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Blog

GOALS.

Sarah Tao

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This business can be a crazy ride sometimes. Unpredictability, changing styles and seasons, new customers every week, and i mean... who knows what's coming in the next box, right!?


But time and time again, I'm reminded that this is not about the work of my own hands - it's not based on my ability or my marketing skills, or how i look as the next dress model (thank God!!). But rather, there's an growing undercurrent of people who want to give, and DressWell GiveWell continues to steadily bless others, month after month, and in increasing amounts. I'm totally blown away.


This past month, we hit a 10K mark of giving in fundraising dollars. That's NOT part of the checks that go out monthly to various organizations. This is in ADDITION to, and it's just the cherry on top. It's been slowly accumulating after months and months of adding up little dollars - because we believe that every little bit counts. I wanted to give a belated shoutout to Cynthia Coffman - a dear friend, who has volunteered countless hours over the past year+ to meticulously tally, submit paperwork, meet bi-weekly deadlines (it was frustrating at times, and not always easy!). She believed in the cause, in setting high goals, in making the most of what we're given, and in following through. Cynthia, without you, these organizations simply would not have received over 10K in extra funding, so thank you for serving so well! And even though you've moved on (to another area of work/service), and you may never know the full impact of your time & diligence... Thank you for believing in me, and being someone I could count on, truly!


So, we continue to climb, and give more together! THANK YOU to all of you who shop with me, whether you're brand new or you've been a steady, loyal customer around here - You ALL have been the heartbeat of this business, and I'm so encouraged by this wonderful community. November has just begun, it's high retail season. Life is busier than ever, and running a business continues to have its crazy challenges!


But, oh how I love to set goals... and then watch what happens. Only a few weeks until the end of 2018, let's do this!

ROHI Update: Graduations, Violence, and Flooding. Yet still hope.

Sarah Tao

I was recently sent a picture as a reminder of what good we can do for others, despite the storms.

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Summer has been an intense, tumultuous time for the community we support in Reynosa. If anyone has been following news in the recent months... there has been increased cartel violence and weekly, if not daily shootouts near the schools. Much of this was politically motivated violence. Can you imagine the fear of sending your child to school without protection? I can’t even fathom. Yet this poor community was left with no options.

To make things worse, flooding was so bad last month in the McAllen/Reynosa area, that roads were impassable, and homes and possessions were destroyed. Having been to the Colonias myself, I can only imagine that whole place just surrendered to mud, and whatever possessions were lost... well, they didn't have very much to begin with.

Graduation kept getting pushed back, with all the violence and flooding, student absences, lack of teachers... but somehow, by some miracle, the high school had FOURTEEN graduates (see photo above!). Last year was 8, and the year before 5. DressWell GiveWell had the unique opportunity to provide incentives for school attendance and gradation with a computer distribution at the ceremony (took months to get them across the border, and configure them for distribution), but here is a snapshot of how your contributions are blessing others in a tangible way.

Still light in the darkness. I always believe education is one of the most powerful tools to lift others up. We're so thankful for the men and women on the ground, from various communities and non-profits, who have partnered to make graduation happen for these seniors, despite impossible circumstances. ROHI has partnered with so many (like Cherish Our Children International) who believe that these kids can have a better life. In addition, local girl scouts and several schools - like Canyon Creek Elementary, Pond Springs Elementary, Grisham Middle School, Pflugerville Elementary, and Block House Creek Elementary (all here in Austin, TX) have been working hard to make sure that these schools in Reynosa have the supplies they need to begin a new semester this fall. Partnership is key, and we are privileged to be a small part of blessing others.

We all know commencement… means beginnings. The road ahead is long. Plans are in the works to build safety structures for the students so they can come to school without fear. Conafe (the education agency for poor rural schools) provided a teacher, but enrollment is down sharply with continued violence. There are building projects, ongoing security concerns, and talks of mentoring opportunities for post-secondary education.

You can read the full newsletters here: http://www.therohifoundation.org/rohi-blog

Still Learning, Still Walking

Sarah Tao

Let's hit the rewind button, shall we?

October. November. December. It all seems a blur, with the flurry of sales and in-person events. Unboxing and giveaways. Packaging and post offices. Exceeded expectations. Loyal customers. And then, inevitably, reordering happens and the glorious cycle begins again.

But let me be real with you. This has been hard. Hours have been long, and work has been insanely mountainous. My back hurts from sitting at the computer so long. I've pulled all nighters (and I'm waaay too old for that.) Not all customers are the most gracious and charming. There are times when I want to say, "Hey! This is not my full-time job!” And for someone who operates best with systematic order and predictability...  well, let's just say this business is almost designed to have you feeling perpetually behind and with no assurance of what lies ahead.

I hate to admit it, but there have been times in the last month where I’m ready to be done. I've thought about life before all of this… When running a household of four young kids seemed enough, when there was such a thing as leisure time, and when I could veg out on the couch for an occasional episode or two. I could get my morning workout in, maybe even meet a friend for lunch, and diligently sit through all my kids' piano lessons. Ah, how life has changed. Yet, I knew this would be a sacrifice and that the first few months would be hard and tedious, and maybe even painful. That, it indeed has been. At the cost of many things, it has been hard to turn it off.

I know that this is the beginning, and the beginning is going to be hard. I made the decision to dig in deep, and my hands got pretty dirty. They say that nothing worth having comes easy, right?

As I reflect on the start of this new venture, I have learned to appreciate all those who sacrifice daily in their jobs. I think about those who serve in the church, or in the government, or in hospitals or classrooms with very little reward or compensation – perhaps they get a simple pat on the back, or maybe they earn enough to put food on the table, but some folks give much more than they receive… by far. For me, one of the greatest challenge has been sacrificing my time and effort, and balancing family. These last few months have been a good practice of generosity for me.

I’ve also learned that working hard can become a habit. I spent hours evaluating and re-evaluating, networking and building, and lots of trial and error. I trained myself to think creatively and to dream big. I made mistakes, and had to quickly learn to adjust. Starting a business became a serious kind of fun – with all the kickback of doing something for a greater cause, something outside of myself.

I’m also coming to the reluctant conclusion that I can’t do this on my own. Giving up tight control was not on my list. I like to play director, and tell all the pieces where to move and when. There’s always a mental timeline running through my head, and I write every post with precision and care. My December operation goals were overwhelming (I’ll write a separate post for that one!) but I learned in those ten days what it meant to be a recipient, and to humbly ask for and accept help. I think a tight grasp on this will only hamper growth, and letting go has got to be a good thing.

I absolutely love what this business can do. I love helping someone shy feel beautiful and confident. I love it when a friend is pleasantly surprised with the clothes they receive. I love talking with my kids about what it means to give to others. I love sharing my vision for DressWell when people ask. I love collaborating ideas. I love it when someone shops with me because they want to be intentional, and not just because they want a good deal. I love it when doors open wide, and it just takes guts to step forward.

It’s been a heck of a learning curve. I can’t immediately see the results or even know what next month will look like, but there is something exciting and scary and adrenaline-pumping about taking a risk for good. We are planting a seed, and whether or not it takes root, I know that this businesses we’ve created – this vehicle for giving – has challenged me to act stronger, think wiser, become braver… and with hard work, its wheels are greased and ready for what lies ahead, whatever that may be.  

Cheers to a New Year of partnering and giving together!

 

-Sarah, from DressWell GiveWell

 

 

 

Mountains

Sarah Tao

Anyone else's laundry pile look like mine? Every time I turn around I think it grows exponentially. We've got four stacks of underwear, four piles of mismatched socks, towers of dresses, skirts, pants with zippers, pants without zippers, sleeveless tops, pjs, tee shirts, collared shirts, school shirts... and somehow we're supposed to organize all this (when it all gets undone anyway, with one swipe of Monster Susie... or the kids' feeble attempts to carry these "organized piles" up the stairs and into their room without dropping and unfolding a single piece?? Yeah, right.) It's a game of orderly chaos, constant catch-up. With a mountainous view.

Life has pretty much been like that for me lately. If running this business has shown me one thing, it's that I have chosen to step into another, never-ending job. Going back to "work" is not really the right terminology. If I could actually "work" without screaming children whomping and screaming while they build their ziplines around me... If I could sit at the computer to do some graphics without Susie and Jeremy fighting to sit in my lap and push all the buttons... then maybe I could actually get some "work" done! So that's been my biggest frustration - I have SO MUCH that I WANT to do, but I simply can't get to it. There are teeth to brush, diapers to change, spills to clean, piano charts to diligently fill, lessons, sports, and meals meals meals (oh, Trader Joe's, how I have loved you so). 

Want a glimpse of my mountain for DressWell GiveWell? Let's see... business cards, photography, designing graphics, ordering supplies, vetting various agencies, follow-up with several contacts (way behind on that), keeping up with social media, newsletter, juggling emails, creating spreadsheets, tax docs & income disparities, and prepping for the big online launch in a week. Oh, and did I mention there's another mountain of (new, beautiful, amazing) clothes in another room - dying for my attention? It's like an enormous puzzle, and I'm not allowed to touch all the pieces (Well, maybe I can only touch two per day). Must. Breathe. 

I HAVE to come back to my WHY. I have to know why this is worth losing sleep, not exercising, exhausting my everything. I'm hoping things will "normalize" once the kids are in school (and I'm committing to return to my normal routine - yes I know I need to take care of myself!) But in the thick of it, I know God works in the mess. There's nothing neat and pretty and linear about how He wants us to live our lives. We simply don't grow in the comfortable. So this year, I've decided to take a risk and GO FOR IT.  If I fail, it's okay. If I lose money, it's okay. If my pride is shot (gulp), it's okay. My shortcomings remind me again that this business is not about me or my abilities, or what I can accomplish, but rather simply about serving and giving

And in that, I can finally...    rest.

 

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Sarah Tao

We really hope this is a good idea.

Because if it's not, we're gonna be out of a lot of cash, haha! Part of me thinks this is a cockamamie idea, maybe because it stemmed from another one of those 2am, lying-in-the-dark, can't-sleep epiphanies. But then again, life is too short to hoard what we have, and some needs are just too urgent.

Our goal is to grow our group WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE in place. We don't know who those people are. We don't know who loves to shop and give back. We don't know who out there gives generously. We don't know whose lives might be encouraged and changed. But we're about to find out, yes we are!

Visit our facebook page to see details on how you can GIVE over the next 7 days.

This defines TEAMWORK

Sarah Tao

Did you know we have a group of loyal friends who have rallied behind us for months now? Countless conversations, critical thinking, brainstorming, praying together, PARTNERING. 

Yes, yes, and yes. So good to know we have a whole gang of amazing people behind us on this one. You know who you are! We are SO grateful for you.

July 18, 2016. We consider this our official "launch" of the business. We didn't make a dime, but that wasn't our objective. Our older kids were giddy with excitement to participate. We snacked on wine & cheese. We gathered to share our vision, tell stories of how we got to this point, spend some quality time in prayer, and use our hands & feet to start this journey...   together.

DressWell GiveWell - Launch, 2016.

My Why.

Sarah Tao

It's not about the clothes.

Trust me, I'm no fashionista. I mean, I love browsing the shoes at Nordstrom Rack like the next girl... but I've never been the type to go ga-ga over fabrics & patterns. I have a good eye for art and beauty, maybe even photography. But this idea of selling clothes?? Um... Waaay left field.

So WHY am I doing this? And how did I get here?

Let's start with this: I’m intrigued by the idea of social entrepreneurship: Tackling new ideas for wide-scale change. Innovation, passion, problem-solving, persistence. 

My parents were both entrepreneurs in their own right, and I grew up from a young age watching the family business grow. I watched my mom sew and design, I spent evenings folding flyers and labeling products, I answered phone calls from all kinds of customers, I spent summers running the back office.

But I went to college, pursued music, started the journey of medicine, found a passion in teaching, went on to pursue higher education, and then arrived at my greatest and most challenging job…  being mommy. It’s been a windy path, but I’ve told friends that when I finally became a mom, I feel like I arrived. I have lots of loves, but I think providing the best for my family will always be my greatest passion. I have an amazing, dedicated husband, and four beautiful children, ages 8, 6, 4, and 2. It’s hard to think of anything that brings me more joy and satisfaction than loving them and being loved by them.

I’ve always been wildly independent, and my mom once told me that she raised me to be ‘too efficient.’ Ever since I left home, I’ve been on my own path and was never really interested in the family business. I’d help out here or there, but it was just a job. I think it wasn’t the business part that disinterested me, it was just that I didn’t have my WHY. I didn’t have a sense of purpose there.

My WHY would have to be about something bigger. And it would have to be something I’m passionate and excited about. I’m ambitious, competitive, and overeducated… and yet at the same time I feel totally content as a stay-at-home mom. I love my freedom, the flexibility, and the intensity of running a busy household. I don’t find my worth or my identity in the workplace, at least not at this stage in my life. So why would I pursue something like this? Why sacrifice my time and energy and resources to give it all away?

It was 2am, and it was a case of mind-racing insomnia. The question of WHY was heavy on my heart. Why could I not stop thinking about signing on with this company? God, did you have something prepared for me here? I kept thinking, “I don’t need to do this, I don’t even know if I want to do this!” But I told Him that I would walk in obedience, and if He opened up these doors and wanted me to enter in faith, then I would.

The idea of “being generous” is a growing thread in our marriage. For awhile, Josh and I had been praying and waiting to know where, how, when to give.  I had also been helping a new friend run her LuLaRoe business for a few weeks under my roof, walking through every step together, praying a lot, learning the ins and outs, and truly having a lot of fun with it – but with no strings attached, and no long-term commitment. I thought I’d just help her launch, and send her on her way. Yet while I was helping my friend many late nights, stealing away to help organize or take pictures, or work to improve her business… that epiphanous night, I realized that maybe she was helping me. Maybe God put her in my life, for me.

Enter moment of clarity.

It’s amazing when you start to piece things together. You realize there’s another story happening, and events are not coincidental. And maybe all along, my husband and I didn’t have to wrestle so much with the question of how to give. That night, I realized we didn’t have to work so hard to know where to give money. Hello. It’s a clothing business, so give the clothes away. 

So there you go. The idea was born, and it’s launching sometime Fall 2016. We don’t know whether we’ll be with this particular company long-term, but it looks promising, and it will be a good start as we form a vision of running our business as a vehicle for giving. For those of you who know us personally, you know we’re people people: we love building relationships and connecting, and our home is always an open door. Josh and I are hoping that this will be marriage-building for us… and a fun way to serve our community together. 

You see, it's not really about the clothes. BUT the clothes are gonna bring people together. To yip and holler, open boxes, and labor together for something better. I don't have to worry about being the perfect model or "being right" for this fashion stuff. Instead, I get to creatively share with people how to feel beautiful & then joyfully GIVE beautiful away. 

Now, that I can do.

 

And So It Begins...

Sarah Tao

Got my 951 call today @ 12:15PM.  

I have to say, it was a little anticlimactic. It lasted a whole 5 minutes, hung up, and that was that. It was a bit of an unusual day... I was accompanying my out-of-town friend who was sitting next to me, and her little girl was propped on her lap, eyes glazed over watching The Land Before Time. I was staring at all the weird posters on the walls, listening to Vietnamese chatter, and trying to figure out all the buttons on this remote connected to my chair, while this guy was painting bright blue on my toes (Blue! This was so not me.) But then I looked down and lo and behold, there was an unknown number calling. I almost ended the call before I recognized the area code, and my first thought was, "What! Now? Here? Ohhhhh man." Press Answer.

So after weeks of waiting and researching and anticipating, it's really gonna happen! Wait, what? Folks, yes I'm going to do this crazy thing and sell clothes. I'm going to have to grit my teeth and put myself out there. For this journey of the next thousand miles (or who knows how long), I'm going to have to find courage, make daily sacrifices, dream big... and make it count.

So glad I don't have to do this by myself! I'm counting on you. Yes, YOU! Let's do this, family, old friends and new. This is not about me... but rather a community coming together to do some good. So... Shall we begin?

Here's to taking the very first step.