Who Made Your Clothes?

 #whomadeyourclothes

#whomadeyourclothes

Have you ever thought about who made your clothes? Not the brand or the company. But the person. The son, the daughter, the husband, the wife, the mother, the father. Have you thought about how much they’re paid for a day’s work or what their lives are like?

Before your clothes make their homes in your closet, they will be handled by farmers, spinners, weavers, dyers, cutters, pattern makers, sewers, designers and more. More than 75 million people work to make our clothes, and 80 percent of them are young women aged 18-35.

Sounds pretty great, right? All those young women getting to work in the glamorous fashion industry? Honestly, that is what I thought before I started working in the business myself. I loved fashion, loved putting outfits together and was a big believer of spending big money on staple pieces, while supplementing my daily looks with cheap, fast fashion from large retailers. However when I was shopping at Forever 21 and H&M, I never once asked myself why my shirt was only $3.90.

The sad reality is that the vast majority of the people who contribute to our clothes' production live in poverty. Many are exploited at the workplace, subjected to verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Their pay is beyond low and most of these hard workers are unable to afford life’s basic necessities, even when working exhaustingly long, inhumane hours.

April 23-29 is Fashion Revolution Week: seven days dedicated to educating the greater population of not only where their clothes were produced, but by whom. 

The week and movement is the baby of Fashion Revolution, a charity founded in England. Their message is simple: we love fashion, but we don’t want our clothes to come at the cost of people or our planet.

Same, Fashion Revolution, same.

Fashion Revolution was born following the April 24, 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured. Five garment factories who were manufacturing clothing for global brands were housed in the Rana Plaza, and the majority of the victims were young women.

 Pictured here are some of the beautiful woman located in Bangalore, India who sewed our Priya, Vimala and Lavayna skirts.

Pictured here are some of the beautiful woman located in Bangalore, India who sewed our Priya, Vimala and Lavayna skirts.

As designers and producers of clothes, we will not allow that to happen. If you want to know who made your clothes, just ask us. We are beyond happy to tell you that Manjulah sewed your kimono and Rosamund cut the fabric for your kimono along with the lining of your maxi skirt. Lamisi stitched your dress and Lydia crafted your clutch. These are not just names, they are women who were paid, fair livable wages so that they can provide for their families and live full, rich lives. 

While I was in Panama City, I had the pleasure of meeting with a dynamic group of women committed to educating Panamanians about the Fashion Revolution. These women were beauty pageant contestants, shop owners, designers, sustainable fashion professors, social media influencers and general fashion lovers. One of the women with whom we met said, “I love playing dress-up. But what we forget is that we can enjoy without destroying.” And I thought, yes. It’s that simple. We do not have to change who we are and what we love, but we can be more conscientious and ethical. If you’re like us you love fashion, but love our planet and our people more. So what do we do?

Massive changes need to happen. There needs to be an overhaul of the fashion industry’s business model. We are a consumer driven society where more sales means a higher profit. In the last 3 decades, fast fashion has dominated the industry. Production and scale are higher and faster than ever before. For the past ten years, apparel companies have seen an increase in labor, raw material and energy costs, however, the price of clothing for the consumer is cheaper than ever before. This model doesn’t work now and it is absolutely not sustainable. 

I am ashamed to say that in high school, I refused to repeat the same outfit twice. I would mix and match an article of clothing as much as I could, then retire it. This disposable fashion culture contributes to a multitude of human rights abuses and environmental degradation.

The standard production of our clothes has a devastating environmental impact. The chemicals used to grow, dye, wash and treat our clothes ends up polluting our rivers and oceans. A huge amount of water is used to produce garments through growing cotton and through wet processing, such as dyeing and laundering. The clothing industry accounts for upwards of 3 percent of the global production of CO2 emissions, according to The Carbon Trust. Not to mention, once we get the clothes, we tend to throw them out. 150 billion items of clothing are delivered out of factories annually yet Americans alone throw away approximately 14 million tons of garments each year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 84% of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator.

Not only are we killing our planet, we are killing our people. Basic health and safety measures do not exist for most of the people working in fashion’s supply chains. The minimum wage in most garment-producing countries is rarely enough for workers to live on.

Meanwhile mass manufacturing is bankrupting artisanal and heritage craft industries, with traditional skills being lost to our history books. We risk losing ancient techniques that have been passed down through generations in communities around the world. By Grace is specifically combating this in Panama through the preservation of the ancient Cutarras, in India through the use of silk saris, on Rosebud and in Ghana through the instruction of younger generations in beading and sewing.

 Pictured here are a few of the visionary fashionistas with whom I met to discuss the Fashion Revolution in Panama City, Panama.

Pictured here are a few of the visionary fashionistas with whom I met to discuss the Fashion Revolution in Panama City, Panama.

Education is key. The biggest way we can make a difference in this epidemic of fast fashion is through inspiring a paradigm shift. We must educate people about the problems in the fashion industry and start to demand change from fashion producers. As we sat around talking revolution in Panama, we started to discuss some of the major issues. As a society, we buy more clothes than we used to and spend less on them. 100 years ago we spent more than half our money on food and clothes, today we spend less than one-fifth. We purchase 400% more clothing today than we did just 20 years ago. Every time we buy something that costs less than we think it should, we are perpetuating the problem.

We are addicted to more and more and fast and faster. We have to rise above that addiction. I love a good sale. There was seriously nothing I loved more than 70 percent off and I grew up being praised for sniffing out the best bargains. But we need to acknowledge that our “cheap bargains” have a much higher cost, for those who made them and for our planet. We need to buy less in quantity and make smarter decisions when it comes to where we buy our clothes. The State of Fashion 2017 report from McKinsey and Business of Fashion stated, “If 2016 was a year of opposing forces clashing, the push for sustainability was one common thread across the industry. Sustainability is becoming an important new driver of consumers’ purchasing decisions. In emerging markets, for example, more than 65 percent of consumers actively seek out sustainable fashion.” It isn’t about cutting off your love of fashion, it’s about knowing more about where your clothes come from. Who made your clothes? Don’t be afraid to ask. You are entitled to an honest answer.

I love what Fashion Revolution says on their website:

We are campaigning for a more accountable industry, where dignity of toil and a safe environment are a standard and not an exception.

As citizens and consumers — our questions, our voices, our shopping habits can have the power to help change things for the better. We are the driver of trends. Every time we buy something, we’re voting with our wallet. When we speak, brands and governments listen.

By Grace is on board with that and we hope you are too.

Until next time,

Kelsey

Bought Beautifully

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Exciting news! By Grace has partnered with the incredible Bought Beautifully team to bring our products, and more importantly the stories of the incredible women with whom we work, to a larger audience.

Bought Beautifully is a retail platform that operates both physical locations and an online shop. The team curates an impressive collection of high quality goods from around the world—home decor, jewelry, bags, scarves and more. Each product is produced ethically by a company with a mission rooted in love, dignity and possibility. They currently have 36 partners who are operating within 16 countries, and are committed to not only selling products, but to telling the stories of the companies and individuals with whom they invest. 

Similar to By Grace, BB is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in an effort to focus their business practices on honoring God and people rather than profit. Their mission is “to inspire interactions that enrich lives, restore hope and empower people while shining God’s love.”

If we spend our money in ways that align with our faith the impact would be immeasurable.
— Bought Beautifully

Bought Beautifully “partners with ministries, organizations, artists, entrepreneurs and individuals who are living out God’s call to LOVE,” and we are so honored to be included as one of those partners!

On their site, BB invites their customers to buy beautifully so as to:

  • Rescue & rehabilitate victims of human trafficking;
  • Show orphans and widows that they have value and possess gifts and talents by which they can flourish;
  • Create sustainable economic opportunity for artisan entrepreneurs in developing countries;
  • Powerfully steward the resources God has given you to bring Him glory through meeting the needs of others;
  • Play a critical role in breaking the cycle of generational poverty around the world.

In 2016 alone, Bought Beautifully provided 4,200 days of life-giving employment through the purchase and sale of products from their partner organizations. 

By teaming up with BB, our first goal is to grow the By Grace Rosebud workshop. BB’s founder and fearless leader, Emily, is based in Wyoming and shares our heart for those living on Native American Reservations. As we consistently sell through our hand made jewelry, we are able to offer stability and financial peace to the eight women we employ at By Grace Rosebud. By providing this through employment and dignifying work instead of donations or charity, we are empowering these women. We are providing them with the resources and opportunities to discover their own value.

Our products will be live soon, but don't let that stop you from checking out the beautiful products and good work of Bought Beautifully today!

Until next time,

Kelsey and Emily

"Because of love."

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Nayleen Quintero, my host and partner in Panama City, is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. At only 30 years old, she has forged her own path and accomplished everything she’s put her mind to. I’m sure the majority of my blogs about Panama will be filled with her wisdoms and anecdotes, but let this blog suffice as a brief glimpse into the beautiful creature she is.

 Our last night in Las Tablas we went out with Nay's precious mama and daughter.

Our last night in Las Tablas we went out with Nay's precious mama and daughter.

Nay was born and raised in Las Tablas, Los Santos, Panama, constantly surrounded and nurtured by the Panamanian folklore. The oldest of three, she has both a younger brother and sister, along with amazing parents. Family is everything to Nay. Her mom does administrative and accounting work at the local hospital, her father is a musician. Perhaps their juxtaposed skill sets are what led Nay to being both a shrewd, focused businesswoman and a creative. 

When she was 19 years old, Nay left her beloved family to pursue her path as a career woman in Panama City. Unfortunately, Las Tablas does not offer many opportunities for education or economic development, so the majority of young people leave to work in larger cities. Staying at an aunt’s house for two years, Nay studied and worked hard. She finally got a job that paid enough for her to move into a small apartment in the city with three other roommates. Her first job was in the distribution of women’s beauty products. It was here that Nay decided she needed to learn English. In order to grow with the company, she had to be able to communicate effectively in both English and Spanish. 

 Nayleen is an incredible singer, both when she's bathing Zara Helena and entertaining our guests at the Azuero Collection cocktail party!

Nayleen is an incredible singer, both when she's bathing Zara Helena and entertaining our guests at the Azuero Collection cocktail party!

It is customary for the young professionals of Panama to study abroad for a year or two to learn another language. There is an understanding that classes aren’t enough, that cultural immersion is necessary to truly learn a foreign language. (I wish this was more encouraged in the youth of the US, because my Spanish is embarrassing here in Panama!) So Nay headed to Michigan to study and grow.

Upon her return to Panama with her new English skills, she was promoted. She was then offered a position at Felipe Motta, one of the main wine, spirits and luxury food distributors in Panama. She has now been with the company for five years, and currently oversees a team of brand managers and heads all the marketing operations. 

While elevating herself personally and professionally, Nay also married the love of her life Albert. She is now the proud mama of 2-year-old Zara Helena and is seven months pregnant with her son Ignacio. She prioritizes family time, and I appreciated that at the end of our workdays she would tell me “I go take care of my family now.” She is the quintessential boss babe. 

If you follow our social media, you know that Nay’s day job and family life is just the tip of the iceberg. She is the Founder and CEO of Sante Cutarras, our partner organization. Nay has a clear vision that Sante Cutarras will be internationally recognized as the brand from Panama that produces ethically, promotes local culture and rescues the arts that are so dear to the Panamanian people. Her love for tradition and her heritage came at a young age. She loved dressing in Pollera and singing the traditional songs of Panama alongside her father. Sante is an extension of her heart to preserve an identity and tradition she cherishes, in addition to supporting the local economy of her hometown.

 Nay was beyond excited to dress me in the  Panamanian Pollera, as the tradition is very dear to her heart.

Nay was beyond excited to dress me in the  Panamanian Pollera, as the tradition is very dear to her heart.

While I was staying at her mother’s house in Las Tablas, Nay dressed me in the traditional Pollera. The amount of flowers that were in my hair were extremely heavy, but I didn’t say anything at first. About an hour into wearing the garment she looked over and asked, “You feel that it’s too heavy?” 

“Yeah,” I told her, “how do you wear it for 8-9 hours a time?” 

“Because of love.”

In that moment, I saw the core of Nayleen Quintero. Everything she does is led by love. Ultimately that is what makes her an incredible mother, a successful businesswoman and a tenacious entrepreneur/ small business owner. I am in awe and am so excited to see what comes from working alongside her.

 

Until next time,

Kelsey 

The OG Cutarras

One of the first things I noticed about Panama is that the people are wholeheartedly committed to their traditions. Initially it seemed odd that in a country who uses the USD as their official currency and remains a pivotal hub for global trade, there would be such a strong attachment to heritage and history. But now I see that the attempted colonizations and US occupation is precisely why the locals are so attached to what makes them distinctly Panamanian. There's is a beautiful culture that is unique to their stories and their people.

The Cutarras, of which we are bringing a variation to the USA with our new Azuero Collection, are a huge part of the cultural landscape of Panama. A Cutarra is a handmade sandal woven by local artisans, made of 100% leather and is viewed as the traditional shoe of Panama.

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There’s no clear documentation on how the Cutarras came to be. Oral traditions tell us that Cutarras first appeared in Panama with the arrival of the Spaniards, who are responsible for introducing cattle into the lands of the Azuero Peninsula. The farmers of that time, all from the local indigenous tribes probably, used the abundance of leather to make a comfortable and durable shoe that would endure the difficult country work. It is believed that the word "cutarra" was inspired by an indigenous chieftain named Antataura (whose other name was Cutatara or Cutara).

With the passing of centuries, the Cutarras changed per people’s needs and the availability of materials. However, the overall design remained unaltered. Traditional Cutarras are still made of 100% raw beef leather and mostly used by men. The Cutarras are part of the traditional costume worn by Panamanian men.

One of our goals when we create a line for By Grace is to incorporate the local history, culture and traditions into our designs. To do so, we complete extensive cultural research. My host in Panama City, insisted that my first cultural experience needed to be a visit to Señor Tacho.

Señor Tacho is the only artisan in Panama City who weaves the old-fashioned, original Cutarras on the foot. Speaking no Spanish I wasn’t entirely sure how this mission was going to work out, but my Uber (yes they have Uber in Panama) dropped me off in the middle of Casco Viejo and I ventured off asking every vendor and street wanderer where to find the renowned Señor Tacho. Soon I found him sitting in the middle of a small market. Through an intense game of charades and with a little help from Google Translate, I asked him to craft me a pair of my very own Cutarras. He walked toward one vendor and came back holding several cut pieces of leather that would be used for the upper part of the shoes. Then he departed again coming back with a bigger piece of stiff leather that would be cut into the sole of the shoe.

In the alley behind the market, I sat on a stool and he sat on a bench. It took him all of 10 minutes to trace my foot, cut out the shape, trim the soles to be the same size and cut holes into the sides to weave the upper leather. 

In under a half hour, Señor Tacho had crafted me my very own Cutarras! Watch the timelapse video to see how cool his weaving technique is.

The shoes we’re launching will have a more modern design and much nicer leather (Señor Tacho’s Cutarras are made of the traditional raw leather and they smell terrible!), but I will forever remember his skill and his passion in the creation of these ancient sandals. If you’re ever in Panama City, ask for Señor Tacho to build you your very own pair!

Until next time,

Kelsey

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Ghana Campus Visit

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I sat there for almost five hours. A hot breeze would occasionally brush my cheek, reminding me that I was in Africa on January 10. Man, I was grateful to be here. Just one week ago I was sitting in my car, shivering as I stared at the -1 on my dashboard. Halfway across the world, things were completely different.

In more ways than one.

  • I watched a woman walk with a large blue bucket of water on her head, balancing what must have been a crushing amount of weight. As she walked past me on the dirty road, I wondered – how far away did she live? How long would she have to carry that? I realized that every morning, I just wake up and turn on the faucet. I knew this; I grew up here. But somewhere in between the familiarity of comfort – I had just forgotten. Forgotten what it was really like to live here.
  • I left my phone at home; it was useless to me out here. Wifi was rare, and our hotel didn't even have access. There wasn't Google maps, or even street signs for that matter, so you actually had to pay attention and figure out where you were going. Driving four, eight hours was always a risk and a danger – were we going to end up in the right place? At one point I felt so OTG I thought, "I could just disappear and no one would ever know where to find me."
  • Certificates are a big deal here – you know, like the kind you got in middle school for getting an "A" or for passing the grade. Sherri, our relationship manager and resident missionary in Tamale (she visits with our By Grace girls regularly!), said Ghanians will give them to her whenever she speaks at an event or leads a group in any capacity. They are just cheap pieces of paper, but they have meaning here – as in, when you apply for a job, this can actually help you make more money. She said that they are SUCH a big deal in Ghana because the threat of slipping into obscurity is so tangible. If you are not someone here, you are nobody.

Achievement is somewhat difficult to measure in Ghana. One of the most beautiful parts of this culture, in my opinion, is their attitude towards it.

I heard a story about this man who got up to sing in church. He was entirely off-key and it sounded absolutely terrible, but he gave all of his heart and soul into this song. When he sat down, everyone crowded around him and said, "You tried!" with great enthusiasm and admiration. And what I learned is this: this culture values the effort, not the result. They don't care whether you crash and burn, they care whether you gave it your all. That, I thought, was pretty cool. So what if you failed! "You tried!" And that's a commendable thing.

There's a quote from Growing Deep in God that says, "The problem with the Western church is that they are so focused on commitment instead of surrender. Commitment is about DOING, surrender is about BEING."

And I remembered what Sherri told me earlier on that day, as we were sitting in a compound visiting a friend. She said, "People think that you have to be an excellent speaker or teacher, but really, 90 percent of it is just being here." As we went from one family to the other, sitting and sitting and sitting, I started to realize that just BEING here spoke more than anything I could DO. Just being here told them I cared about them. That I loved them. I didn't have to say anything great or quote a Bible verse or teach a lesson – I just needed to be here.

But as I sat there for four hours, on a plastic chair in a courtyard surrounded by small family living spaces – I was really overwhelmed with how much By Grace had changed.

I talked with girl after girl after girl, and learned each of their stories. They spoke of how their parents were petty farmers and traders, unable to afford training for them. They spoke of how they wanted to create a better life for their children (some were in their thirties). They spoke of how they were so thankful for this gift they had been given, that they prayed, "God would bless the person who did this for me." If you are reading this, and you're a donor or customer – that's YOU they are praying for.

As we were driving to our building – this incredible new building that we were opening up – I thought of where we would be in three years. And the truth is I really have no idea. But as we dedicated that space, and the girls were laughing, playing and eating lunch, I knew that something special was going on here, and that God has a plan for each one of their lives. And how cool is it that we get to play a part in that.

This trip to Africa made me thankful for small things like coffee and Google maps and RX Bars, but also thankful for big things, life things, like this journey of By Grace and how far we have come. And more than that – I had a strong sense that we are just beginning. I'm so excited for what's to come.

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Until next time,

Emily

"If I can sew well, I can get money to support my family."

  Fatima is an apprentice at By Grace Ghana. She's shown here with her best friend, also an apprentice.

Fatima is an apprentice at By Grace Ghana. She's shown here with her best friend, also an apprentice.

She was shy at first, when I first met her. By the end of my stay, she’d come running down the hot, sandy hill meet me, throwing her arms around me in a huge hug.

I’d seen her picture, reviewed her application. No longer a face in my Gmail inbox, she was real – a real person with dreams and a family and a super adorable personality. She was so beautiful; her eyes were so kind.

Her cheeks were marked with two slash marks, characteristic of rural tribes. Just now, in 2017, they started to outlaw this practice of marring the faces of their babies.

Why did she apply for this training with By Grace? "If I can sew well,” she said, “I can get money to support my family."

I learned that the parents of many of these girls, including Fatima, were petty traders. They couldn’t afford to pay for their daughters to learn a trade like sewing. Fatima used to have to sell porridge to make money. Now, she was learning a dignified profession. Thanks to the gift of a By Grace donor.

Some small snippets of the interview with her are below:

What is your favorite part about living in Tamale?

So far I like it because I've found work - I came here because of the opportunity. 

What's your favorite memory with your family?

I enjoyed my sister's wedding. When she got married, I was very happy!

What is your favorite subject to study in school?

I like math. When they taught me this, I could calculate well.

What was your first job? 

I sold porridge. 

Why did you first want to learn how to sew?

I want to use it to help in the future.  This work will help me make money and sew my family's things.

Do you have a role model?

My mom inspires me. She helped me a lot and gave good advice.

What's your favorite proverb?

In Dagbani, it means, "If a town is far, there is another town that is farther." To me, this means that if you know something, someone knows more. 

What would you like to say to the person that paid for your apprenticeship?

“God bless that person.”

Started under a tree, now we're here - A look inside our Ghana campus

  Under the mango tree where it all began in January of 2015.

Under the mango tree where it all began in January of 2015.

It's true. Three years ago, our very first workshop took place underneath a mango tree. 

In January of 2018, we had a building dedication for the By Grace Ghana campus. Our class of 2018 was there to celebrate this new space as our official workshop.

Thank you to everyone who made this dream possible!

It's just the beginning.

  Dedication of the new building. We presented the girls with certificates to mark their one-year of training, had prayer and devotional and shared a meal with the women. 

Dedication of the new building. We presented the girls with certificates to mark their one-year of training, had prayer and devotional and shared a meal with the women. 

"Her House" on the Rosebud Reservation

  Co-founder Emily outside of "Her House" with the women of the Rosebud Reservation

Co-founder Emily outside of "Her House" with the women of the Rosebud Reservation

We work with women recovering from abusive situations on the Rosebud Reservation. The number one reason women return to their abusers is because of financial dependence. As part of the recovery process, we partner with the local women's shelter to provide women with training and payment in exchange for beaded products. 

By Grace works in a two-room area in a renovated home called "Her House." This is located next to the women's shelter. This provides a space for the women to work that is safe and clean. While they are beading, the women are able to form relationships and friendships. 

Abuse on the reservation is rampant. Below are some shocking statistics of the current situation:

  • 1 in 3 report rape
  • 80% unemployment

You can read more about the situation in this article For Native Americans Facing Sexual Assault, Justice Feels Out Of Reach, published by NPR.

"Her House" is a great space - we are so thankful for it! There are a couple of items that need repairing. These include - painting, new lighting, new workspaces and new organizational equipment. These women have been through so much, we want this to be a beautiful retreat for them. Because of the state of poverty here, their access to items (there's no Target in sight) is very limited. 

 Collaborating with the women of the Rosebud Reservation on the By Grace line in the space of "Her House."

Collaborating with the women of the Rosebud Reservation on the By Grace line in the space of "Her House."

 By Grace and "Her House" are working to end violence against women. This is the sign on the entrance of the door. 

By Grace and "Her House" are working to end violence against women. This is the sign on the entrance of the door. 

 Director of the women's shelter, Janet, says she's "little but I'm loud." She has dedicated her life to fighting for women's rights and By Grace is honored to partner with her and her staff Debbie and Cheryl. 

Director of the women's shelter, Janet, says she's "little but I'm loud." She has dedicated her life to fighting for women's rights and By Grace is honored to partner with her and her staff Debbie and Cheryl. 

 We have hope - we are changing the world, one woman at a time.

We have hope - we are changing the world, one woman at a time.

Five-oh-one See Three

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So you wanna start a nonprofit? Don’t do it. Just kidding. Kind of. Starting a non-profit will be one of the most trying, fulfilling, motivating, overwhelming, exhausting and beautiful things you will ever undertake. Proceed with caution, curiosity and, above all, tenacity.

The first step is to research, research, research. Develop a very clear picture of what you plan on doing and why you are going to do it. It is imperative to have a deep and powerful “why” because that will drive you and your donors. So, ask yourself: Is there a need for your nonprofit? Why does your mission differ from that of companies that are already successfully operating? If you simply want to make a difference, join in the efforts of successful companies. Donate, volunteer, work for them. But if you have a revolutionary idea that will truly make a difference, differentiate your mission and your intended execution from what already exists.

The next element to consider is how you’re going to pay for your endeavor. You will need start-up funding, but also operational finances as you continue to work day in and day out.

The third step is to figure out who is going to lead you to your success. Yes, great companies have been built in garages, but very few have been started by one individual operating as an island. Who is on your team? Who is your co-founder? Who will run operations? Do you need to hire initial employees? Perhaps even more important than who you hire is the creation of your board. Developing a diverse board that you trust will be the keystone of your continued success.

Figure out what your exact mission and vision are. Your mission statement essentially defines your nonprofit’s objectives and your specific path or method to achieving those. Your vision statement explains where you see the company in the future. This is the creative and defining step for you. Different from establishing your initial goals, putting pen to paper and writing out your identity is the beginning of your branding, marketing, and ultimately, the reason that your team will come to work every day.

The next few steps aren’t as glamorous, but are completely necessary. You need to incorporate your business at the state level. This includes registering the intended name of your nonprofit corporation and filing your Articles of Incorporation. Then you’ll need to prepare and adopt several documents and defining procedures—bylaws, a conflict of interest policy and compensation policies to name a few.

Filing for that Federal Exemption is what’s going to make you a viable option for donors, but it’s also tedious. Many companies hire an attorney for assistance, but you can also find and fill out all the forms online. There are many different forms, so make sure you research which one is right for you. By Grace filled out the 1023. I did it myself and it took me three months of careful research, rewrites and asking attorneys I trusted within my inner network. It could take a couple weeks to several months to receive your determination letter. Even after my submission, I still had the IRS reach out for more information. They aren’t just handing out tax-exempt statuses, so this is fairly common.

Filing for tax-exempt recognition at the state and local levels—which you can only do after the IRS issues your "Determination Letter" of your organization's tax-exempt status—is your next step.

Once you are officially tax-exempt on all levels, the real work and the real impact begins. Keep in mind there’s lots of paperwork and responsibility that comes with the exemption. Track your tax withholdings, file your annual reports with your state, and file Form 990s information return with the IRS. Also, hold regular board meetings and communicate effectively and frequently with your donors. But that’s all for another blog.

Have questions on starting your own 501(c)(3)? Email kelseycarlstedt@bygracedesigns.org, because we love helping aspiring entrepreneurs!

Until next time,

Kelsey

Razzles, Rushmore and Radical Change

Recently I met with a potential donor whom I've known for a few months now. When we sat down the first thing he said was, "You're not going to make any money until people know who you are." Confused, I asked him to elaborate. He told me that in person I was full of passion and fire for By Grace, but on the website you couldn't see who Emily and I truly were. Were we trustworthy? Were we relentless in the pursuit of our dreams? Were we even real people?

Donors are super skeptical about where their money is going, and there has to be a trust that the funds given will be allocated as the foundation advertises they will be. So, if you want to see our financials-just ask! But that's too boring for a blog, and we do think it's important that you know a little bit about who we are. So to start, I'm going to let you in on a bit of who Emily and I are together. We've been the best of friends since eighth grade, when I had to pick someone to work Office Aide with me. (We were nerds and this was an actual honor to be selected for this elective class period.) We were obsessed with 13 Going on 30, which means we ate a lot of Razzles even though they are disgusting. When everyone else was going out on Friday nights in high school, we played badminton in my backyard. We have traveled the world with each other, starting with Mt. Rushmore in high school and most recently visiting the Taj Mahal. I've never fought with someone more or loved someone harder. 

We are pretty terrible at taking serious pictures because we both have the same "good side." (See below for some epic proof.) We wear the same size in all clothes and shoes, which was great when we lived close to one another, but now we just buy duplicates of whatever item we see the other wearing. We're both obsessed with New York City, hazelnut coffee (Emily has me completely addicted) and listening to strangers' stories. I know that none of this conveys our heart for women and that we are committed to radically changing the lives of our seamstresses, but maybe if you start to know us as the real people we are, you'll start to trust us as friends.

Until next time,

Kelsey 

PS Please excuse the fuzzy photos below. We've been besties since the dark ages when you had to bring an actual camera with you to get a photo and we didn't post everything on IG.

Panama, Here We Come

Exciting news! By Grace has been accepted into the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Reverse Exchange Program! Mid April, we will be heading down to Panama to partner with Santé Cutarras, an amazing company founded by our newest partner and muse, Nayleen Quintero. She is a powerhouse of a woman who is currently pregnant with a baby boy, is raising a two-year-old daughter, works a full-time job, all while running Sante because she is a true entrepreneur at heart.

Through innovation, vibrant colors, new materials and collaborations, Santé Cutarras is rescuing the traditional sandal of Panama and the artisans who craft them. Santé provides access for the local artists to a new commerce platform, giving them the opportunity to overcome financial struggles and educational barriers, while providing for themselves and their families.

Santé Cutarras is on a mission to:

·      Innovate the national Cutarra with quality and design. 

·      Rescue and revalue the Cutarras as a symbol of the folklore of Panama.

·      Improve the quality of life of the artisans who carry on this tradition.

·      Prevent the loss of the Cutarras craftsmanship legacy.

By Grace and Santé Cutarras intend to bring By Grace’s master craftsman/ apprentice business model to Panama’s artisan communities. There is abundant talent and a willingness to work. We’ve seen through work on our 5 other campuses that when you educate a person, you offer them the tools necessary to help themselves. By partnering, we are extending Sante’s marketplace into the States, and growing By Grace’s artisan pool.

We first met Nayleen last year when she came to the States and worked alongside By Grace, each company teaching the other their tricks of the trade.

Since our introduction through YLAI, By Grace and Santé Cutarras have drawn many parallels between our endeavors. Our joint efforts will focus on empowerment through education in the craft of making shoes, but also in providing general business knowledge within the local artisan communities in rural areas of Panama City. By Grace will provide a footwear course, resulting in: jobs for master artisans as instructors, new artisans gaining a skill that makes them employable and will aid in bettering the overall quality of the existing product.

Santé Cutarras will then serve as the workshop and production facility for By Grace’s Panama line of women’s accessories. Together our hope is to teach 12-15 women how to sew in 2018, and to consistently employ 10-20 craftspeople in the creation of shoes. In future years, we hope to grow our partnership into multiple villages outside Panama City, with the sandals created being sold both in Central and Northern America.

The first phase of our collaboration is the design and sampling phase in our combined signature collection. Over the next two months, we will finalize the product we hope to sell and select the craftspeople who will complete the order. April 8-21, 2018 Kelsey will travel on By Grace’s behalf to meet with Nayleen to work alongside Sante Cutarras’s employees.

We hope to share this great opportunity with both our Panamanian and US communities. During By Grace’s visit we are planning to visit the US Panama Embassy, talk to the students at Nayleen’s high school in Los Santos about our project, while hopefully motivating them to undertake similar actions in their professional future. We also plan to make several press stops including a radio interview for “The Breakfast Show” at Cool FM 89.3.

Our hope is that this is just the beginning of a very fruitful partnership. Keep your eyes peeled for By Grace + Sante’s signature shoe collection!

Until next time,

Kelsey

Marching for the Daughters, Sisters, Mothers and Wives

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This weekend I participated in my first ever Women’s March. Perhaps this sounds strange, the founder of a non-profit entirely dedicated to empowering women has never attended a protest, rally or march specifically targeted toward providing women with a voice. But for some reason, it never felt necessary. It always seemed I could speak my mind and be heard.

Times have changed though. And maybe not so much the times, as I have changed. I feel like now is the most incredible time to be a woman, but also the most terrifying. We have a responsibility to speak up and out, but also to make sure that what we are saying is not driven by emotion or opportunistic tendencies. We need to band together to fight for what is right and fair, not what we feel is overdue or owed to us. We have an obligation to craft a world that is better and less one sided than the patriarchy in which we’ve grown up. So Saturday morning at 6 AM I rolled out of bed and struggled my way through LA public transit.

When I arrived downtown, my first observation was the quiet. Yes people were talking to one another, but there was no shouting, ranting or hostility in the air. My second observation was that the most diverse group of people showed up—men and women of all ages, races, socioeconomic statuses and sexual orientations. Thirdly, people are really freaking creative with their signage.

The Women’s March LA Foundation put out a statement stating they “recognize that there is no true peace, freedom, or inclusion without equity for all.” Having an impact statement like that helped me understand a bit more why I had shown up. The emotional draw was there for me, but when people asked why I marched, I am embarrassed to say I didn’t have the most articulate of answers.

In case you are curious, the national Women’s March Unity Principles are: “ending violence, protection of reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, workers’ rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, Indigenous people’s rights and environmental justice.” So basically, if you’re human, you are entitled to the same rights as every other human.

The goal of the 2018 march was to encourage people “to use their vote as their voice to build a government that reflects their ideals.”

The Women’s March LA Foundation’s intent was to create “a safe and peaceful space where the important issues of voter turnout, access, restrictions, and intimidation could be addressed leading up to November 6, 2018 and beyond.” And they did just that.

People were exceedingly polite, more “excuse me”s were used that day than in any other public space in which I’ve traversed. People were jovial and joyful. Women and men alike seemed to have purpose, which seemed to dignify the masses. There was an overwhelming sense of calm, as if we were all saying to one another, “it’s going to be ok. Better than ok.”

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I’m not sure if the march will accomplish its goals, but I hope that all the women and men reading this acknowledge:

  • Our votes matter.
  • Our presence matters.
  • We vote for ourselves and for those who cannot.

There was such beauty in our unity. For those of you who marched, I salute you. For those of you who never have, I encourage you to do so. And for those of you who think that all of this is pointless or unnecessary, I respect you and hope that you’ll still buy lots of By Grace and support women in whichever way you see useful.

Until next time,

Kelsey

The Broken Windows Theory

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Written by Bethany Moon, a student at American University studying Justice and Law. Bethany interns with By Grace - Rosebud. 

I sink into my chair as my elbows take their familiar position at my desk. The wind and the bitter snow shake the windows, but that is all they can do. In here, in this warmly lit space, I am untouchable. For this is a space that has intentionally been set apart. The oxygen here is full of peace, full of freedom to dream, full of creativity to express. Most of us have a space like that. Perhaps yours is the coffee shop on the corner; you know, the one with the funky mugs and string lights. Or maybe it’s the nook by the window with the ordinary yet oddly life-giving view. Maybe it’s your kitchen table; full of room to skim an abundance of scattered papers. Or possibly, like me, you have something simple like a desk with a warmly glowing candle. Wherever it is, we all have a space that turns work into a labor of love; that inspires us to create, that welcomes us in and closes the door on the windy world outside.

In one of my Justice courses this past semester, I learned of Wilson and Kelling’s Broken Windows Theory. Essentially, the theory asserts that the environment we live in sends signals. Therefore, if a neighborhood is scattered with litter and rusted cars and broken windows, then it sends a signal that no one cares about it. As a result, people are more likely to partake in crime of all kinds.

  • In 1969 Zimbardo conducted an experiment examining the relationship between physical conditions and social behavior.
  • He set up two automobiles without license plates and with their hoods up: one in Palo Alto, CA and one in the Bronx.
  • The car in the Bronx was vandalized within ten minutes, stripped within twenty-four hours, and then continued to be randomly destroyed (windows smashed, upholstery ripped, etc.).
  • The car in California was untouched for about a week, that is until Zimbardo smashed a part of it with a sledgehammer. After this, strangers started to partake in the destruction, and within a few hours the car had been turned upside down. Because cars are more often abandoned and stolen in the Bronx, the experimental car was destroyed much quicker there; however, the experimental car in Palo Alto, once dented with the sledgehammer, sent the same signal that nobody cared about the car, and people began react to that signal by partaking in its destruction.
  • Building on this experiment and other research of their own, researchers Wilson and Kelling proposed the Broken Windows theory: untended disorder and minor offenses give rise to serious crime and urban decay.
  • In other words, the physical environment sends signals about what is appropriate behavior in that environment. Therefore public drunkenness, panhandling, vandalism, and broken windows all lead to more criminal acts. This inspired new methods of policing such as heightened crackdown on minor offenses like public drunkenness, as well as rapid repair of physical disorder such as graffiti.
  • An example of this is the 1984 New York City Transit Authority’s intensive program to eradicate graffiti. As a result, there was major reduction in all crime on the subways, not just minor crime.
  • Similarly, Prince George’s County, right outside of Washington DC, underwent a Graffiti removal program and experienced the same crime reduction. Another researcher, Kees Keizer, placed an envelope with money in it into a mailbox. When the mailbox was clean, only 13% of strangers stole the money; however, when it was sprayed with graffiti, 27% of strangers stole the money. 
  • What these experiments tell us is that the environment greatly impacts our behavior; whether that be in the context of crime or work. We are constantly taking cues from the environment on what behavior is appropriate

This results of this experiment inspired new methods of policing. Instead of focusing on major crimes, police departments began to crackdown on minor crimes, such as graffiti and public drunkenness, in order to improve physical conditions and alter the signal that nobody cared about these environments. The results were incredibly positive and crime reduced in the cities in which these strategies were implemented. One example of this is the major crime reduction after the New York City Transit Authority scrubbed the graffiti off of the subway trains. 

What these experiments and successful programs tell us is that the environment greatly impacts our behavior; whether that be in the context of crime or work. We take cues from the environment about what others value, and then act based off of that assigned value.

The person working in the dusty basement of an office building, surrounded by coffee stained files and fluorescent lights, is simply not receiving the same message about how both he and his work are valued, as the person working on the sunny fourteenth floor.

The women of the Rosebud Reservation are creative, important, highly valued, capable, talented, beautiful, and powerful. We want a work environment that sends those messages to them. We want them to shut the door on the biting South Dakota wind and sense that the peace they feel in that space will not fade, for with every stitch and every bead they are transforming their futures. Right now they have a few plastic tables, purple walls, and a cracked window.

We are not just renovating a space - we are sending a message of worth and dignity. 
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Rosebud Reservation: The Power of a Bead

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Written by Bethany Moon, sister of co-founder Emily Moon. Bethany is a junior at American University in Washington, D.C., majoring in Justice & Law. Bethany writes of her experience at the first By Grace workshop at the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. 

If you Google Native American reservations, you will find horrific statistics of alcoholism, rape, unemployment, domestic violence, and drug abuse. You will also find research on the gradual loss of the precious Lakota language, the history of assimilation, and the impacts of the cruel containment of a culture that led to its decline. If you have the opportunity to speak with a Lakota woman living on the Rosebud Indian Reservation; however, you will find a moving and beautiful strength. You will find a spirit of survival that has kept not only a tribe but a culture alive. This past weekend, I had the honor of taking a glimpse into that strength, and I am forever changed by the women behind it.

The Lakota are strong, and though every high schooler taking U.S. History learns a chunk of the tragic story of how a free spirited people were trapped into borders, the Lakota have endured far more than they are credited for. They were set up for failure, forced to change everything down to their very names, yet they have persevered. They face struggle today, and no one will deny that, but behind the obvious struggle that the world sees, they wear the hard earned scars of a battle they have bravely fought to maintain their culture. In order to honor the Lakota, one must acknowledge their struggles and issues, but one must also acknowledge their fearless fight against those struggles.

In 2011, Dianne Sawyer filmed a one-hour segment on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a neighbor of the Rosebud Reservation that has the same Sioux roots. The film was meant to raise national awareness of the desolate conditions on the reservations, but the Lakota people rose up with one phrase as a response: “More than that!” Among the obvious issues of unemployment and domestic violence, there is an often unnoticed battle that the Lakota fight today: the correction of the external misperception of Native Americans. One student emphasized this fight when he responded to Sawyer’s documentary, “I know what you probably think of us...we saw the special too. Maybe you saw a picture, or read an article. But we want you to know, we’re more than that...We have so much more than poverty” (Adrienne).

One of the highlights of my trip to the Rosebud was picking Sage with some of the women. Breathtaking wilderness blurred past the car window on the way to the Sage field: rolling hills, creeks carving paths in the landscape, open fields of flowers I did not recognize, the cold wind unveiling itself through the waving branches. Then, a cluster of trash the size of a bathtub passed by the window. One of the women, disheartened, quickly remarked, “Great. That’s what people are going to think of when they think of Native American reservations.” This struck me for two reasons. The first reason, is that this was the moment I realized just how
desperately the Rosebud wants to change the external world’s perception of it. The second reason is that this was also the moment that I realized just how lopsided that external perception is. Sure, there is unsightly trash discarded amidst the beautiful wilderness, but looming beyond that debris is just that: the beautiful wilderness. Why does the world choose to only focus on the blemishes of the Native American reservations, when there is so much good, so much potential and desire to rise above, present alongside those blemishes?

Throughout the weekend, that internal battle surfaced more and more. One woman recounted a time that she was utterly hopeless and homeless. She repeated her mom’s response, “Stop being an Indian. Get up and fight.” There seems to be a felt sense of shame among the Lakota for agreeing to relocate to reservations. Though these women do not view themselves asweak or cowardly, I gathered that they feel those terms pressed on them by the external world. When the mom told this woman to “stop being an Indian”, she was telling her not to be the Indian that the world understands.

Perhaps this fight to correct external perceptions of the Lakota is most obvious in the alteration of their very name. The Lakota are a part of a larger people group known as the “Sioux.” They are called that, however, only because it is the name that the settlers gave them. The name they call themselves is actually, “Sicangu”, but because it was difficult to pronounce, the settlers gave them the name Sioux. I lived in Sioux Falls, SD for eight years, thinking I lived in a town named after a Native American group, but I was ignorant of the fact that it was a name forced on them. The struggle to correct that name is not only a fight to correct the
misconceptions that the Lakota have been characterized by, it is a fight to shape their own identity.

One tragic result of external forces having the power to brand or label the Lakota is that many people outside of the reservations now think Native American culture is a thing of the past; extinct because of the assimilation efforts. The focus on the concerns of the reservations has left the cultural aspects deserted to the corners of the picture that the external world paints. Though Lakota culture has certainly changed since the time that they lived freely among the Plains, they still have a culture that is both present and relevant today. During my brief yet impactful time on the Rosebud Reservation, I got a snapshot of the true Lakota identity; the one that, just like the beautiful wilderness beyond the debris, should be showcased but is too often overlooked.

A closer glimpse into the people of the Rosebud Reservation will expose treasured family photos, hides painted with stories, sweat lodges, elaborate star quilts, cleansing ceremonies with sage, a mother learning Lakota in order to teach it to her daughter, enduring respect for the buffalo and the earth underneath its powerful hooves, symbolism of dragonflies and turtles, and a strong people united by a collective identity. I learned that this is the Lakota, a people not left behind in the past, but of the present. One crucial aspect of the Lakota culture that I experienced more in depth is their artful skill in beadwork; a skill passed down for generations. My sister, Emily, started a social entrepreneurship, called By Grace, in which she hires and encourages the training of women to create beadwork. These are the women, the recent hires and a few Lakota women on staff who run a women’s shelter and have helped this social entrepreneurship to become a reality, that I had the absolute honor of spending the weekend with.

According to Janet, one of the staff members that runs the women’s shelter, these women come to the shelter at the worst part in their lives. They are seriously injured, sometimes with broken bones or severe wounds, and betrayed by those who claimed to love them. Statistics show that one in three women are raped on the Rosebud; however, Janet believes it is actually closer to one in two women (Power 64). By Grace seeks to accomplish two goals: the first is to provide a lifestyle for these women to survive that is not a life of reliance on charity handouts or an abuser; rather, it is a life of dignity through meaningful work. Emily firmly believes that,“Beauty and talent are equally distributed around the world. Access is not.” In other words, these women simply need a platform to showcase their talent and creations. The second goal of By Grace does not just seek to empower these women, but to empower the Lakota people; to join them in their fight against exterior misperceptions; to honor and dignify their way of life and the skill that they have cultivated through that way of life.

As we sat and chatted with these women, Emily slipped her catalog out of her bag. Flipping through the pages, she stopped at one that displayed an elaborate pair of earrings. She turned the catalog around and pointed to Tamie, stating, “Those are your earrings. You made those.” Tamie, with a subtle smile and disbelief in her eyes, replied, “Can I keep that page? I’ve never had my work pictured before.” Tamie is undeniably talented and unbelievably strong, she just needed a platform to show it. In displaying and selling the Rosebud work, Emily trusts that “when people think of Rosebud they will think of quality and beauty.”

I went to the Rosebud Reservation because I firmly believe in the empowerment of women. I went to encourage and speak with these remarkable women, and I incorrectly assumed that I would be the one empowering them. I could never have predicted how empowered I would walk away feeling. In order to fight external misperceptions of the Rosebud Reservation, the world needs to stop banishing Lakota culture to the corners of the frame and stop zooming in on the trash amidst the wilderness. They are a people who have suffered greatly, and suffer still, but have courageously survived great injustices and are seeking to correct current problems. I believe that they are a strong people who are trying to find an honorable way of life amidst the suffering.

In order to magnify that truth to the rest of the world, I believe there is great power that can be found in a small bead; power to offer hope not just for one woman, but for a people.

Don't Fear the Monsters

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As many of you did, I spent this past weekend surrounded by ghosts, witches, ghouls, zombies, and skeletons. But as epic as many of the bloody wounds and prosthetics may have been, the Halloween season did not leave me with nightmares of the monsters under my bed, but rather the monsters in my own head. After an unseemly amount of reflection upon the things that truly scare me, I narrowed it down to a brief list.

I am terrified of…

  1. Running into Mark Cuban and not being able to pitch him on all my brilliant ideas.  Ok... Maybe Shark Tank isn’t your favorite show, but imagine running into Ryan Gosling or Jennifer Aniston or Hilary Clinton and just staring at them while they wait for you to talk? That would be horrifying.  
  2. Being wrongfully incarcerated. Innocent people go to prison every day. What if one day I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time?
  3. Clowns.  Don’t make me elaborate on this one.
  4. Losing the people that I love. Waking up and not being able to call my sisters or my boyfriend or my best friend may be my biggest fear. Yes, death is a part of life and losing those we hold most dear is inevitable, but I still fear the phone call about a car accident or a heart attack or an unanticipated goodbye.
  5. Disappointing others. As much as I would like to say I don’t care what people think about me, I care a lot. I want to make my parents proud, I want to make my boss money, I want to make my clients happy, I want to keep my friends entertained. These are not easy tasks, and I am bound to make mistakes.
  6. Disappointing myself. Maybe the only thing worse than disappointing those I adore, is disappointing myself. Managing expectations is difficult for me, and I am far less forgiving than those that love me.
  7. Not being a good mother. I don’t have children yet, but I hope to one day, and that thought is so overwhelmingly and so incomprehensible that it makes me want to crawl in a hole. I have an amazing mother, one who is strong and kind and loving and fierce and is my absolute best friend. But I worry, what if I can’t do what she did? What if I don’t read to my kid enough or I can’t protect them from bullies at school or I over/under vaccinate them?
  8. Narrow-mindedness. I worry that my perspective will be limited by my beliefs or experiences. I fear that I will not be open to all possibilities, and will limit both others and myself because of my inability to see the big picture.
  9. Not loving deeply enough. Every time I hang up the phone with my family we say, “Loveyoubye.” It’s one word and practically habitual. But there are times the verbiage seems too surface. Love is a complex, dynamic, ever-changing emotion. But it is also a choice. My prayer is that every day I am able to offer those in my most intimate relationships a deep, holistic love, however that is a lofty goal and I often fall short. I am terrified that I will not love those in my life the way they deserve to be loved.
  10. Not living every single day to the fullest. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed and watch Netflix with a pint of Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream, but I have this constant voice in my head saying that something incredible could be happening elsewhere. Even when at work (where I have to go so I can pay my rent and buy groceries) I feel like I should be out doing something bigger and better. This often leads me to not live in the moment. Dreaming about an “ideal” life is not living a perfect life.  

But the longer I pondered these fears, the more I realized that these are (mostly) concurrent with the fears of humanity in general, in one form or another. Fear is an inhibiting factor in so many of our lives, and sitting around worrying about what could be or will be or might/maybe/one day/inevitably happen will only distract us from the goodness, possibility, and success that is within our grasp. I am not going to be a perfect mother, but I will love my children with everything I have to give. One day my loved ones will no longer all be on this earth, but I can love them wholeheartedly now. I will disappoint others many times over, but I will also wow them, fascinate them, and inspire them.  

Fears are naturally occurring, but what if instead of viewing fear as something that cheapens our life, we take it and transform it into fuel to love harder, invest more, learn new things, and take chances? Fear reminds us that we are finite and we are fragile and life is short. But it's a good thing to be reminded of that! We need to remember that we don't have an unlimited amount of time or resources. So some fear is good fear. That fear of loss, fear of missing out? Learn to view it as a reminder to live hard. Live now. Love fully. Don't wait for later.   

By acknowledging the existence of these fears, we bring them into the light of day. We let them serve as motivators rather than inhibitors, because after all, when the sun rises post Halloween, the powered sugar blood is just sticky and the ghosts are merely bed sheets.

Happy Halloween, y'all.

Until next time,

Kelsey

Me Too

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Me Too. Two simple words. You see it in Facebook statuses. You read the Tweets. It’s screenshot on Instagram. What does it mean? It is a way for women to identify that they have been victims of sexual assault or harassment.

Close friends of mine opened up online, and every single one of them shared something I’d never known. These are women I’ve known for years or in some cases decades.

“Me too. I have been catcalled, followed, harassed and intimidated. This has happened in big cities, small towns, workplaces, public spaces, and homes. I have learned ways to become smaller, to take up less space, to become invisible, as if any of that matters, as if it was ever my fault to begin with. When we say, "It happens all the time," we mean it.”

“Me too. I was twelve the first time I was sexually harassed. I've been scared more times than I can count. I've been angry even more times than that. Hell, I've even walked out on a job because of it. Yet still I consider myself lucky to have made it to the age of 24 without being assaulted (though I truly believe that is only true due to the kindness of friends and strangers). It makes me sick and if it doesn't do the same to you, maybe you ought to think on that.”

“It's very difficult to know/admit that I fall into this "me too" category. I reflected on it most of the day. I spent most of my young adult life feeling ashamed, frustrated, guilty, or dirty because the art of manipulation had been done so well by those "charming" young men...it's sad to know that those experience led to more years of heart break, misguided trust, not being able to trust, or truly doubting that someone could love me selflessly. #metoo”

I won’t recount them all, because all you have to do is scroll through your own social media feed to see the horror that is our country, that is our workplaces, that is our “norm.”

I have a weird aversion to Facebook statuses. It’s hard for me to share any portion of my personal life with people that I only vaguely remember from Chem 101 or a sorority mixer. Especially when it’s only a few brief sentences and you can’t share the whole story.

Because sometimes the whole story is complicated. It’s messy. It’s inhibiting. Sometimes the whole story is something that you don’t even think about yourself because it shames you, overwhelms you, and confuses you. Sometimes you still feel like the “whole story” is your fault, that you brought it on yourself, and if you talk about it people will blame you.

My Facebook status should read: Me too. For many reasons, for many occurrences, for simply being a “pretty girl” who has worked in sales, fashion, and in the entertainment industry.

As many of you, unfortunately, I’ve had the catcalls, the constant advances, the butt slaps, and the thigh grabs. One man told me he would “empty [his] bank account to do dirty things to [my] perfect little body.” Another told me that going to bed with him would be the experience of a lifetime, and I’d never be the same after—neither would my career. Yet another man once reached under my skirt and pulled my underwear to the side before I yelped and jumped out of the way. 

Every time words were thrown in my direction or fingers wandered just a little further than reaching for that pen, I would tell myself that this was normal. Men are pigs. What can you do? I’ve never spoken up, never contested what was happening. Part of me thinks that I did this because I’d convinced myself it was my doing. Didn’t I wear skinny jeans so my booty would look perky? Didn’t I wear mascara so that people would compliment my green eyes? It took me years to realize that this kind of victim mentality is normal, but not ok. No matter what you wear or how you speak, you deserve to be treated with respect. I like attention, but you have to differentiate between someone who is flirting and someone who is harassing you.

When I first moved to LA, I auditioned for a web series, and, much to my surprise, booked it. I was overjoyed! An actual series regular role! Yeah it wasn’t for cable, but people were going to get to see me act! I showed up on set, and was immediately given a lot of attention from the producer, who also happened to be the fight choreographer. I thought this was a good sign—I’d never been on a “real” LA set, and was a little overwhelmed by the lights and cameras and amount of crew members. Yet, amongst the hustle this man made sure I was the center of attention. Wow, I thought. This is what it’s like to be the “talent.” He reworked every fight scene with me over one hundred times. I was bruised, I was bleeding, but I was alive. As the week went on, this producer’s hands got more comfortable with my body. But he was the fight choreographer, so I brushed it off. When we wrapped the first episode, he invited me out for drinks with the cast and crew. I felt like I had made it. I was doing what I loved and cool enough to go out for drinks with producers. My naiveté was a result of my newness to LA, but also my inherent belief that people are good and they actually mean what they say.

When I showed up to the bar, it was just the two of us. I thought I’d gotten the time wrong, but the story was that everyone else had cancelled. Thirty or so people had had something come up. Weird, right? However, I was already there and he was buying, so I had a drink. He invited me back to his place for a nightcap. He said a couple other producers and directors would be meeting us there. Ever the cliche, I wanted desperately to meet the people who could put me on screen. So I went to his house. To no one’s surprise, save naive 22 year old me, no one else was there. That’s when the producer kissed me. I told him that wasn't really why I came there, using weak words and a pathetic side step. He told me he liked me, and he could help me. “LA is a hard town baby girl,” he breathed into my neck. “I can make the right intros, get you in the right doors. You’re a star, baby. Let me make you a star.”

Then he kissed my neck, and then my lips. This time I kissed him back. He was attractive enough, and why not? I’m not an idiot. I knew, even in that moment, that he wouldn’t/ couldn’t make me a star. But I’ve kissed people who weren’t producers, why not make out with him? The second I gave into the kiss, he threw me against the wall and ripped my shirt off. I will save the graphic details of his words and his actions, but suffice it to say he wanted more than a kiss or two. When I refused his advances, he threw me against the wall for a second time. He put both his hands around my neck and told me I owed him. Told me I would give him what he wanted because he’s the only reason I was in that series. He’d fought for me to get the role over better actresses than me. He picked me up by my neck, and hurled me onto the couch where he climbed on top of me. And I started to cry. Because I was in pain, because I was offended that I wasn’t actually the right actress for the job, because I didn’t know how I’d let myself get into this predicament. When he finally loosened his grip, I scrambled out the apartment, gathering what was left of my ripped clothes and shattered dignity, but I knew I’d never be the same again.

My mind became a prison for my insecurities, doubts, what-ifs, and loathings. I stopped acting for a year. I stopped talking to guys for six months. I hated Hollywood. I hated men. I hated myself. I never told anyone. Who would believe me? Who would care? Why would I make that public and have my mother terrified that I’d moved across the country?

As the years went on, I started casually telling people about it. Always while smiling or laughing. Humor is an easy way to way to diffuse the situation, but sexual harassment and assault is no laughing matter. I am proud of the women standing up and telling their stories, but just talk isn’t enough. We need to join together to challenge our cultural norms. We need to band together to heal the hurt of what has already occurred. Your sisters, daughters, best friends, wives, yes, probably even you, have wounds and scars. Let’s rally around one another to recover. Emily and I talk frequently about how all we want is to make a difference in the lives of women. We want to make a lasting impact. I think it’s so important to remember that the way we speak, the way we act, the general way in which we live our daily lives makes an impact. Choose your words carefully. Sometimes you need to stay silent, and sometimes you need to raise your voice. So for now, I’ll let my voice be a part of the crowd. Another story to add to the masses. Another voice saying “you are not alone,” because yeah, “me too.”

Until next time,

Kelsey

The Difference Between Excellence and Perfection: Unlocking Freedom

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"I'm a perfectionist," I used to respond, when they asked me my greatest weakness.  I knew this was an attribute they were looking for, so I always went in armed with that answer. It was just too easy.

My greatest weakness? Are you kidding me? "Well, I recently realized that I have a lot of pride – that many of my actions have been driven by seeking achievement in the eyes of others. Also, I am working on self-discipline because sometimes I feel out of control. And yes, I'm a very passionate person but that also means I have a high capacity for emotion, so if I'm not careful, those will drive instead of reason and rationality."

I'd love to see their reaction to that. "Okkk….well, Emily, Moon, right?" 

Scribbles note – "De-friend from LinkedIn."

"Thanks Emily. We'll give you a call."

Points to the door.

So yeah, I kept it to…"I'm a perfectionist." Smile, wink. Ahhhh look at me I am just so perfect – it tears me up inside, really!!

Gross.

Here's the thing, though – I really am a perfectionist. That is true. And recently, I realized – that's not a good thing. In fact, it can actually tear your life apart. 

Let me repeat – the pursuit of perfection can tear your life apart. I was internally shredding my heart, and I had no idea.

"Well, I'm not perfect. No one is." That's easy to say, but do you really believe that?

Signs that you may be pursuing perfection without even realizing it:

  • How do you treat yourself when you mess up or make a mistake in front of others? I used to bully myself mercilessly – "How could you be so dumb, how could you have said that, you are such an idiot, you should have never stepped up, why do you even try?"
  • Are there things that you enjoy that you want to try or do, but you won't because you're afraid you'll fail or look dumb?
  • Are there things you want to say in a meeting or group, but you're afraid you'll misspeak or sound stupid?
  • How do you respond to feedback or correction? Do you shut down and spit something nasty back, or do you listen, absorb and internalize, looking for the truth in what they are saying? 

This last one is perhaps the most important. Because accepting correction requires understanding that we are not perfect and are always in the process of refinement. Oooh  and the real killer – is accepting that yes, I may have made a mistake.

When someone is revealing a blind spot to you – do you want to stay in this illusion that there's nothing to change about yourself and that you're perfect – OR – do you want to become a better person – of higher character, of greater self-awareness?

I read a quote from The Refined Woman – "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." Haha – ok, so true though!

That sting you feel when someone corrects you – that's ok. Let it sting. Like hydrogen peroxide on a fresh wound. Watch the bubbles. Breathe in the burn - it's burning your pride so that something more beautiful can grow. Something more like Christ.

If he loves you…he's going to refine you. So breathe in that burnnnnn.

Here's the thing about perfection. It is under a ruthless commander called Pride – and if you're not vigilant, you'll end up serving it all of your life. Perfection is a result of wanting to maintain your status in the eyes of others, of never looking bad and never experiencing failure. And it is straightjacket that will choke the life out of you. I know – I lived that. And now, just now, at 27 (respective) years of age, I'm starting to 1) realize it and 2) break that.

No more perfection. Instead – I'm going for excellence.

Wait…what's the difference?! Great question!! I wondered that too. 

"Thank you, Lord, for the internet," I say every time Bre sends me a meme – and also in this example, because I found an incredible answer to that question.

Marc Winn stated the difference between the two beautifully:

  • Excellence is about “doing the right thing.” It is focused on the REASON for a task, and the RESULTS for it to be a success.
  • Perfectionism is focused on “doing the thing ‘right,’" how things APPEAR, and if OTHERS think it’s done right.

I think what Winn is getting at is that it all comes down to a matter of the heart. Excellence is the result of a lot of "behind the scenes." It's finishing off that seam that you don't notice on the outside, it's practicing for hours before showing up to play. 

Excellence is a culmination of your habits. Do you put in the work when others aren't watching? BECAUSE – if you are pursuing excellence, you are not working to be watched. Being watched is simply an after-effect that often comes in tandem with an individual who is pursuing excellence. It's about motives. Are you doing this work to honor God (excellence)? Or are you doing it to honor yourself (perfection)?

Let's break it down further:

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There is so much freedom in excellence. Like Sherri (part of our Ghana team!) says, "Life motto: It's not about meeeeeee." Hahah – how freeing is that? It's. Not. About. Me.

  • That comment you want to say? It's not about you! It's about what God can speak through you.
  • That business you want to start? It's not about you! It's about how God can bring blessing and hope to people through you.
  • The dance class you want to take? OK – that one might be about you. JK. But in all seriousness, I think sometimes God just wants to break off some chains on us so that we get to experience his JOY!

God wants to set us free so that we are able to live and love life the way that he intended. Not tip-toeing through life wondering if we are safe and loved. Freaking wear heels and stomp all the way down those hardwood floors, you know?! 

Ok think back for a second to high school gym class or summer camp. I know, I know. Some of us have blocked this out. But pull it up for a second. Bear with me.

Do you remember capture the flag? Maybe you were a runner. I was typically a guarder, skirting the line between the two teams. I'd look at that dividing line, usually chalked in white, and it would stare back at me. Taunting me. So I'd stick one foot over, look around. Safe? Cool. Then I'd run over a couple paces. And then run back – flirting with danger, but who are we kidding – not daring enough to really take the risk. Why? I was too afraid of jail. I didn't want to get captured. 

I used to admire the "runners" – typically the most fit guys. OKKKK not because of that. What I admired was their courage. They just – went for it.  

There's not a runner on the field that didn't at some point get captured and taken to jail. 

But guess who got the flag and brought the victory for the team?

The runners. 

What I'm saying is this – if you were called to run – run. If you were called to guard – guard. BUT – if you were called to run – don't guard. Don't sit in safety, dipping only a toe over the line when you know you should be sprinting.

Yep, you might get captured. You might sit in jail for a second. But guess what?? IT MIGHT NOT BE AS BAD AS YOU THOUGHT. You might have a second to pause, and think what you could do differently. How could you change your strategy? To be sharper, faster, stronger, stealthier? 

Jail is never fun. Guarders from the opposite team are usually milling around, looking at you, smirking. 

But here's what's important - you went for it. God made you to be a runner and you ran.

What I've learned this past year so strongly is that grace can fill all of those gaps of inadequacy or failure, every last one of them. God is so good that way. And God is honored with excellence – not perfection.

Until next time, 

Emily

Meet our team: Sherri Paulson, Ghana

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Sherri is a missionary with SIM that works with By Grace in Tamale, Ghana. Sherri is involved in meeting all of the women that By Grace trains and employs, checks in the workshop and takes all of our the pictures overseas!

What originally brought you to Ghana? 

I originally came as a short termer in 1998. To be honest, I didn’t get accepted to the university that I wanted and thought my life was over (I can get a bit dramatic :) ). This opportunity came up and God opened up all the doors so I just kept walkin’ thru them and ended up in the Upper East Region of Ghana and I loved it.

 Sherri first came to Ghana on a short-term missions trip to live with Emily and her family.

Sherri first came to Ghana on a short-term missions trip to live with Emily and her family.

What is your favorite part about living in Ghana?

I love the warm weather and the warmth of the people. I love that if I get lost there is someone to not only tell me the way, but sometimes take my hand and show me!

What is your biggest cultural learning moment to-date (funny or just memorable!)?

I would come home from a youth activity or church program complaining to my mentor about how they never start on time, or they are not serious, or whatever.

I was with a group of Ghanaians (ages 17-27) who went on a missions trip from Accra to Chiana, in the Upper East Region. They would get so angry because the Ghanaians in Chiana never started on time. I said, “but in Accra we also never start on time”. They gave a flimsy excuse or would say, “it is not the same”. Also, on that trip, the southern Ghanaians didn’t like the Northern food and instead of being gracious to the people who were cooking and trying it, they went out and cooked their own food. That really insulted the people.

All this to say — we are all ethnocentric. We all think our own culture is the best and judge people accordingly. I became aware it wasn’t just the white people who come along and think we should do things a certain way, we are all thinking like that.

A funny one—my friend, who is from the North, who lives in Accra took me out to eat dog. (FYI I do love dogs, I do!) I really thought it was great. So, I was telling one of my friends from the south and he looked at me repulsively. “Sherri, how could you do that? How could you eat dog?” I said, “um…don’t they roast bat in your village?” He said, “yes”. I said, “do you eat bats?” he said, “of course”. He didn’t see the connection but I did and laughed!

I am sure there are more but I can’t think.

What's your favorite part of working with By Grace?

Hearing the stories of the women’s hardships brings reminders of God’s love in my life. He is so good to me. I don’t deserve such love and favor. It makes me want to give back to Him.

What is your favorite proverb, quote, Bible verse or life motto?

  • Verse: Psalm 37.4 Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. I love how He makes His desires my desires!
  • Fave movie quote: You are everything I never knew I always wanted (I think this about God but the movie talks about a man/woman relationship).
  • Twi Proverb: o ho o ho te se ago far a stranger is like a child (being a foreigner, a stranger in a new culture, you don’t know anything. You are like a small child)
  • Life motto: It’s not about meeeeeeee

What's a typical day look like for you?

At this point, I am learning the Dagbani language. So, I listen to my recordings that were done the day previous with my language helper. Then I go out wandering about finding people and friends that I can practice what I have learned. Then in late afternoon I meet with my language helper to talk about new things I learned, cultural things I wasn’t aware of, and get some new words or dialogue.

What is your background? Where did you come from? What did you want to be when you grew up, and did you ever fathom you'd be where you are now?

I am a dairy farm gal from a small town in Wisconsin, USA. I have 1 sister and 3 brothers. Growing up I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be so my sister said I would have to take over the farm. All of us children hated farm chores. They all knew what they wanted to do with their lives, I didn’t. Therefore, I was chosen…forced, from them,  to accept that I would be a farmer and inherit the farm when Mom and Dad retired, which was absolutely the worst idea to me.

But Mom tells me that I told my first grade teacher I wanted to be a missionary. I found out after meeting up with my best friend from junior high a few years ago that in sixth grade I told her I wanted to be a missionary. I don’t remember either of those instances. In tenth grade I went to a youth group retreat for the weekend and at the last session where the man was speaking, I was crying. I don’t remember what he said but my friend next to me nudged me and I looked at him and cried and said, “I'm going to be a missionary!” But, I didn’t know how to go about that, and you know, only weird people end up being missionaries :). I had no idea this would be my life. I think growing up I thought I would be like everyone else and get married and have kids. I wanted lots of kids.

I love my life. I love it. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I have no regrets in being obedient to God. It is (almost) not a sacrifice, it is a privilege (there is a quote John Piper has about that).

When things are hard or discouraging, what keeps you motivated?

I have moved north from where I lived for the past 11 years. I am starting over. It is hard making friends. It is hotter than I thought. It is difficult to be a dork in language learning. It is hard to be away for holidays or family picnics and events. It is hard to not have a Culvers restaurant nearby…LOL!!

When I look around me I see the difficulty in people’s lives, mine seems so small. My problems are nothing compared with people who have no food or jobs or even holes in the soles of their flipflops.

When I find myself whining about I don’t have or how hot it is, I try to remember what is amazing. God is amazing. Snow and cold are not amazing :). Kinkey with fish is amazing. A roommate from India is amazing. People who do things differently from me are amazing. Life that is so different every day is amazing. That reminds me to put things in perspective. When I have that flitting thought of maybe I should go home because it would be easier, I sense the Spirit in me say, “and you will be absolutely miserable.” He is right. I would be bored.

Though, it can be challenging here I find It also helps to remember that God called me here not to do do do, but to be be be. He wants me to be like Him and for some crazy reason He thinks the best place that can happen and how to learn how that can happen is Tamale.

So. CRAZY!!! God is soooo cool!!!!

What would your advice be to someone who wants to make a difference?

A woman once wrote to me and said there are only 2 things that go to heaven with you—people and God. If you want to make a difference start with God. He will change you to make a difference in people’s lives, whether you know it or not.
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