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200 East 8th St. #303
Austin, Texas 78701
The United States

5129712177

Open Arms is a social enterprise dedicated to people and the planet by employing refugee women at a living wage to make fashionable apparel and accessories out of reclaimed and USA-made materials in the US. 

Our Stories

Our team of refugee women share stories of hope and triumph for
women everywhere.

Our team of refugee women share stories of hope and triumph for
women everywhere.

 


The Story of Open Arms

In January, 2010, Open Arms co-founder and CEO, Leslie Beasley, took a trip to Uganda. By chance she spent time with a group of refugee women from the Acholi tribe and marveled at the resilience of their spirits as they sang and danced together. Their dignity in the face of trials moved her deeply. She left them knowing she wanted to do something to help refugee women.

Upon returning to Austin, TX, Leslie was drawn to the rapidly growing yet largely invisible refugee population in her own community. She set up a meeting with the director of Refugee Services of Texas and asked the question, "What is the biggest need for the refugees living in our community?" Her answer kick-started this social enterprise. She said that most of the refugees end up in jobs where they are overworked and underpaid and get caught in a cycle of dependency and despair. What they need, she explained, are sustainable jobs that provide a livable wage. So, Leslie set out to start a business that would employ refugee women at a wage that would allow them to provide for their families……a company with a conscience!

She began by asking some of her friends if they wanted to join the adventure of starting such a company, and was pleased but not surprised by their positive responses. Lacey Strake, Open Arms co-founder, was the first to say "yes", and they were quickly joined by several other friends. Seemingly overnight, they had a seven-woman team overflowing with passion and complementary talents. From the start, they were determined to do business differently. The passion and work ethic of the Open Arms' founding team (Leslie, Alexia, Diane, Katherine, Lacey, Linda, and Trina) and the growing network of friends and supporters has made Open Arms a success today.


Man Maya

Our youngest team member, Man Maya creates many of the hand-sewn flourishes on our products. Her quick smile and helpful attitude brighten the workspace for everyone.

Man Maya is also from Bhutan, but can only remember the refugee camp in Nepal that was her home for 17 years. Living in flimsy bamboo houses crowded closely together presented its share of difficulties, including a general climate of danger in the camp. As camp residents, she and her family had no rights or freedom of movement, at least until the state department approved their application. She lives in Austin with her parents but still worries about two brothers she had to leave behind in the camps.


Flora

Flora works at Open Arms in the pre-production and post-production stages for all of our products. She joyfully accepts new challenges and is eager to help in every area.

She is the widowed mother of 7 children, ranging in age from 5 to 18. They fled violent fighting in southern Sudan, with vivid memories of shootings and houses burning with families locked inside. She tries to keep in touch with the family she left behind, including her mother, sister and brother (who just recently died). Like many Sudanese, she and her family escaped to Egypt and applied for refugee status with the United Nations. In Flora’s words, waiting for the U.N. to accept an application is “very hard.” She and her family lived in Egypt for four years, working a series of difficult, low-paying jobs before being resettled in Austin, TX.


Odile

Odile works in the production team at Open Arms, helping create the hand-sewn detail work. Her joy in her work is contagious and she is responsible for the spontaneous dancing and singing that often break out in the office!

Born and raised in Congo Brazzaville, Odile fled oppression on foot, walking every day for a year to reach neighboring Gabon. Many unspeakable things happened to her and her family during their exodus from the Congo and the ten years in Gabon were also marred by an inhospitable attitude displayed by the local citizens. Her desperate desire to leave was finally fulfilled when her application to emigrate was approved, and she arrived in Austin with her three daughters in 2010. She is still haunted by the memory of three sons she had to leave in Gabon.


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Christine

Christine recently joined Open Arms in December, 2012, as a production specialist. Her sweet personality, paired with previous sewing experience has helped her become part of the team very quickly!

Originally from Burundi, she spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Thankfully, the camp was a good one, with food and relative safety, although crowded and without any work opportunities and certainly not a home with electricity or running water. She and her husband met in the camp and came to the U.S. with 4 children and one on the way! She tells us she is happy to have found work at Open Arms. With 5 children, she is also happy to see them get a good education.


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Mariam

After fleeing the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Mariam was moved to a refugee camp in Congo. Because of the massive influx of Rwandan refugees, overcrowding and food shortages forced Mariam to relocate to Zambia after four years. While living in a refugee camp there, she learned to sew. Though she found joy in sewing, she was unable to earn sufficient wages for her family, and always hoped to move to America someday.  Never having felt a sense of belonging as a Rwandan refugee living in neighboring countries, Mariam is now happy to call Austin her home. She is grateful for the opportunities of health and education for her four children, and is excited to be able to provide for her family while doing something she enjoys.


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