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Designed for Joy is making a difference with handmade goods

Besides crafting high-quality leather bags, Raleigh nonprofit Designed for Joy provides jobs to women in crisis while providing a living wage.

An array of Designed for Joy bags on a table for sale.

Designed for Joy helps women in crisis by proving living wages + tools to find full-time employment.

Photo by RALtoday

In Raleigh’s West End, adjacent to the Warehouse District, Designed for Joy operates in a 5,000 sqft warehouse + store space creating and selling handbags, jewelry, and more goods made by women in crisis who are paid a living wage and learning essential job skills.

Founded by executive director Cary Heise and designer Kristen Sydow, the pair started the nonprofit to support Raleigh’s populations experiencing crises like sex trafficking, homelessness, substance abuse, and refugee situations, among others.

“We provide living wage work and immediate employment for women in crisis, and we’re removing the stigma of vulnerability,” Sydow told RALtoday.

Artisans like Ana, a production coordinator who has been working for Designed for Joy for a year and a half, said she’s learned communication skills, independence, and responsibility.

Skills learned on the job can help artisans like Ana achieve full-time employment. In total, the nonprofit has provided its artisans with over $500,000 in living wages. Since its inception, Designed for Joy has employed over 140 women, and 91% of artisans move on to full-time work, the ultimate goal of the nonprofit.

A wall with letters spelling out "See the beauty in the little things" with folders underneath.

Designed for Joy’s common area includes a computer and resources for basic needs, food and credit assistance, insurance, Medicaid, and more.

Photo by RALtoday

Artisan tasks include sewing, performed by a group of full-time workers, installing hardware, and quality control to make sure the bags are in the best shape before heading to customers.

Designer Sydow prioritizes ease of creation for the artisans as well as materials + designs that last. Sydow also sources textiles, hardware, and accessories from manufacturers with clear and equitable labor practices.

Staff favorite products include the best-selling Rosie leather crossbody sling in tan, the Louise with a stylish acrylic handle, and the hand-sanded and stamped charcuterie boards.

Shop Designed for Joy on Cabarrus Street downtown or in its North Hills Innovation District storefront in Makers Alley.