A social impact firm with the mission to empower women in Ghana and India recently beat out more than 40 other firms to win the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge, earning it $20,000.
Co-founded by Emily Moon and Kelsey Carlstedt in 2015, By Grace Designs is a nonprofit that sells handmade, culturally-authentic clothing online, offering vibrantly colored skirts, dresses, clutches and other accessories. Targeting primarily young women online, By Grace Designs employs nearly 100 women in Ghana and India.
Moon said that the venture educates, empowers and elevates women living in poverty by offering them living wages as seamstresses.
“I think that brilliance and beauty are 100 percent, equally distributed across the world,” Moon said. “But because not everyone has access to participate in the global marketplace, they aren’t able to flourish into who they want to be. We want to open that marketplace and empower women to be their own entrepreneurs.”
A member of the UMKC E-Scholars’ 2017 cohort, Moon grew up living in Ghana, which she said gave her a different perspective. It also inspired her to do something that would give back to the friends she grew up with in Africa.
“Growing up in that part of the world really just opened my eyes to a different reality and a new perspective,” Moon said. “When I came back to the U.S., knew that I really wanted to do something for the women that I grew up with. I knew that they were skilled and talented and I grew up with beautiful fabrics and I didn’t see anything like it over here.”
Born in the United States, Moon’s parents moved the family to Ghana when she was an infant while they established clean water systems. Moon said that her parents’ benevolence helped fuel the passion behind By Grace Designs.
“I think that By Grace is in some ways a culmination of what my parents started,” Moon said. “My dad set out to bring life and hope to this region and his entire work was social entrepreneurship, and my mom was in the fashion industry. By Grace is the perfect union of those two.”
For the past two years, By Grace Designs has primarily been supported by friends and family.
The Regnier Venture Creation Challenge win was the first outside funding for By Grace Designs, which Moon said was validating.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” Moon said of winning the grand prize. “It was honestly indescribable to me. There were so many other incredible competitors and I felt honored and encouraged. I’m so excited about what we’re going to be able to do with the money.”
With the funds, Moon said that the firm will focus on developing sales channels and marketing efforts. In addition, By Grace Designs hopes to employ about 100 workers in Ghana and India over the next year. Moon said that in addition to each worker being paid a living wage, employees are offered free childcare, healthcare, financial planning and a free daily lunch.
In the next year, Moon She believes that with the help of the Kansas City community, her venture will be successful.
“I think that there’s something incredible about Kansas City as far as the network here,” Moon said. “There’s a very strong spirit of entrepreneurship and to live in a city with a school (UMKC) that invests in entrepreneurs is really beautiful.”