Empowering Women Refugees: How I Used Ethical Fashion To Tackle A Pressing Issue


For a moment, I would like you all to take a journey with me, I would like you all to close your eyes and picture this scenario.

She is on a boat, clutching her two-year-old son, so tight, wishing she could protect him from all he’s seen. She thinks of her war-torn country...or what remains of it. Her two-year-old cries, hungry and shivering. She is aware that she is of the lucky few who were able to secure a spot on this raft but is terrified of what lies ahead. She wonders what will become of her husband who was unable to join her on this journey but told her he would catch up to them. She never thought they would be separated like this. Choking back tears, she stares down at her son's eyes that ache from crying. His ribs have become clearly visible. She stares to the point where an endless blue sea meets an endless blue sky and wonders if that is where hope lies.

In 2011 I was finishing my graduate work in "Crisis Care for Refugees after Resettling in their Host Country". It was the start of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. The refugee crisis had hit an all-time high by 2013 and is still growing. I remember going into International Psychology with the goal of later doing something involving art therapy. As my research progressed into the needs of refugees after arriving and resettling, a lot of the same issues were rising: feelings of anxiety, culture shock, and the language barrier was very standard for recently resettled refugees. While the list of challenges goes on, they are still very resilient and strong and want the best for their families and new country.

Photo Courtesy of Blue Meets Blue

So the question became how do we create a welcoming environment, make them feel empowered, and help them start their lives over?

I decided to combine my background in psychology with my background in design and came up with a unique form of art therapy. The concept is basically luxury fashion meets humanitarianism –Blue Meets Blue.

Photo Courtesy of Blue Meets Blue

Blue Meets Blue is an ethical clothing line that directly supports refugee women in the United States. Many families receive only $500/month after resettling in the United States, which is barely enough to cover groceries. This lasts for only a few months and after that, they are on their own. While grasping the language is difficult enough, most are unable to find work in their previous fields. We want to make sure they're able to find work to support their families.

We launched the company in August 2016 but had met two years prior to develop the idea and form the business. I had contacted resettlement agencies, they then surveyed refugees to see who used to work in the garment/sewing industry. After creating a team and working together for about two years we officially launched and received an outpouring of support. Since then we have met so many refugees (and partnered with so many organizations) that are excited to be a part of Blue Meets Blue and its growth. It was very important for me to start a business that felt fulfilling and enriching because in many cases it doesn't feel like work at all.

Consumers are also becoming very aware of unethical fashion, mass production, and fast fashion. One of my favorite documentaries, True Cost, shows how fast fashion is very detrimental to the environment and to the people involved in creating the garments. Work conditions in places like Bangladesh and China are so poor, the workers get paid very little, and the way the textiles are made and easily discarded create a lot of environmental toxins. Ethical fashion is on the rise, consumers feel happy when they buy something that serves a purpose. The clothing means something to those who make it means something to those who will buy it.

After a few years of working with these women, they have reported feeling empowered, less anxious, and more focused on their new life. They are very grateful to be in the United States and very excited to have jobs. Many of them held very esteemed positions back in their home country and after arriving in the United States were unable to find work in their skill set which added to their depression.

One of the artisans at Blue Meets Blue was previously a seamstress in her home country. Before working with us the only job she was able to find was at a meat factory that was two hours away from her home. You can imagine how she felt when the only job she could find was to clean a factory, instead of work in her skillset. She also has a sick mother and a very sick brother and she is the main caretaker for her family. She couldn't be very far away from them in case of an emergency, and Blue Meets Blue was such a wonderful fit for her. She was not only able to stay close to her family but she did work that she enjoyed doing, work that she felt she could contribute to and built her confidence. Through Blue Meets Blue, the artisans have been able to work in their skill set, have friends amongst one another-growing their network, and have a safe space so they can work through many emotional burdens. This has been our greatest success thus far.

This year we are focusing on expanding and selling our products to stores, while still maintaining a focus on high-end, luxury, and slow fashion. We have expanded our team and our latest collection has been a collaboration with Rakan ShamsDeen, who had his own line in Turkey and has recently resettled in the US. Randa Kuziez our strategy consultant brings years of experience working with the refugee population in St. Louis. We also now have an incredible model, photographer, production manager, and of course the artisans who are the heart of our company.

Photo Courtesy of Blue Meets Blue

We lastly want to change the misconceptions about refugees in the United States by spreading love through our fashion. We want people to know that these incredible artisans are very grateful to be in the United States, and they are very excited to contribute to their new country. I hope that Blue Meets Blue will be a movement in the fashion industry, beautiful clothing with a powerful cause. We want to unite people with our fashion, Blue Meets Blue stands for an endless freedom and connectedness as free and connected as the blue of the ocean meeting the blue of the sky.

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."