PaperCity Magazine

July 2015 - Dallas

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JULY | PAGE 21 | 2015 shortcoming was that it lacked a good outdoor space, not only for the children to play, but for Todd — who had grown up spending summers in Kansas at his family farm — to plant a kitchen garden. When Summers showed them their current house near Walnut Hill Lane, with a backyard oasis that includes an organically shaped pool with waterfall, a screened-in porch and — to their astonishment — raised and prepared beds designed for cultivating vegetables and herbs, "we knew it was meant to be," says Paula. G aia's genesis stems from Paula's desire not only to help women in need but to put balance back in her own life. By her mid-30s, she'd already had a successful but stressful career in retail that included stints as a buyer for BCBG and with Ralph Lauren, where she was a liaison between the corporate offices in New York and stores. A later gig with a Dallas- based retail-consulting firm required constant travel and endless strategizing meetings. "The level of stress was out of alignment with what we were doing," says Paula, 40. "We weren't curing cancer; we were selling dresses." When Paula and Todd got married, she became a stepmom to his two kids overnight. It was time to reassess. "I'd lost perspective about what was meaningful and what matters," she says. "So, I quit work, and I took that opportunity to do things I'd never had time to do before. I took piano and tennis lessons, art and ballet. I'd especially always regretted not having the time to volunteer much. Over the years, I'd found myself on committees doing charity work, but there was never really anything connecting me directly to the cause." She found that connection when she began volunteering with the Dallas chapter of the International Rescue Committee, a worldwide organization founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein. IRC provides essential care and resettlement assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. The Dallas chapter opened in 1975. "I became a mentor with a woman named Catherin who had been in a refugee camp in Thailand," says Paula. "She'd been in terrible conditions there, only to arrive here and face a whole new set of challenges. Refugees need help with everything from navigating the healthcare system to things we take for granted, like learning how to use a stove and an ATM." Catherin spoke very little English, so Paula was also helping her learn the language. "One of the vocabulary words we were going over was 'sew,' and Catherin went to her room and brought out a spool of thread. I realized that she knew how to sew," she says. The seed of an idea for Gaia began to sprout. The book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, was also a huge influence on Paula at the time. "I'd been thinking of doing something with IRC, creating some sort of business helping women," she says. "I researched what a living wage was in Dallas, and it's about $15 an hour, or twice the minimum wage," she says. In 2009, she hired Catherin to make napkins from the cloth she'd collected over the years from traveling, and Gaia was born. "The IRC acts as my human resources division, sending women they think are a good fit," she says. Currently, Gaia employs 10 women from countries such as Burma, Congo, Iraq and Iran. Paula has never taken a salary, but three years ago she hired a paid assistant, Lauren Jarrett, a recent USC grad from La Jolla with a major in fashion and business and a desire to give back. The extra help allowed her to focus on her new family, along with growing Gaia. "Lauren has been incredible, working with the women, and it allows me to work on the strategic growth and design, sales and marketing. We moved into a studio/showroom a year ago, and I've been slowly evolving it into a bigger brand with distribution across the country. The goal is to streamline our production and employ more women," she says. Six months ago, with Todd's encouragement and reassurances In the living room, a vintage tree-trunk table that belonged to Todd before the couple married. Rug from Morocco. In the living room, the walnut-sided De La Espada sofa from Portugal is from Jon Tutolo's former store, Haven. The embroidered pillows are made from textiles sourced from photostylist Jimmie Henslee and sewn by women employed through Gaia. Above: In the dining area, a Crate & Barrel Big Sur table is attended by chairs that belonged to Paula's mother. West Elm pendants. Zebra-print cowhide rug. Left: In the garden, a massive alcove holds a table of plants and candles. The outdoor furniture is from In the entry, a West Elm chevron seagrass rug is rugged enough to withstand dog paws when the doorbell rings. Woven huitil, purchased on a trip to Mexico, framed in acrylic. Brass-and- hide vintage bench. CB2 acrylic console. Woven green basket vases from Mecox.

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