Go Ask Mom

Designed For Joy: New nonprofit provides work, training for low-income women

Designed For Joy, a faith-based nonprofit, launched sales of its home decor and jewelry pieces, created by community artisans, last month.

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Cary Heise and Kristen Sydow of Designed For Joy
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Cary Heise, a long-time local mompreneur, has a new venture aimed at helping low-income women, who are trying to make better lives for themselves and their families.

Designed For Joy, a faith-based nonprofit, launched sales of its home decor and jewelry pieces, created by community artisans, last month. The pieces are designed by local artist Kristen Sydow and handcrafted by participants involved in the organization's artisan program.

Heise, a mom of two in Apex, tells me her international mission work inspired her to launch Designed For Joy. The program targets low-income women, who are at risk for sex and labor trafficking or face hunger and homelessness. Designed For Joy provides them with the materials and instructions to craft the nonprofit's exclusive designs.

Products are available online, in local boutiques and at events. Sales help provide a living wage to program participants, who eventually graduate with workforce skills and job references so they can succeed in the long term.

Heise tells me last month's launch event exceeded expectations. The nonprofit raised more than $7,000 in three hours.

“Attendance and fundraising from our launch event spoke loudly to the fact that people are eager to be part of a bigger plan to impact our local marketplace for good.” she tells me.

Heise, who has launched several other ventures, including Vend Raleigh, a resource for mompreneurs in the Triangle with its annual conference this week, shared more about Designed For Joy. Here's a Q&A:

Go Ask Mom: You've traveled a lot on mission trips. Can you share a story about an experience or person that you've met on these trips who has really inspired you to do this kind of work?

Cary Heise: My mission-minded friends and I travel the world financially supporting artisan groups in Belize, Costa Rica, Uganda, and most recently Rwanda. Coming home from Rwanda in May, I began thinking about why we haven't yet created an artisan group here at home. My desire was to create living wage jobs for women living at high risk for trafficking and for those with food and housing insecurity.

My inspiration and work model was inspired by an artisan co-op in Rwanda. The director offered a strong example of a sustainable work model, one that motivated women to work hard to stay to stay a part of a dignified work community. This particular artisan group offered work to 30 women coming from the streets and many coming from a life of prostitution.

GAM: How do you connect with the local artisans?

CH: The women we hire come from referrals from friends that lead programs offering long-term relationships and support. Our goal is to give each woman a solid job reference and marketable skills for full-time, long-term employment.

I’m connected with many friends that do great work around the Triangle. Currently, our two artisan groups come from Sir Walter Apartments, a low-income senior living building downtown on Fayetteville Street, and Caring Connections Ministry, a mentorship program for women coming from generational poverty, emergency situations, rehab and sometimes jail in Raleigh.

We are working directly with older adults that have food and housing insecurities at Sir Walter Apartments. Sir Walter Apartments will be renovated within the next two years and the residents will need to find new housing. Our seniors group here is very talented. They are artists in their own right. Our one male participant, Marvin, is a true artist, a painter.

GAM: What does Designed For Joy offer? And what do those pieces tell us about the women who have created them?
CH: Kristen Sydow is our product designer. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and majored in Textile Development and enjoyed a successful career as a Textile Designer for Liz Claiborne. She designs high quality products, sources the supplies and teaches each workshop. As we work with artisans, we discover their natural abilities and what parts of the process they enjoy and give everyone a task they feel skilled at.

Each product has a Joyfully Made tag and when a piece is created and completed by one artisan, we put her name on it. An art piece or jewelry piece that might cost around $70 is the equivalent almost six hours of a living wage for a mom of four, who needs to buy diapers, or a widow who needs a simple car repair, or fresh vegetables for a downtown Raleigh resident living in the grocery desert.

Their stories are told while we sit and work alongside one another. One artisan had a her first baby at 12. Another young mom has recently been diagnosed with a disabling disease. We hear many stories of abandonment.

A common reason for job loss is not being able to find reliable childcare. We hear struggles with getting childcare vouchers for full-time work. We are starting to understand how the web of childcare works in a community of women. They agree to watch each other’s child so others can get to work, but often times it’s at the sacrifice of someone’s job.

GAM: How do you hope Designed For Joy will grow?

CH: The success of our brand will determine how many women we can hire. I feel a real responsibility to sell our product lines so that we can go back and schedule more work shop hours with our artisans. Our success isn’t the number of earrings we sell. Our success is the number of living wage work hours we can offer.

My dream would be to have our own business space on the bus line with a room for childcare. Right now, we are using space that ministry partners offer us for free, which has been a beautiful gift. But, to grow this business, we need independent space to extend work hours, have evening events to invite the community in to engage new volunteers, space to store our inventory, etc. Having a workshop of our own would allow us to hire more women to take jobs such as retail sales and shipping product.

We are bringing our love for international co-ops into Designed For Joy by selling pieces from a Guatemalan collective and will be soon be scouting a sewing co-op in Costa Rica. We are able to sell their products, but we also have a flair for mash up products, taking original work from a co-op and creating something new for Designed For Joy. For instance, we have headboard lengths pillows that are created from hand woven upcycled cotton scarfs from our Guatemala co-op that are gorgeous!

To see what Designed For Joy has to offer - and how to support this great new nonprofit - DesignedForJoy.com has all of the details.
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