraordinary team, and they do an awesome job of managing production, quality control, order fulfillment and more. I’m there to make sure we’re headed in the right direction, with a focus on our overall strategic direction, and to ensure the team has enough resources to do their jobs effectively, efficiently and joyfully.
I try to pick up the twins from school as often as possible, and also when we have my step-kids every other week. It cuts my workday a bit short, but it’s actually nice to take a little break and focus on 4-year-old and/or teenager stuff.
Then it’s back to work for a few hours again after kids are in bed. I’m usually catching up on email (I try to always reply within 24 hours), working on social media (which is a full-time job within itself!), making edits to our website or working on other various projects. I like to review my schedule and get organized for the following day so I can be off and running the next morning!
Name three people you’d like to see wearing/carrying something from GAIA. Lupita Nyongo, Julia Roberts and Jenna Lyons (the last actually happened!). But I still freak out if I randomly spot someone sporting GAIA when I’m out and about. That’s the most gratifying feeling of all!
Proudest professional moment? Watching our refugee women become naturalized U.S. citizens, followed by seeing GAIA product in the J.Crew presentation during New York Fashion Week last month!
Biggest professional challenge? Working on the business more, as opposed to working in the business. It’s difficult to stay focused on the big picture and the long-term needs of the business, instead of getting too wrapped up in all the day-to-day operations.
Best advice ever received? “Do what you can with what you have where you are” — Teddy Roosevelt
Words of wisdom for aspiring artisans? Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Have a distinct point of view and stay true to it!
Describe your personal style in five words. Two is enough: “boho prep”
Favorite places to shop for your home? Scout, Canton Flea Market, Ikea and local markets during my travels.
Favorite places to shop for your closet? Cabana, Canary, Forty Five Ten, J.Crew, Zara. And, of course, GAIA!
Favorite eats in Dallas? Rise No. 1, Ku Sushi, Mesero and Fernando’s. They’re all within a 5-mile radius of my house and work, but that’s just how life is right now.
Most important non-living possession? My agenda. I’m a Luddite at heart; my calendar and books are all on paper.
Dream travel destination and why? India. I’m drawn to destinations that give you a little sensory overload.
On your playlist currently? Andra Day, Leon Bridges, David Bowie, Bob Marley and the Frozen soundtrack (still).
Best concert ever (musician/band/year) and why? Willie Nelson at a private benefit concert at Southfork Ranch in the late ’90s. I was on the front row, and he gave me a kiss on the cheek and signed my beer can afterward.
Hobbies? I don’t really have any these days! I basically turned my hobbies into a career — volunteering with local refugee women, crafting and trolling for vintage textiles. ☺
Where you relax? At the movies! I’m a film buff; the movie theater is my happy place.
Up with the chickens or burning the midnight oil? Both, these days! But if I had a choice, just burning the midnight oil. Motherhood forced me into becoming a morning person.
Coffee or tea? Coffee with almond milk.
Cookies or cupcakes? Cookies. I eat a chocolate chip every day after lunch.
Dogs or cats? A few of each.
Snapchat or Instagram Stories? Instagram Stories — and barely.
Sunrise or sunset? Sunset.
Pants or dresses? Dresses. One and done.