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interview:: kirsten dickerson of raven + lily

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FEATURED-KIRSTENName Kirsten Dickerson
Business Raven + Lily

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram


Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you feel called to do? I’m an adventurer,  entrepreneur, designer, risk-taker and advocate for women and children in poverty. I feel called to utilize my love of fashion and design to help alleviate poverty among women through a business model that promotes empowerment and dignity.

What is the story behind Raven + Lily and how it began? Raven + Lily began as a non-profit coming alongside various artisan groups I knew through my years of volunteer work around the world.  I had seen the growing trend of training women in design skills to help provide income opportunity for impoverished families, but there was no design input or sustainable market options for the women to make that goal a reality. With my background as an art director and stylist for music videos and commercials, I had great connections established in the design world that gave me a solid foundation.  A wonderful group of designer friends volunteered with me during the first few years to explore what it would look like to partner with these women to create collections that could be marketed in the West.  Once we landed on high quality, scalable designs we moved into a for profit social business model in order to help grow our efforts to employ at risk women through multiple design partnerships around the world. All the designs are exclusive to Raven + Lily, honor our eco-friendly and fair trade values, and focus on reflecting the beauty and culture of the women who made them.

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Who are the artisan groups employed by Raven + Lily and how many artisans are currently employed? We currently help employ over 1000 women around the world in countries such as Pakistan, India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Guatemala, and the USA.  The women come from various backgrounds such as coming out of slavery, being formerly homeless, living with HIV, or being a refugee of war.  We focus on sharing their stories of triumph and how they are overcoming these struggles and rebuilding their lives through dignified employment.  We partner with groups that pay fair trade wages or above, provide access to healthcare and education for their families, and ensure the women have a caring, safe environment for work.

What is one of your most memorable experiences from traveling around the world and meeting these women from different countries? So many memorable experiences…that is so hard to answer!  One specific story I like to share is the time I took my 9-year-old daughter to India with me to meet some of the artisans.  We were in the home of Ferdoz who is the leader of our wood and leather jewelry partnership.  She told me that the women no longer mourn when girls are born in their community.  They now rejoice!  This is because they have experienced the value and contributions that girls can bring to their family through employment and education.  We have not only seen Ferdoz and her girls benefit from our partnership, but we witnessed the transformation of how women are viewed in that culture. This is absolutely why I started this company, and I will never forget that conversation we shared on her rooftop.  It has motivated me to keep going and grow the company so that more and more women can experience such hope and dignity.

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An interesting fact from your background is your work experience overseas in India with Mother Teresa and Compassion International. What was your experience like? And what about this opportunity made the most impact on you/your life? The day after I graduated from Baylor University I hoped on a plane to India to volunteer with both Mother Teresa and Compassion International.  It was an incredibly difficult and challenging experience that transformed my thinking and world view. I knew I was being called into a life of service, but I had no idea it would look like it does today!  Since that trip to India (and the year prior that I lived in the former Soviet Union), I have been actively involved in volunteering for multiple non-profits both locally and globally. Today, while I personally support many non-profits, I am a huge advocate for promoting social business as one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty.

Is there an area in life or business that God is calling you to take a risk? Pretty much my whole lifestyle is a risk.  My entire family is a massive supporter of Raven + Lily.  I called my husband the President of the fan club. I couldn’t have taken the company this far without them and their willingness to take risks with me. We recently sold our home, massively downsized, bought land outside of Austin, and moved into a vintage Spartan trailer. Our guest house is a yurt and we have mini donkeys. We call it Green Acres.  I’m pretty sure we’re a bit nutty, but we love it.

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What are your fears within that risk and how are you navigating it {well}? Taking risks requires an incredible amount of trust in God, patience, and prayer. My husband and I have learned to “roll with the punches” as nothing ever seems to go as planned. But we don’t give up easy. We keep praying and seeking God’s guidance together. Our kids are able to be an active part of our journey and are learning with us how to celebrate triumphs and process defeat. I navigate risk well because I have a great team both at Raven + Lily as well as at home with my family. Ultimately, I keep a “palms up” attitude so I don’t try to control or hold onto anything too tightly. I honestly believe that Raven + Lily is a calling so I can trust that He will guide me and provide for the needs of the company and women we partner with. Life has been hard to be honest, but the risks and struggles have also provided a great sense of purpose, joy, and adventure that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

What do you know now that you wish you had known 5 years ago (about business or life)? I had no idea how to run a business 5 years ago, but I’ve had on the job training as a CEO through some incredible mentors.  I wish I had an MBA before starting R+L! That would have saved me so much headache. However, I feel so much more empowered to lead the company now than I did 5 years ago. I’m truly grateful for my mentors.

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What advice would you give to women who are striving to have a healthy work/life balance? Unplug! My husband and I are big advocates for this. We do not plug in until after we drop off the kids at school and we fully unplug each night so we can have quality family time. It helps my mind and heart to rest and recoup. Living at Green Acres has been an incredible way to connect with nature daily, even if it’s scooping up donkey manure a few hours after getting an award at Neiman Marcus. That is a literal snippet of my life.

What is your favorite scripture and why? I have a few favorites, but it feels appropriate to share the passage that is the namesake for our company:  Luke 12: 22-31 (Consider the Ravens + Lilies passage). I passionately believe each person on the planet is valued by God and He doesn’t want us to worry but to trust Him.  By connecting women in the West (who often worry about what we eat or drink for vanity reasons) with women in our partnerships (who worry about what they eat or drink for survival), then I think we are able to learn from each other and see God’s value and desire to provide for his children.

What do you want to be remembered for? Loving my family and friends well.  Living a life that is a blessing and inspiration to others.

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Name 3 people you would want to invite to dinner. My roommates from college.  I miss them! That’s probably not what you were thinking.  Maybe Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton.  That would be a lively conversation about women and global issues.  I’d love it!

Salty or Sweet? Both…like salted caramel!

1 Comment on interview:: kirsten dickerson of raven + lily

  1. Kim
    May 3, 2015 at 12:41 am (2 years ago)

    Inspiring article! I love Raven + Lily, what they stand for and their lovely products. It’s always nice to see that endeavors like this are run by real people who have had to work hard, trust the Lord and take risks to accomplish what they feel they are called to do.

    Reply

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