Do you have a God-given dream that you are struggling to take the first step on? Then read our inspiring interview today with Baylee Eby, co-founder of Dreamer & Co, a new jewelry brand helping to bring about flourishing in the Horn of Africa. Baylee and her co-founder didn’t know much, if anything, about starting a business, but they had a wild dream to empower women they encountered with opportunities to use their gifts and skills to serve others. Here’s their story.
Baylee, how did you first discover your calling to this work?
In 2015, I was in my final semester of grad school at the University of Virginia’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. For my master’s thesis, I wrote on water provision for refugees and had the opportunity to go to the Horn of Africa with a non-profit to collect data from a refugee camp. While there, I was also able see some of the other local programs run by that non-profit. It was very challenging for me emotionally and spiritually to experience the physical and spiritual poverty there.
One day we went to a vocational center that the non-profit had started to train women with skills such as sewing and jewelry making. There was an evident difference in the atmosphere there compared to the rest of the city. These women had a sense of hope and a growing sense of dignity. They were being trained to create beautiful things with their hands to sell in the local market and provide for their family.
Upon returning from the Horn of Africa, I spent the next year reflecting and considering what God had for me there. After a lot of dreaming and praying, I reached out to Jessica (my now co-founder) because she and her husband had just moved their family to the Horn of Africa to work for that same non-profit. I asked her what she thought about helping the women sell their jewelry in the U.S. so that they could have access to a greater market. She was totally on board.
Over the next two years, we started doing more dreaming, brainstorming, and praying to make our idea a reality. During this time, I was working at an international development company that contracted with USAID and learning best practices on how to effectively support impoverished and developing communities. We launched Dreamer & Co on April 2, 2018. It was a scary leap of faith into the world of entrepreneurship, but we both felt like this is where the Lord had called us to be and we were excited for what was in store!
What is the mission and vision of Dreamer and Co?
Dreamer & Co is a social impact jewelry brand that empowers low-income artisans in the Horn of Africa through business and inspires conscious consumption.
At Dreamer & Co, we operate under the belief that consuming goods in a globalized economy should be more than about ourselves, fashion should be more than trends, and business should be more than profits. Therefore, we leverage fashion and business to empower women around the world.
We connect consumers with beautiful, handmade products that are produced responsibly, ethically, and transparently for the benefit of others. We achieve this by providing job skills and a fair, living wage to our partner artisans in the Horn of Africa, helping them realize their potential and feel empowered, dignified, and in turn, flourish in their daily lives.
What have been the biggest influences that have helped to shape the business from a practical and philosophical standpoint?
After grad school, I was a part of the Capital Fellows, a leadership and discipleship program at McLean Presbyterian Church in McLean, VA. The program consists of graduate courses, a paid internship, one-on-one mentoring, leadership and community service opportunities—all focused on teaching fellows how to integrate a Christian worldview into all areas of life. This program had a huge impact on me in further discovering my calling with Dreamer & Co and on the company’s practical and philosophical vision.
Not only did the Fellows program help me to explore God’s design for me as a worker and contributor to human flourishing, but also my internship that year was with the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE)! As an intern, I had the opportunity to read amazing books and material on poverty alleviation and economic development and to write blogs on these topics. I learned so much from the team there—Hugh Whelchel, Anne Bradley, Art Lindsley, and others—on the intersection of faith, work, and economics, and it has shaped how we think about our work on Dreamer & Co.
If you are a regular follower of IFWE’s content, then you may clearly see the philosophical inspiration behind Dreamer & Co’s mission and vision—that we want people to be empowered through business (economics) and feel dignified (know their God given worth) and flourish (experience shalom) in their daily lives.
What were some of your biggest challenges to getting the business launched?
One of the greatest challenges was just starting. Jumping into a very unknown world of starting a business was scary. Both Jessica and I had little business or for-profit experience, so we were having to learn a lot as we went. Even though we had each other to lean on, we often felt alone.
However, once we started reaching out to others in the same field, we started to create an amazing support system. In addition, we are constantly reminding ourselves that we are not in control and to trust that we are heading in the right direction with the help of family, friends and mentors.
What have been some of the unexpected blessings?
In our first year of business, we doubled our artisan’s income! This was so huge for us and was a very exciting milestone that we had not even written down as a goal. When we are having hard days working out tedious kinks or frustrated that a new marketing plan didn’t go as well as we thought, we think back on successes like these to fuel ourselves.
What can you say to others who may be interested in starting a similar social impact business?
- Find a mentor! Especially if you are doing it alone. You need someone who has gone before you and can help answer questions.
- Take a business/marketing class, whether in school or online through a masterclass.
- Take time to develop your business model/plan so you know what you are working towards. When times get hard, you can look back on it and remind yourself of the vision!
Editor’s note: IFWE readers get 15% off all non-sale items at Dreamer & Co. through Sept. 30, 2019! Use code: IFWE15.