#winning

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I am unbelievably good at living a mediocre life. I go to work, I pay my bills, I take my dog on walks, occasionally I read an exceptional book or binge watch a Netflix show. Since I was a little girl I dreamed of being an actress, but realized upon moving to LA being on a soap opera may not actually be in the cards for me. 

And slowly, without realizing it, a new dream crept in. A dream where I could make an impact. A dream where I could empower women to be entrepreneurs, to believe they are more than what they were born into. A dream where I could teach women to be the difference, to not settle for the status quo or accept what has been, but rather to push for what could be

As this dream began to form, I started working. Every free second was spent on building this idea, making this dream a reality. But even though I worked tirelessly on budgets and vision statements, on patterns and purchase orders, something felt distant. It felt like I was working in the dark, not quite sure if my efforts were for naught. But then something crazy happened. Other people started to believe in my dream. And Emily’s dream. People believed in By Grace. In what we were doing, in what we are capable of doing. And let me tell you… there’s nothing more frightening than having your dream come true. 

As you’ve seen (because we’ve unashamedly plastered it all over our social media) we won the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Which is unbelievable. We’re both still pinching ourselves. But we shouldn’t be. If we would have seen our dreams as more attainable, as probable, even as inevitable from day 1, I think we’d be in a different place. But that’s what this crazy business world is all about—constant learning. 

This competition taught me more than simply to believe in my dreams. I also learned that no dream is too big. In fact, if your dream is too small, the judges will ask you why you are thinking on such a minuscule scale. Direct quote: “Why do you say you’re raising $10,000 in fundraising by October? Shouldn’t you be trying for $100,000?” So yeah… dream big. Emily and I both realized that if what we were doing wasn’t revolutionary, we really had no reason to continue. So we asked one another—is this what we’re supposed to be doing? Is By Grace revolutionary? We have the chance to elevate women and their families out of generational poverty, while changing the mindset of the fashion industry by actually paying our employees and manufacturers livable wages. That’s pretty revolutionary. That is a dream worth pursuing. 

I learned that trusting your business partner is absolutely terrifying but absolutely necessary. Emily and I operate under the whole separate but equal principle day in and day out. We don’t actually work alongside one another very often. We do many of the same tasks, and we do many different roles, but because Emily lives in Kansas City and I’m in LA, we don’t have a lot to opportunity to move as one. When we pitched together, there was a synchronicity and a timing that we could not have planned. We knew when to speak ourselves and when it was time to hold back and let our partner answer the question. For example, I know literally nothing about marketing. I cannot tell you the difference between PR and Paid Marketing. I only know that they were in separate categories on our powerpoint. Emily not only worked in marketing, but she’s passionate about it. When she speaks on the subject, she does so with authority. I worked in banking for a while, so I tend to handle the financial projections and money specifics.

However, there isn’t always a perfect flow and you can’t plan for everything. Especially when it comes to Q&As. There is a lot of trust that goes into letting your business partner field questions. There were several times that I wanted to interject when Emily was speaking, whether to rephrase what she had said or steer her answer in a different direction, but it would not have presented us as a unified unit had I interrupted her. It’s easier to criticize someone when you aren’t doing the talking yourself, because you are an outsider listening, not the one answering a difficult question on the spot. And I know Emily wanted to correct me a couple of times because in one presentation, I said we paid our employees ten times the average wage. We don’t. We pay them two times the going wage… But as we moved on, she knew it was better to let our powerpoint highlight my mistake, rather than her. Appearing as a unified team is evermore important than correcting your partner.

I also learned that mistakes only make you human, and exposing your humanity is beyond ok. No one wants to partner with robots; people invest in founders, they invest in heart. While pitching, I told an entire room of judges that we were planning on running a fundraising scheme. Yeah… a scheme. Not something that has a positive connotation in the least. I quickly corrected myself to say that we had planned “an aggressive fundraising plan.” The room of esteemed judges caught my mistake, but chuckled at my correction. Investors, donors, mentors, judges—they’re all people. And they were once fledgling entrepreneurs as well.

Which leads me to my biggest revelation of the competition—people want you to succeed. The most supportive people of By Grace, but also of Emily and me, were our fellow competitors. Whether it be a “you crushed that presentation,” or a “your expo booth is stunning,” people were complimentary and kind. There wasn’t that high school mentality of wanting to put others down to make themselves look better. I think this happened for a few reasons. One, there were amazing, good-hearted people at this conference. Two, successful people like to surround themselves with successful people. The more people you know, the greater your network, the more you can help one another. Three, people want the world to be a better place. And what we’re doing with By Grace will change the world. We are working to end generational poverty and that is no small feat. 

So pretty soon we’ll stop talking about our first big win at a competition, but Emily and I will never forget what the experience taught us. #winning is so much more than a check and some accolades (although that is awesome), and we are better for what this competition taught us.

Until next time,

Kelsey

Failure is the prelude to success

She stands in the doorway of my house, a sight I rarely see. My mom is so cute, standing there, with her hair tied up in a messy bun, comfy jeans and a sweater. I think she just gets cuter as she gets older.

"I like your shoes," I tell her, as her face lights up with a mix of joy and surprise. It always does that when I tell her she looks pretty – I think she truly is surprised, and I'm always surprised at how surprised she is. 

"So I have to tell you about these shoes, it's kind of a funny story," she says, with a slight giggle. "When I was in college, my roommate had these shoes called Mary Janes. And I loved them – I wanted them so badly. So my mom and I went all over town trying to find them in my size. This was before online shopping or Amazon or anything like that was around."

My mouth drops open. What. I'm reminded - yes, there was a time when the internet didn't exist. And yes, it wasn't that long ago.

My mom continues, "I couldn't find them anywhere, so I never did get them. Until, a couple of months ago, I was passing a store, and I saw them – these shoes that looked like those Mary Janes that I wanted when I was 22. I'm 56 years old, and I finally got my Mary Janes."

Have you ever wanted something so badly, it was hard to think about anything else?

I have.

Do you know the disappointment of it not working out? Feeling like you're going to store after store – leaving disappointed each time?

I do. 

Timing is an incredible thing – and so often, we can't quite see why certain things work out and certain things don't.

I'm not sure why my mom didn't get those Mary Janes when she was 22. I think God could of easily intervened and magically made an extra size 6 appear.

But I do know… that God loves her very much. And that He never forgot that she wanted them. And that for 34 years, he remembered.

So maybe you don't have your Mary Janes yet. 

But don't give up hope. 

Kelsey and I have been working on By Grace for two years, and dreaming about it since eighth grade. Sitting there, hearing our name announced first place, it was indescribable (we can't wait to share more details on our next blog!). It was the first time we felt that our dream, it's actually coming true. All of our hard work - it was worth it. 

I remember the first time I saw our team number. Team number "73." I tried not to let discouragement wash over me.

"It's ok," I said to Kelsey on the phone. "God just wants to stack the odds so that he can show off."

I remember the morning I saw a flyer, advertising the competition, at Crow's coffee shop. It was staring at me - reminding me, that I was one of many. That I was just a stupid girl, filled with embarrassing ideas but nothing that would ever amount to anything. "You're not special," the flyer taunted me. "Who are you to go up against tech companies and venture capitalists?"

We haven't always gotten first place. In fact, we've been dead close to last a couple of times. But we didn't give up. We believed in our mission. And we got better and sharper and clearer in our purpose, our product and our company.

"Hey mom," I said. "Why do you think God didn't give you those Mary Janes at 22?"

She paused for a second. "You know, if I had gotten them at 22, they would probably be in a dumpster somewhere by now. I would have enjoyed them for five years and then thrown them away. And - they wouldn't have been as nice of quality as the ones I have now."

"If you had told me at 22," she continued, "that I would have to wait until 56 to get my Mary Janes, I would have laughed and told you that was crazy. But, I hate to say it - it was worth the wait."

"The longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful in our expectancy." Romans 8:25

The best piece of advice Kelsey and I ever got was from a businessman in Ghana. This man owned 20+ businesses throughout the region, and as he sat down with us, he said - that through all his ventures, and all his accolades, he had learned this one thing - failure is the prelude to success. 

If you feel like you've failed - or maybe, you just feel like you're in the waiting room - that's a sign that you are right where you need to be. Don't give up.

Word To Your Mother

My mom is the greatest human on the planet. If you happen to think your mother is the greatest, I will not argue with you. I will simply rejoice that we are both lucky enough to believe our mothers are the best. Because that is one of the most amazing gifts in life. Yes many of our mothers gave us life in that whole gave-birth-to-us-biological-way, but daily, my mother gives me perspective and life through motivation, questions, answers, inspiration, and oftentimes, straight up hard truth. 

I'm not entirely sure if I want children, perhaps because I have this fear that I will never amount to the woman my mother is. She is strong yet humble; she is compassionate yet fierce; she is independent but loyal. She loves with every fiber of her being. She loves completely, unabashedly, and unashamedly. 

As we approach Mother's Day, I am again blown away by the fact that she is my mom and I was chosen to be her daughter. I may never be a mom, and I may never amount to the woman that she is, but here a few of her idioms in order to inspire us all to be better people this Mother's Day weekend:

1. Pretty is as pretty does. What you say and what you do is far more beautiful than a combination of features, genetics, and make-up could ever be.

2. Just be. The past can lead to regret, frustration, and pain. The future can lead to anxiety and apprehension. Existing in the present allows us to focus on our current blessings, our goals, and shift our mindset to that which we can still change.

3. Do as I say, not as I do. She knows she is human, and hopes to inspire us to be better than she is, better than we are. She frequently leads by example, but when we catch her with a Mountain Dew at 8 in the morning or hear that sneaky little four letter word escape her mouth she reminds us that she is not perfect.

4. Figure out what you really want, and do that. I am easily influenced by people, and sometimes I try so hard to please others that I forget to pursue what I really want. She always knows what I want to be and what I want to do before I know myself. Moms are good like that.

5. You are so loved. No matter what. No "ifs," "ands" or "buts." There is nothing I could ever do that would make her love me less.

Since I understand that other children feel just as blessed to call their mother's "mom," I asked a few friends the best advice they got from their mothers.

1. Always be the bigger person. Always.

2. You are stronger than you think. Unless you think you're stronger than me. Then you're wrong.

3. Don't cut your sister's hair.

4. If you want to know how a man will treat his wife, watch how he treats his mom.

5. She thought she could, so she did.

And for a bit of perspective, I reached out to a few of my favorite moms for their advice about motherhood:

"Moms often struggle feeling inadequate or like they're failing as a mom some days. But the reality is being a mother is the hardest job in the world. And if she's worried she's not good enough, it means she's actually a better mom already that she's even concerned that could even be a possibility."

                                                                                                -Cynthia

"Take pictures of your kids sleeping. Look at them often and when you are frustrated or angry look at those photos, and use the soft feelings they give you to get through that challenging time. Also use those peaceful moments to remind you that you are doing some things well."

                                                                                               -Shana

"Being a mom is amazing! One thing I have learned through the years from watching other amazing moms and being a mom to three kids is to find more opportunities to say, "Yes!" Meaning...let your kids pick their clothes, even though it's a tutu. Give your kids the ability to live and learn from life! Be their guide and support always!"

                                                                                                -Chris

So this Mother's Day, learn from she that has tirelessly taught you. For you mothers out there-know you are not alone, and you are not perfect, but you are as close to perfect as it gets for the tiny (and not so tiny) humans that call you "mom." 

Happy Mother's Day!

Until next time,

Kelsey

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This girl walked through fire so we could get jeans for $9

I looked at her face in the image. Sullen, downcast. 

As I read through her story, my heart began to bleed for this girl I didn't know. This girl who lived in Bangladesh, in a country I couldn't even locate on a map. Read her story here - I promise, it will change you. 

I made coffee, went on a run. This article, her story - continued to loop through my mind. I started to get dressed for work, the sun streaming through the windows of my bedroom. I wondered - who made this shirt? Was she my age? Did she work twelve hours a day in a windowless factory; did her shoulders ache from stitching? Could she afford to eat lunch that day; did she have hope that tomorrow was going to be better, that she would have time to spend with her family?

Today is the first day of Fashion Revolution Week. Here's the most unfortunate thing - often, it takes a great tragedy for us to realize the magnitude of the problem. Four years ago on April 24th, 1,138 people died in a factory fire at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. This sparked a global movement of conscious consumers to question their retailers and demand safe, clean and fair environments for everyone. 

Below are a couple of ways to get involved:

  • Visit Fashion Revolution's website here to learn more about the movement.
  • Support your retailers that are fair trade and fair pay - they are the ones fighting for a better world. 
  • Spread the message so that others begin to question, who really made these clothes? And what is the real price of cheap fashion? Awareness is the first step to change.
Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.
— Anna Lappe

Transparency is beautiful. But to get the answer, we first have to ask the question - who made my clothes?

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Until next time,

Emily

The Making of a Dress


At By Grace, we are committed to creating beautiful, unique products that incorporate a taste of the exotic with the dependability of the known. We hope to produce a line of standard American styles with bold, vibrant Ghanaian patterns. And so far, we're pretty excited about the dresses that we have to offer. However, getting there took months and months of designing, redesigning, sewing, throwing away, sketching, starting over, fitting, redoing, reworking, and creating. Here's a little insight into our creative process:


1. Inspiration. We shop, browse, sketch, and brainstorm. We've gone through hundreds of styles and designs before we decide on the one that will actually become part of the line.


2. Design. We CAD (which just stands for Computer-Aided Design) the dress, so that we give finite lines and shapes to our style.


3. Patterns. To achieve consistency and to be able to appropriately size our garments, we have patterns created from the CADs.


4. Samples. We create a Pre-Production sample to make sure we like the direction we are headed. We pin and cut and rework this sample so that our pattern-maker knows where the adjustments need to be made, both aesthetically and in fit.


5. Fabric. Since all our fabrics are purchased in the local Ghanaian markets, our buyers and seamstresses often send us pictures of available prints to aid in our design decisions. If we happen to be in Ghana at the development phase of a style, we love going to the markets with our buyers. It is important to us that the fabrics selected have a Western African vibe while complementing our American styles. 


6. Communication. We then send a perfected sample and the completed patterns to our talented seamstresses in Ghana, along with our sketches, CADs, and other images so that the women know exactly what they are expected to produce.


7. Production. Lamisi, Lydia, and the many other skilled By Grace seamstresses carefully craft each garment.


8. Quality Control. Each garment is inspected for flaws and sizing issues. We love that our garments aren't made in a factory, so each one is somewhat unique and special, but we do look for an overall consistency.

9. Wear Test. We wear the dresses ourselves to confirm fit, wearability, and overall aesthetic. (Also, we love them and are always anxious to see the fruits of our seamstresses efforts).


10. Dress-up. We sell the dresses to you and celebrate each unique woman who wears one of our By Grace originals.


Every dress is designed and sewn with you in mind, and we are thrilled to continue honing our process and creating more (and more) dresses for you!


Until next time,
Kelsey
 

Is There a Wrong Way to Address Poverty?

Sometimes I'm not quite sure if the first half of my life was real or just an odd dream. I'd have to lean towards odd dream if there weren't pictures to prove it actually happened. 

I grew up in West Africa in the 10/40 window, which is an area of the world that contains 85 percent of the world's poorest of the poor. The people that live here have the least access to resources on the planet. 

Why was I out there? Great question.

My dad was top of his class in engineering at Virginia Tech and decided to trade it all in for a life pursuing what God asked of him. When the department learned of his plans, the dean of the school sat him down and said, "Jay, you are throwing your life away."

What he really did was trade a large paycheck at a firm in California for an alternative - saving thousands of people's lives by establishing clean water systems, and at the same time, spreading the Gospel to an entire unreached region in Africa.

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Yes, my dad is probably the most incredible person I know. 

I remember reading a quote in To Kill A Mockingbird in eighth grade, "Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets." And I thought - that's my dad. His integrity, compassion and leadership that he shows in public is exactly who he is at home. 

My childhood was very unique. It was filled with some crazy stories - both funny and scary - and we went from one adventure to the next. Filled with secret waterfalls and rebels who attacked us and cobras, alligators - hand built rollercoasters and ziplines, learning a tribal language - the list goes on and on. 

When I came back to the US at the age of 11, I started to realize how bad the situation was for women in Ghana. For my friends. My girls that I grew up with.

Actually, I came to realize - it was much worse than I thought.

THE PROBLEM

It's an epidemic dubbed the kayayo women - and though little work has been published about it, the BBC did release some images on it here

  • When women can't find work in the northern region of Ghana, they're shipped to the South to live on the street. Here they carry large items on their heads for 8-12 hours a day, making less than $1 total for the days wage.

THE OPPORTUNITY

The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in Ghana. According to related data for 2010 by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, in almost every country, worldwide business formation by women lags behind that of men – of the 59 countries investigated, Ghana was the notable exception.

The problem - there are so many barriers to overcome. Access to technology and capital (to purchase a sewing machine) are two of the largest obstacles. When you are making barely enough to feed yourself, how could you even think of saving for a sewing machine - or even more, going to school?

  • Ghanian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse said, “You are stuck in a hole in a village with all your skills and all your talents, and that’s just unfortunately the way it is…the people here are not stupid, they’re just disconnected from global trade.”

THE SOLUTION

Here's what I learned - there's a right and a wrong way to address poverty.

Doing "good" is not always good.

Let me explain. 

Well, let Peter Greer explain. He does a much better job:

"After the Rwandan genocide, a church from Atlanta started sending over eggs, and ended up just distributing eggs in a small community outside of Kigali. And this seems like a great thing to do, right? The church wanted to help after the genocide, but Jean, a few years before, had started a small egg business himself.

Every social need is a business opportunity. 

Solving poverty - in a sustainable way - isn't through a handout. It's through investing in talent and beauty. 

Until next time,

Emily

Opening Those Doors

“I’m going to tell you a story…” begins the white-haired man seated next to me.

Oh no… here it goes… this one’s a talker. And not just a talker, a rambler. He has something to say and a captive audience for the first time in, what would seem to be, a while… Do I run? Can I hide? How do I move away without him noticing and/ or being rude? It’s impossible… So… I’m halfheartedly listening.

“When I was doing missions work in Nicaragua…”

Wait, what missions work? And just like that I was suckered in.

Let me back up. The last two weeks have been insane for me. I started interviewing for a new job, was hired at multiple places, shadowed at the different places, selected where I would go, accepted an offer of employment, put in my two weeks notice to a job that I’ve been at for almost five years, and started training at the new place of employment while completing my two weeks at my previous job. Amongst this I also have my modeling career and By Grace that are my priorities, and require the bulk of my mental energy and time.

In addition to all the craziness of quitting the old and starting the new, I have also been stressed about this career move because I will be making less money. Money which, in my mind, I need for By Grace to thrive. But I put all of that aside to go to my first day of training at the new gig.

This is where I met said white-haired man. First, I met his wife and she complimented my earrings. I mentioned to her that they were from Ghana, which led me to briefly explain that, yes I had indeed been to Ghana, and that By Grace was the reason for the visit. She quickly alerted her husband to the work we do through By Grace, and he started talking.

And we’re back, to me thinking that this man was going to delay my training, when in fact he was about to teach me something of much greater consequence than anything I could learn in an employee handbook.

He proceeded to tell me that he volunteers in Central America, and he had incredible story after incredible story. The one that hit home the hardest, however, was of an impoverished man living in Managua. This white-haired gentleman had struck up a conversation with the Nicaraguan, and although I don’t remember the details of the story (essentially the man was destitute and hopeless), the moral was: are you going to trust yourself and your community to provide for you or are you going to trust the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth? Are you going to rely on God to fulfill your needs and provide you with the necessary resources to succeed or are you going to lean on your own capabilities?

And just like that, I knew I had made the right decision. God is the provider. And no, that doesn’t mean every single dollar you need will be handed to you via a lottery win, and every task you need accomplished will not be completed by willing volunteers. Yet, God opens doors for the right jobs that provide income; He allows you to cross paths with the right people who can donate time, money, and advice.

I do believe that God helps those who help themselves, but for me, the simple fact that the man was talking about God my first night on the job affirmed that I am in the right place, and that I must learn to trust God more than I trust myself. He will be the key to my success, not me. Which is terrifying and comforting. For a control freak, it’s unfortunate that I am not in the driver seat. For an imperfect human, it is amazing that I can relinquish that control. So I am going to keep going through the doors that open, continue working hard, and trust that God will provide the necessary resources for His call on my life to be properly executed. 

Until next time,

Kelsey

Risk = Faith

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Beep beep beep. The shrill sound echoes throughout the minimalist concrete room.

My friend Bre and I look at each other, feeling like criminals in between these doors at Urban. I wait for the store clerk to come over and vindicate us. We paid for this "Happy Birthday" banner, pore mask and deep-v tee; I promise. 

Bre finds a sensor on her shirt and we go back to the counter. "Whew," we both say, because that really would have been the end of the world. Truly. Nothing kills a birthday outfit like a sensor. 

The store clerks are quite chill about the whole situation. And by chill I mean that nobody moved. We stand at the side of the counter, waiting for assistance. A couple of minutes goes by, a couple more minutes goes by, and we just continue to wait as the line behind the counter grows.

This nice looking man walks behind us, piled high with shoes and shirts, walking deliberately as if he's on a mission to re-stock the shelves. And I think, I have two options here. I can watch him walk by and continue to stand here (safe), or, I can speak up in front of this line and ask this man for help (quite daring).

"Excuse me," I say, confidently. "Could you help us with this sensor?"

He looks at me. 

The line of people look at me. 

And he says, "Uh, actually, I don't work here."

And I feel like saying, "Alright, I'll just go die now, thanks."

It was such a small moment. But it got me thinking about what that encounter sub-consciously taught my brain. 

It was teaching me that stepping out = embarrassment.

It was teaching me a pattern of behavior to remember for the next time I am confronted with (safe) vs (quite daring). My brain will tell me - yes, but do you remember the time?

That time you spoke up, and said something stupid?

That time you went for it, and failed?

That time you exposed your heart, and were humiliated?

That time you jumped, and fell in front of everyone?

And I remember this quote, "If you are never scared, embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take chances." 

Taking risks means different things to different people. But if you don't take the small ones - like speaking up in that meeting, asking the waitress for that side you really want - how will you take the big risks?

If you don't take small risks, how will you take the ones that mean the difference between a fulfilled life in pursuit of your calling or just a life of mediocre comfort? 

I think about the "greats" of the Bible:

  • Noah was shamed when he was building an ark.
  • Moses was scoffed at when he returned to demand freedom.
  • Jesus was mocked on a cross.
Maybe doing what God calls you to do does not save you from embarrassment. Maybe, instead, it actually leads you into it. 

Risk = faith, faith = risk. 

You can't have one without the other. 

If you're anything like me, you're thinking - well, that doesn't sound like much fun. Why would I want to follow God if it's almost sure to lead to some sort of embarrassment, vulnerability and humiliation? 

If you look at the short term - then sure, no way.

But if you look at the long term:

  • Noah - When the rain started to pour, his family was the only one that was saved across the entire Earth
  • Moses - He rescued an entire nation out of slavery, split the Red Sea, had an intimate relationship with God
  • Jesus - He made it possible for us to go to heaven

Will you venture into the unknown, where you feel this inexplicable pull, or will you stay where you are, where it is safe, comfortable? Where you know you won't be embarrassed. Where you know you won't have an entire line of people look at you like you're an idiot when you ask this man to help you with a sensor and he was just trying to buy some shoes - actually, a lot of shoes. But that's neither here nor there.

I'm learning to re-train my brain.

Did I say something that didn't come out perfect? Good. It means I spoke up when I was unsure. It means I had something important to add, and I didn't let the moment pass me by.

Did I make a fool out of myself today? Good. It means I tried something that I knew I wasn't good at. It means I played that game even though I was terrible at it, it means I tried to be friends with someone very different then me.

Stepping into your calling isn't safe. It requires risk. It requires vulnerability. It requires the capacity and strength to handle embarrassment. 

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7

Until next time, 

Emily 

 

A Day Without a Woman

Tomorrow, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. IWD is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day is also intended to encourage actions that help advance gender equality.

In honor of IWD, women across the country will join together in a demonstration of “economic solidarity.” The strike has been called “ A Day Without a Woman,” and aims to shed light on the current work for the equity, justice, and human rights of women.

This economic display is one of love and freedom, intended to showcase the importance of women without harming others. “A Day Without a Woman” recognizes the insurmountable value that women of all backgrounds, ages, skin colors, and skill levels add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.

Every woman, or man who supports his daughter, wife, sister, mother, friend, or co-worker, can join in “A Day Without a Woman,” in one or all of the following ways:

1. Women take the day off.

This can be from work, from volunteering, from internships, and may be harder for some people, but is certainly possible for others. There are school districts across the country that are closing due to teacher’s absences. That is a big deal. That is impactful and impossible to ignore. I know it’s a long shot, but can you imagine what would happen if every single woman were to call in “sick” tomorrow? Our country would basically stop for the day. Because we all know even the most powerful man is nothing without a woman telling him what to do. Ok… I’m kidding. But it’s an interesting concept to think of what would happen without the female surgeon, the female teacher, the stay at home mom, the woman general manager. White women make 79 percent of what white men make, and Black and Latina women make even less. Insane, right? So for those of you who can take the day off—DO IT. We deserve 100% of the wages our male counterparts are making, because the world may not stop turning without us, but society as we know it could not exist.

2. Avoid shopping for one day.

Women are responsible for 70 to 80% of purchases made in the US. Purchasing power is true power, and by keeping yourself out of stores, you’re reminding businesses and the government of who is the boss. If you need something on March 8, get it the day before or buy it from businesses owned by women. (In case you forgot, By Grace is entirely owned and run by women, who also employ women… Just saying.)

3. Wear red in solidarity with “A Day Without A Woman”

It’s hard to ignore a woman in red, even more so if there is a group of you in red. This is a great conversation starter and a reminder that we are not alone. We are in the fight for gender equality together.

4. Make a donation to your favorite non-profit.

This charity can be any one of your choosing. Many non-profits have specific missions that strive to empower women, and others are run strictly by women. Giving is a sign that you are putting your money where your mouth is. Investing in women will ultimately benefit us all. By Grace is an excellent choice if you're passionate about educating women. Others are donating to Planned Parenthood or their local Domestic Abuse Center or the Girl Scouts. Whatever inspires you and empowers women is a winning donation in our book.

“A Day Without a Woman” is inspired and run by the women who organized the successful “Women’s March” a couple of months ago. On the “Women’s March” website they call their sisters to action:

When millions of us stood together in January, we saw clearly that our army of love greatly outnumbers that of fear, greed and hatred. Let's raise our voices together again, to say that women’s rights are human rights, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability.

Here at By Grace, our entire life is about loving women, believing in women, seeing the good and the possibility in each and every “she.” So join us. Wear red. Don’t shop. And if you can, take the day off. Because the world needs us. And we deserve full compensation and rights for our contributions. 

Until next time,

Kelsey

Living by grace

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If you ask Webster, he'll tell you that grace means something like elegance, finesse and poise. 

Which is true, but it also has a much deeper meaning.

Grace is a gift. It means undeserved favor. It means that you walk in a blessing that you do not deserve and could not earn.

Living by grace means:

you understand the depths to which you are deeply loved. you live from a closeness with a heavenly father who never leaves you alone, never hurts you, never abandons you. human love is just a shadow of heavenly love. when you experience love from God, nothing else compares. you can't help but you love others in return. it just spills out. 

{Beloved} 

you understand that God has a calling on your life. as a result, you don't compare - you contend. you contend for other women to realize how incredible they are, and for them to step into the limelight of all that they were born to be. your work is fueled by passion and purpose.

{Called}

you are a defender of justice. you fight for others. you have a compassionate heart, and your life is marked by mercy. you fight from a place of victory. God's power is "made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). what others saw to be pitied - God says no, there's beauty there. there's strength there. 

{Compassionate}

 

Until next time,

Emily

When You're Not Picture Perfect

I've spent my whole life trying to be perfect. Yes, I know perfection is impossible. Yes I know that striving for perfection will only leave me dissatisfied and overwhelmed. But alas, it is in my nature. We recently did a photo shoot for By Grace, and brought a guy on our team to help take Behind the Scenes photos. In a world where everything is picture perfect, we wanted to share with you some slightly less than perfect photos. See what we look like unedited, unscripted, and usually pretty unaware that our camera guy was lurking around.

We're not perfect. Most of the time we're not even cute. We make awkward faces, eat chicken nuggets, and adjust our clothes, but we work hard, laugh a ton, and ultimately got a few good shots. Check out our Instagram to see the photos that portray us in a more attractive light.

Until next time,

Kelsey

Happy Valentine's Day

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This week we celebrate love! Here's a few of our favorite thoughts on love:

 

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.                                                

Lao Tzu

 

One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.  

Sophocles

 

Where there is love there is life.

Mahatma Gandhi

 

Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop.

H.L. Mencken

 

I saw that you were perfect, and so I loved you. Then I saw that you were not perfect and I loved you even more.

Angelita Lim

 

Until next time,

Kelsey

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

How to love your neighbor as yourself when you don't ACTUALLY love your neighbor as yourself

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Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In high school, I used to volunteer at the Second Chance animal shelter for two reasons. The first – I loved kittens, and my cat Krispy was old, senile and avoided my affection at all costs. The second – I loved to volunteer, but humans made me quite uncomfortable. So an animal shelter seemed like a perfect fit.

And it was for about two years. I recruited a bunch of friends to help, the whole time accidently calling it Last Chance animal shelter, to which people would always start laughing. Such an unfortunate word switch.

I'd leave dance or tennis practice (whichever it was on that day), drive out to the Last/Second Chance animal shelter and pat those cute little kittens for 30-minute increments. Every time, I'd walk out of the building feeling like Mother Teresa, thinking that if God gave report cards mine would have an A+ with a gold star. And all without having to interact with any humans – YES!

A couple of times a year, my father would take my family to the downtown homeless shelter to serve a meal, and my high school self would go kicking and screaming the entire time. It's very difficult to hold up a pout and serve a meal, so I stuck a smile on my face and pushed down the ladle into what looked like corn mush.

As the hour went on, something odd happened. I no longer felt the pinch on my cheeks; my smile started to become real. My heart began to soften for each person that walked past me. I stopped looking at my watch to check the time. I took a seat at the table, listened as he spoke to my father about what had happened to him last night. I started to understand that what I had discarded as corn mush was his only meal of the day.

He showed my father the scar on his chest, and I had to stop myself from crying.

Perspective is a powerful thing.

Something happens when you start to have a relationship with someone very different than you. You start to realize – they are you.

Maybe they don't look like you. Yes, the shell is often very different. But the inside - that part where we have emotions and struggles and dreams and hopes - that's what looks like you.

It wasn't until I read Mere Christianity that I really started to get it. It's ok if you don't feel like driving to the homeless shelter or making time for that person. We're human – and that means we pretty much always don't feel like doing the things we know we should do.

But one of the greatest commands on our lives is this – love your neighbor as yourself.

So one of the greatest challenges we face is this - how do you love someone when you don't feel love towards them?

CS Lewis says, easy - you act as if you love them. Ask yourself, "If I loved this person, what would I do? If I loved God, what would I do?" And then – you go do that. Somehow, in the most inexplicable way, your heart just kind of catches up with your actions.

The world only loves people that they instinctively feel compassion for. This is where those that love Jesus are separated from the pack – we are called to love those that we do not initially have mercy towards or common ground with. We love those that we don't feel like loving.

"You don't have to like it, you just have to eat it," my dad would say, as I'd turn up my nose up at the okra on my plate and cross my little arms in rebellion. I hated it when he said that. It was like a bad Nike slogan to eat broccoli.

But – sigh – now, I realize that his mentality was pretty on point. You don't have to like it – you just have to do it. Because I've found out that when I'm doing things that align with God's heart, somehow, my heart has a way of just, catching up.

Until next time,

Emily

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

 

Names are kind of a big deal...

At the age of 13, I picked out the names for my children. Jax and Zander. Both boys for whatever reason. I thought it was a little strange, but the more people I talked to, the more I realized most young girls named their future children. There is power in a name. There is connection in the right name. There is beauty in the perfect name.

Every little thing we do at By Grace has purpose. We want every action to be intentional, thought out, and well-executed. The naming of each of our products is not something we take lightly. When naming the different goods in our Ghana collection, Emily drew upon the names instilled in her during her childhood spent in Western Africa. Some of the pieces were named after specific women in our organization, others after women and girls Emily had known as a young girl. Our India collection was different. Neither of us grew up there, nor have had the pleasure of meeting any of our seamstresses in person (as of yet). This left us with the daunting task of identifying names that spoke to both of us, and did justice to the beauty of our new skirts.

Fortunately, we only needed a couple of names to begin. We liked the idea of sticking to women’s names, because we feel it pays homage in some slight way to who we are and why we do what we do. After all, one of our favorite labels and hashtags is #womenforwomen. We also wanted to choose names that were indicative of the region in which the garments were created. And we wanted to select names that had a deeper meaning.

How does one achieve all these goals? Google. Like any sensible entrepreneurs, or you know, people with access to the internet, we started reading about popular names of girls in India. We quickly liked the idea of using Hindu names for our skirt collection, because there is meaning in each name. We ran through hundreds, discussing which felt right, which ones we thought our customers could remember, which ones we could spell. Ultimately we landed on Vimala and Lavanya. Beautiful names (that are easy enough to pronounce for us Americans in the group) with lovely meanings.

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Lavanya means grace and beauty. We are pretty obsessed with the concept of grace, as you might have noticed, and believe that every woman should feel beautiful. Our Lavanya skirt is a feminine blush color with a warm, golden pink pattern. It is strong, but delicate. It is comfortable, but elegant. It allows you to move gracefully, while feeling stunning. There could not have been a more appropriate name. One of our goals with By Grace is that every woman realize how beautiful she is. We believe the right outfit can assist with shifting your mindset, and helping you realize that your existence and your soul are simply gorgeous.

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Vimala means pure and clean. Considering the skirts are created in a country where women are often seen as unworthy or inferior, and where the caste system is still an issue, we felt purity was indicative of many things. One, we felt it showed new beginnings. Two, we felt it showed value in each woman, a woman who is perfect and pure both in our eyes and in the eyes of our God. Three, we believe that no matter how chaotic or cluttered your life can seem, it’s necessary to take the time to appreciate that you are doing the best you can. Get dressed up, put on your favorite outfit—perhaps an emerald green maxi skirt that can be dressed up or down—and acknowledge that life is messy, but the state of your heart is what matters. A pure heart will lead to peace of mind, and we hope to remind ourselves of that in some small way with the naming of our second skirt.

So when you're wearing our India skirts, walk in purity. Walk in grace. Walk in beauty.

Until next time,

Kelsey

Redefining Freedom

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New Year's resolutions have somewhat of a bad reputation. And honestly, stating that your goal is a New Year's resolution may automatically disqualify you from actually attaining it.

But here's what I love about January – it's a month that marks new beginnings.

My church just kicked off 21 days of prayer and fasting and wait, are you still reading? I know, "prayer and fasting" – not very sexy.

Fasting is actually the best thing you've never heard of. It's like that Netflix movie that you will hype to your grave while everyone else is just like, "Whattttt? That one? You liked that one?" And you're like, "Yes, just hear me out on this."

Fasting is like the term "obedience" – we hear it, and something inside of us just cringes. Sounds very religious. And not much fun.

But there's something beautiful about fasting. It's a reset. Like we're speaking to ourselves – the inner selves, you know, the one that nobody sees except sometimes our family on our worst day. The one that sometimes we're very good at hiding, the one that we fight off every day. "Hey, self - just in case you got it twisted – here's the deal. I control you. You don't control me."

Fasting is not about constraint. It's about freedom. Real freedom.

I've always thought that freedom, in its simplest definition, is doing what you want when you want to do it. That makes a lot of sense, right?

Here's the thing – the kingdom of God doesn't make sense. Until you really stop to think about it. And then, one (or five) mind grenades later, you realize, wow, I've actually had it wrong this ENTIRE time and I – literally – had no idea.

The problem is – doing what you want when you want to do it is not freedom. Because then you are really only a slave to your desires, pulling you here and there – against what you know you should do, against what is right. Tethered mercilessly from one moment to the next.

That's why we are tortured inside when we do these things we know we shouldn't. Desire is a cruel and deceitful master. Because after you've taken that last bite – the rush and taste is gone from your mouth and you are left only with the weight of regret saddled to you. And regret turns quickly into shame.

Real freedom is as simple as this – the power to say no to something you want. Whether it's that piece of cake you know you shouldn't eat, that trip you can't afford or that guy you know you shouldn't even think about dating.

The ability to walk away displays authority over desire. This is a life marked by true freedom – the type of freedom that we sing about. The kind that breaks chains that have held us bound in patterns for decades. No more destruction, no more collateral damage.

The most dangerous part is that as we walk through life unknowingly chained, this noose only tightens and tightens over time. Clarity on what your current shackles are can bring break-through. Awareness is the most compromising of all - because that is what leads to change.

I look at people I know that are walking with Jesus. The ones that are truly in love with Him. Their lives are marked by many things – but there is a constant current running through all of them – strong amounts of self-control and discipline. They don't walk around stiff-necked and uptight. They're the only people I know that live life truly unchained. They live life with a joy that can only be found when you're walking in freedom. And not that fake façade that the world tries to feed you – real freedom. Jesus freedom.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and life to the full." John 10:10

Until next time,

Emily

2017

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And in the blink of an eye, another year has come to an end. 2016 was rough. I'm not going to put us through the misery of recounting the death, the destruction, and the dismay of this past year. Suffice it to say that as a world, as a country, as a community, as friends, as family, and as individuals we are survivors.

2017 is upon us and I think it would be cliche to say that it's a chance for new beginnings. Rather, let's say it is an opportunity to build upon the lessons we have learned and to push forward toward success, toward prosperity, toward love. Let us use the good times and the bad of the last 12 months to propel us into being people of greater motivation, greater character, and greater strength. Let us honor where we have been by elevating the people we will be. The new year doesn't have to be a fresh start, but it can help us to re-focus, to re-center ourselves, to remember what we want and how to get there.

Happy New Year from all of us at By Grace! May it be a year of adventure, of laughter, of beauty, and of grace.

Until next time (and next year),

Emily and Kelsey

Merry Christmas!

Five days until Christmas! Remember to slow down, to breathe, to be. In two months it won't matter if you wrapped that last present or cooked the perfect ham, it will only matter that you laughed with your children, held your loved ones tightly, and cherished every second possible this holiday season. We are honored to have so many By Grace goods under your trees, and thank you for helping to make this a beautiful year. From all of ours to all of yours, we wish you the merriest of Christmases. 

Until next time,

Emily and Kelsey