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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

"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.

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.

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

"I can buy food for my family."

Name: Lardi Piwala

Age: 40

Were you born in Tamale? If not, where are you from? I was not born in Tamale, I was born in Baras. It is near Kumasi in the Ashanti Region. I moved to Tamale about 20 years ago because my husband was working here. 

What is your favorite part about living in Tamale? Many opportunities to sew for people. The food is good in Tamale. 

How many brothers and sisters do you have? I have one brother and four sisters.

Are you married? My husband has died. I have three children: Francis, Esther and Ibrahim. 

What is your favorite memory with your family? I love any time when I'm with my family. We talk about life and God.  

Did you go to school? I did not go to school, so I can't read.

What was your first job? I first sold Palm Oil. 

What do you enjoy most about sewing? That I have learned a trade. Being a seamstress makes me independent and it is good, especially when the Palm Oil doesn’t sell well. 

Has working with By Grace helped you and your family? I can buy food for my family. I am the only one who works and tries to care for my children. By Grace helps me with my problems. 

What is your favorite food? I like TZ with Ayoyo soup. 

What is your favorite quote, Bible verse or proverb? Why do you like that one? I like Isaiah and Jeremiah, books of the Bible. I like how they talk about God and it is sweet.

Do you have any prayer requests or praise reports? Pray that I would be able to continue to care for my children. 

What is your favorite song right now? The words are – God loves me so much, you know that He loves me so much. 

What is the best advice you ever received from someone? Someone told me when my husband died to give my hurts and cares to the Lord, give everything and He will do everything. 

Do you have a role model? Who and why/ how do they inspire you? Madam Lamisi. She is a good seamstress and provides for her family. 

What brings you joy? God. You may not know what you really need and yet God provides and that makes me happy.

You Spin Me Right Round, Baby Right Round

As many of you know, Emily and I don’t live in the same city. She’s in Kansas City, Missouri and I’m in Los Angeles, California. (If you didn’t know, now you do.) Running a business together while physically separated is daunting. Fortunately we live in the day and age of FaceTime, G-chat, Snapchat, Instagram, What’s App, and good old fashioned email, but nothing replaces face to face, in person quality time. Last weekend Emily came to visit me in LA, and we worked ferociously. We had brunch meetings and dinner meetings and cocktail hours and sat in my apartment on our computers for more hours than I’d ever want to admit.

On Sunday, we knew we wanted to go to church at 8PM, so we worked all morning until about 2PM when Emily acknowledged we should probably move or at least stand up. (It’s easy when Emily and I are in a rhythm to become so focused on work that we forget the little things like eating or basic blood flow.) We looked up spin class times, and decided on the “Taylor Swift and her ex’s” themed class. I was all about the idea of going to spin class, but when it came time to actually get up and get my work out clothes on… I changed my mind. I basically sat on the couch and whined for a solid 5 minutes. “Are you sure you want to go? There’s so much we need to do. You’re only in town for a short period of time. My legs hurt. I hate spin class.” Not my most attractive moment… Emily was persistent. She wanted to spin, she wanted to get out of the house, she wanted to get up off the couch, and she wasn’t going alone. I begrudgingly put on my workout clothes, because I knew she wasn’t going to let me lounge about while she got her sweat on. Emily grabbed waters, I grabbed towels, we have a flow when we’re together. We look out for one another and tend to know what the other person is going to do and what the other person is going to forget/ not think about.

When we got to Soul Cycle, I immediately wanted to leave. I hate crowds and working out, so group exercise classes are a pretty rough experience. However, Emily handled check in and threw her little credit card over the counter, so there was no time for escape. As we set up our bikes, I started to settle into the idea that I’d have to work out. So then I decided I might as well make the most of it. Supposedly you can burn 500 calories in a class. I’m about that. 

If you’ve ever been to a spin class before, you know they start off slowly with a warm up. I started off with a little more hustle than usual because I was riding next to Em. As the class continued, I found myself keeping stride with her; if she’d turn up resistance, so would I. The faster she rode, the faster I rode. It wasn’t that I wanted to keep up or show off, it was this idea that if she could do it, I probably could too. We’re pretty similar in a lot of ways, even though she’s way more fit than I am, but riding next to her was different than comparing myself to a spin instructor. I can justify my way out of riding as fast as the instructor does. “They’re a professional. There’s a reason they’re teaching the class. Look at his quads, I’ll never ride like him.” And so on… But with Emily, I was motivated; her focus and intensity were contagious. 

I finished the class off strong, and only fell a little bit when it was time to get off the bike and my legs turned to jello. But I realized that that class was so symbolic of our business partnership. With Emily by my side, I can do things I didn’t think I was capable of or that I didn’t want to do. But afterwards, after all the hard work, struggle and heavy breathing, it’s worth it. Don’t get me wrong, I was sore for three days. But since she left, I’ve been to spin class three times on my own. There are days working on By Grace I get so overwhelmed that I want to crawl in a hole and never speak to another vendor or boutique owner. But knowing Emily is chugging away in Kansas City prevents me from quitting. I would never give up on my partner, and because of that I will never give up on myself or my dreams. Sometimes you need that partner—or simply their motivated, working alongside you presence—to remind you of what you are capable on your own—in business, in life, and definitely in spin class.

Until next time,

Kelsey

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At Our Core

We've been around for a couple years now (which is absolutely crazy!), but as we mature as a company, we're trying to better define who we are and who we want to be. Today we introduce to you our core beliefs:

1. We believe every woman should have access to an education… regardless of her past, her station, or her status.

2. We believe every woman is entitled to dignifying work... no matter her age, her race, or her skill level.

3. We believe the solution to eliminating poverty is a result of investing in beauty and talent… not in charity or pity.

4. We believe that real power is purchasing power… and we live in a generation who wants to put their money where their heart is.

We invite you to jump on board with these ideals, because every By Grace purchase helps us to make this insane world a slightly better place.

Until next time,

Kelsey