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Getting to Know…Kirsten Dickerson ’95, founder and CEO of Raven + Lily

Most successful people have an Ah-ha moment, that “thing” that sets them on a new path.

For Kirsten Dickerson ’95, it was a 2007 mission to India with her Hollywood, CA, church.  Kirsten had been splitting her time between working with her filmmaker husband as an art director and costume designer during the day and volunteering with the homeless at night.  In India, the group met with three non-profits focused on at-risk women and children, and Kirsten saw an opportunity to create a business.

“It was a case of my passion and work colliding,” she said.  “This gave us an opportunity to help women from challenging backgrounds – some HIV positive, some in prostitution since they were 14, some from extreme poverty.  I think the most effective way to alleviate cycles of poverty is through the education of children as well as the empowerment of women through skills training and sustainable income opportunities.”

Raven + LilyAnd thus was born Raven + Lily, an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand dedicated to empowering women through design.  Austin-based Raven + Lily is growing at a 60%-70% annual rate, with the company already surpassing $1MM in sales in 2015.  The company has been selling its collections of apparel, jewelry, and accessories online and through distributors, but plans to open a retail store at Domain in Austin next April.

Kirsten Dickerson expresses gratitude to the weaving group in Cambodia that helps produce some of Raven + Lily’s apparel.
Kirsten Dickerson expresses gratitude to the weaving group in Cambodia that helps produce some of Raven + Lily’s apparel.

The company now operates 15 artisan partnerships in eight countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Cambodia, and the United States – and has evolved from a non-profit in Los Angeles into a for-profit “B Corporation.”  It helps employ 1,500 marginalized women at fair-trade wages to give them access to a safe job, sustainable income, health care, education, and “a real chance to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.

In Ethiopia, Raven + Lily is helping HIV-positive women by giving them jobs making jewelry from bullet casings and coins – a project that was highlighted a few years back by Fast Company magazine.  Dickerson also speaks with pride and joy about the company’s first partnership with an Indian woman named Ferdoz, who was married at 14 and whose husband left her after the birth of her fifth daughter.

“That’s like a death sentence in India, but she and her oldest daughter (a young adult) worked hard, created our most successful collection of wood and leather jewelry, and now employ 200 women,” Dickerson said. “Women (in her village) no longer mourn when girls are born, and she has sent all her children to school.

Kirsten, who pursues a minimalist lifestyle (“I live in a trailer on 25 acres with alpacas”), took some time out of her busy travel schedule to answer a few questions from Line Notes:

  • Which Baylor professor had the greatest impact on you? Blake Burleson.  I went on the first Baylor in Africa summer program in 1994 led by Dr. Burleson.  I studied world religion and African Lit during that program and was exposed to some incredibly challenging and inspiring experiences.  He’s always been encouraging and supportive of my curiosity to learn about other cultures and reconcile my faith with what I see happening globally.
  • The most memorable thing that happened to me at Baylor was…My parents divorced when I was at Baylor and it was an incredibly difficult and painful season of life. My roomates were the most supportive and incredible friends who helped me survive that season and actually thrive and grow as a Christian through the pain…I also took off a year from Baylor to participate in an outreach to students in Estonia after the Iron Curtain fell.  It was a profound experience, and my best friends from Baylor surprised me with a visit during their Spring Break.  Best memory ever!
  • Tell me one thing that’s not on your resume: I am talented at bird calls.
  • How do you approach making decisions? I try to listen, ponder, and pray about big decisions.  Sometimes I need time to mull things over and I usually talk to my husband (also a Baylor grad) about everything!  If I have to make a quick decision, then I go with my gut.  I try to practice God’s presence at all times and respond to his gentle leading of my heart and mind.
  • I get exercise by…cleaning up after our farm animals and working out on the land. I hate going to gyms.  I love being outside with my animals and land.  I also like to swim and hike.
  • My favorite place to travel is…the world.   I’ve been to over 30 countries.  I personally like being on safari in East Kenya, the rainforest region of Guatemala, and Southeast Asia in particular.
  • My favorite app is… Instagram.  It’s a love/hate relationship.
  • Do you have a go-to karaoke song? Grease medley with my husband.
  • Do you have a prized possession? Not really…maybe my farm animals.  I would say my family but I don’t really possess them but they are the most valuable for sure.  I don’t really attach to “stuff.”  We sold most of our belongings recently and neither of my parents are living.  I like being free from stuff in general.
  • What’s inspiring you right now? I was inspired by the new documentary called the True Cost about the impact of the fast fashion world on people and the planet.  Raven + Lily helped fund this movie, which forces one to ask the hard questions about “who made your clothes” and “how were your clothes made.”  I also recently was featured on the new podcast by Jamie Ivey called the Happy Hour.  She features some really amazing women on her show and it seems to really be inspiring those listening.  I highly recommend it.  Our family listens to “This American Life” every week.  It’s part of our routine and commute into Austin.  And the latest two books I’ve read tell you a lot about my interests. I Am Malala is a moving story about a young Pakistani women’s life and challenges.  Raven + Lily employs hundreds of refugees in Pakistan, so I was keenly interested in learning more about this region through Malala’s eyes.  I also enjoyed “the Good Life,” which is a super informational book written by an older couple who has been part of the homestead movement since the Great Depression…I personally learned a lot that I can apply to the way we are practicing the homestead lifestyle out at Green Acres.

Here’s a link to the Raven + Lily website, where you can learn more about the company’s approach and purchase its jewelry, clothing, accessories, and gifts.

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