Paula Minnis is the founder of GAIA Empowered Women, a socially-conscious fashion line helping refugee women rebuild their lives in the U.S. through dignified employment. She lives with her husband, 4-year-old twins, and two stepchildren in Dallas.
Growing up I really wanted to be
A teacher. Early on, I realized the lasting effect an inspiring teacher could have on one’s entire attitude towards learning.
My go-to order at a coffee shop is
I’m on a Matcha Latte kick. It gives me a less jittery energy boost.
I don’t know how I ever lived without
Google Maps and my car’s back-up camera. I have zero sense of direction, and I’m not the greatest driver.
One thing people don’t know about me is
I’m happiest when singing karaoke.
My real life hero is
My husband Todd: he runs 2 businesses, travels often, works tirelessly, and yet is always positive, present and engaged when home with his family. He’s truly an inspiration, and motivates me to be the best version of myself.
What I love about my work is
It’s a privilege to get to know the refugee women and learn about their culture. It’s eye-opening, heart-warming, and humbling. The team of women who work with me to support the business constantly inspire me through their dedication and passion for serving others. And I love our customers!! They have the best hearts, and their support is the reason we’re still here.
The hardest thing about my work is
It’s hard when I feel that we’re not making as much of an impact as we could. There are so many other refugee women in need of employment, but we can only create opportunities for them if we have the business. I put enormous pressure on myself to constantly lead GAIA in a direction of growth.
How I got started with my current career
I began a career in the fashion industry as an apparel buyer right out of college. But after a decade in that industry, I became disenchanted. When I got married and became a stepmom to 2 young kids, I took time off to regroup.
In 2009 I began volunteering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC),
which provides care and resettlement assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. I became a mentor to a Burmese refugee woman, Catherin, and her 2 young children. After enduring over a decade in a refugee camp in Thailand, Catherin faced a new set of challenges upon her arrival to the US…. from learning how to use an ATM to navigating our health care system. Her strength and determination inspired me to do more. When I discovered that Catherin had some basic sewing skills it led to a true “light bulb moment,” and the idea for GAIA was born!
I had been reading about how unlocking a woman’s potential is crucial to the prosperity of a community, and giving women an opportunity to become self-reliant helps cultivate a brighter future for their children. I realized I could pay Catherin 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.
The dumbest thing I did when I was starting out
Not learning to be more succinct in describing GAIA and our story. Keep your story short and sweet, or eyes begin to glaze over.
How do you balance work, family, and friends?
With the exception of date nights with my husband, I rarely go out at night or even meet friends during the week for lunch. Family and work occupy my time, and I’m cool with that.
I read an article in which Randi Zuckerberg described the Entrepreneur’s Dilemma: “Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends. Pick three.” For me, fitness and friends have fallen by the wayside, and that’s okay. I know there will be a season when I can incorporate all five, but with a growing business and growing children, I choose to allocate my resources primarily in those areas. And I definitely require a good night’s sleep to do so!
I used to think success meant
Making it up the career ladder
My current definition of success is
Being part of something bigger than yourself
An example of when I had to push through my fear of taking risks was when
In 2014 I traveled to Morocco with my sister-in-law, where we camped for 5 nights in the middle of the High Atlas mountains. I also traveled alone for a few days at the end of the trip, which was a little scary, but mostly liberating and exhilarating. I now make it a point to regularly go outside of my comfort zone, either through travel or another experience that I would typically find daunting.
I know my work/life balance is out of sync when
If I’ve gone over 2 weeks without exercising, then I know it’s time to squeeze in a yoga class, just to breathe, stretch, and become centered again.
The last time I created something I was proud of was
March 7, 2012, the day my twins Gabriella and Charlie were born.
I struggled with infertility for several years, so their birth was a precious gift.
I wish I could tell my younger self
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
The legacy I hope to leave is
I always go back to the Mother Theresa quote ”We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
My hope is simply to leave a drop or two, and hopefully encourage my kids to do the same.