Photo Courtesy of REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker

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.

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.