“If you work hard and treat people with kindness and respect, you’ll never do wrong.” – Melissa Wong, House of Gratia et Caritas
If you’ve been joining my journey for awhile now, you might have noticed that I also do a guest column for the website, House of Gratia et Caritas, curated and created by the amazingly talented Melissa Wong.
While technically Melissa and I met through Instagram, our amazing group of friends had been telling us for ages that we absolutely needed to meet. When we finally did, it felt like we had known each other for ages.
Melissa is an wonderfully talented and creative woman with a true heart for social good. But what I love and respect most about Melissa is her heart for people. She loves meeting new people, learning their story, and using all her talents and resources to help them succeed.
She is a rare person to come across in life. I am so excited to share her story and project with you as this week’s #WCW Spotlight.
Me: When translated, House of Gratia Et Caritas means House Of Grace and Charity. How did you come up with the name?
Melissa: I really liked the idea of calling something “home”. When I started working on the blog, I just been laid off from my corporate job, so I think the idea of home or the longing to have an energy or vibe of security was kind of on my mind. After combining the purpose and focus of “look good, do good and give back” to the mission, it just kind of all came together. I decided that I would create the place where brands who are trying to do better or to give back more, would have a safe place to live without being classified or misjudged as brands who are trying to trendy and jump on this social giving bandwagon.
Me: You have a well-rounded background – from fashion buying to interviewing musicians. How did all these experiences and skill combine to form House of G + C?
Melissa: I grew up in a small business family background, so I saw firsthand that you have to wear many hats and have many skills – all the time- to survive. From my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri—I have awesome roots from a city that is so rich in history, art, indie music, and hard-working Midwestern culture – and that really grounded me at a young age (in terms of being financially independent) and always taking the time to meet the people and explore places around me. When I moved to New York City, it was a total culture shock and was such a crazy party playground. At that point, I had to learn to make ends meet so I could pay rent, but it also taught me about prioritizing my time.
I learned that I was the only one that was responsible for making the time to do the things that I love. To work hard, to help others, to travel, to learn, to party and of course- have fun. Through all of those work and life experiences, I always made sure I found time to go to shows and discover new music, to work/attend fashion fundraisers events, and especially to take day trips around the city. All of those experiences have helped me extend my life story into this current blog, and it just so happens that it’s focused in fashion and charity because I love those two concepts the most. That’s the long version. The short version of that answer would be that I think it happened organically – all by God’s timing. Honestly, I really believe that.
Me: What is it about socially responsible fashion that speaks to you and inspires you to pour so much of your free time into bringing this to life?
Melissa: Fashion and style are so unique to every person. I believe that causes and charities that people support (or would support via fashion if they knew they could) would be just as unique to every person. So why wouldn’t you want more people to know that fashion can be socially responsible? Why wouldn’t people want to know that there are many, many brands who have been socially responsible for years? Personally, being able to share those stories through the POV of interviews with founder and non-profit leaders is rewarding and inspiring for me.
Me: Has giving back always been a major theme in your life? Or something that came about later?
Melissa: Yes- It’s been a part of my life since I can remember. When I was a kid, the concept of giving back was around me everywhere. Volunteering to help with community projects, fundraising for local art/school initiatives as a kid, and seeing my parents donate to local sports teams or sponsoring non-profit organizations (via catered events from our restaurants or donating funds).
Me: Rather than simply writing about the brands and the stories behind them, you go the extra mile by creating beautiful digital editorials. What motivates you to spend the energy to help share the work and mission behind the brands you partner with?
Melissa: It’s fun to create and produce them. They are a lot of time and energy but the outcome is always something I’ve very proud of. To be able to introduce new brands and their missions, to include a growing roster of HGC models AND introduce a colorful collection of looks that every day people can wear- that in itself is a gift for me. It’s fun and productive (total Libra thinking there!)
Me: In addition to the editorial shoots you curate, you organize pop-up shops where people can meet and learn more about the mission behind the brands. Where did the idea to add pop-ups to the mix come from?
Melissa: It was never really planned. I had birthday coming up and I wanted everyone to be able to come hang out and shop. Because of my schedule I haven’t been able to plan a solid 2017 calendar, so I’ve been hosting the digital pop-ups in the meantime. That way people in New York, Kansas City, LA, Vegas, Miami, or anywhere in the U.S. can take part. The next one was recently launched and can be found here and the blog post with more info can be found here.
Me: Everything you do with House of G + C is done on your personal time. How do you find the time to do dedicate so much time to the website, on top of a full time job?
Melissa: I just make it happen. I’ve learned to live creatively – to make the shoots or pop-ups work with my schedule. If the final product doesn’t look or feel the way I’d like, I’m just happy I can say I set the goal to do it, and did. Because at the end of the day, as a creative person I’m a perfectionist but also as a writer- deadlines are there for a reason.
Me: What has been the most surprising part of your adventures with House Of G + C? What about the most inspiring part?
Melissa: Most surprising part: I can’t believe I’ve done 9 HGC photo shoots since 2014! And the next one, #10, the Spring/Summer 2017 one will be in Cape Town, South Africa. So excited!
Most inspiring part: I’d probably say it’s a tie for most humbling and inspiring because I get to meet SO many amazing people that I am excited for, and also excited to support for the future.
Me: On top of the editorial shoots and pop-ups, House of G + C regularly profiles the people behind the social responsible fashion revolution. Is there a story or piece of advice that has stuck with you?
Melissa: Honestly, there isn’t one singular piece of advice. But I’d say an overall common theme would be that if you love what you do, it’ll bring you closer to others that do the same. And what’s better than finding more of your social good family, while you’re out there pursing your passion?
Me: Why do you believe socially responsible fashion is experiencing a surge in popularity?
Melissa: Most recently, I’m sure it has a lot to do with the trending algorithms set up within social networking sites. But in general I do also believe that as a generation people are becoming more aware of the negative outcomes that could happen if we don’t pay more attention and try to make a difference.
Me: What is it about fashion that you feel lends itself to becoming a powerful medium for not only funding charitable organizations, but educating people about topical issues?
Melissa: Personal style and personal stories make us who we are. As people, we wear clothes that have inspiration that has to come from somewhere. When people are confident in who they are and what they stand for, setting the tone to learn and be willing to exploring new designers and conversations isn’t as difficult. If you’re able to connect with people you’re trying to reach and learn more about what makes them tick, the easy part is showing them how their style can influence the world around them. And in the social responsibility world that’s pretty powerful.
Me: What is the one piece of advice you would want to share with someone who wants to follow in your footsteps of using their own unique talents and life experiences to give back?
Melissa: Don’t worry about what other people think. It’s your life and your path. If you work hard and treat people with kindness and respect, you’ll never do wrong. Personally, my mantra has always been, if you wanna join me- let’s do this. If not, have a lovely day and get out of my way. 🙂