The Art of Change

Designed for Joy provides Raleigh women with artisan jobs that pay living wages.


By Brittany Murdock
Photos courtesy of Designed for Joy

The beginning of a new year brings chilling temperatures and the feeling of those winter blues. But it’s a rather different atmosphere at Designed for Joy in the Boylan Heights neighborhood in downtown Raleigh. Make your way through their vibrant pink doors into a room full of hardworking artisans, trendy jewelry, and the everlasting feeling of faith and change.

photo by brittany murdock

photo by brittany murdock

Designed for Joy (DFJ) is a local nonprofit organization providing women in the community with artisan jobs that pay a living wage, and in an environment that values Christian faith. On a mission trip to Rwanda back in May of 2017, owner Cary Heise witnessed the impact that artisan work was having on women. “It was keeping women off the streets,” Heise says. “It created a community that everyone relied on and wanted to be part of. They were producing products together, and making it very well.”

And within two months after returning from her trip—and with the help of her longtime friend and textiles guru Kristen Sydow—DFJ was born. The company has been changing the lives of women ever since. The DFJ artisans are women who have been living at high risk for housing insecurities, sex or labor trafficking, generational poverty, and many other debilitating circumstances. All of the women are referred to DFJ through the nonprofit’s partnerships with ministries and other organizations in the community.

Workshops take place in the beginning of the week, with women gathering around the community table ready for the day’s tasks. “We start each workshop with a devotion and prayer,” Heise says. “That’s the most precious time to hear what’s really on everybody’s hearts and what they’re going through.” Then the work begins, and they focus on cutting leather, sewing, and working on hardware. The end result becomes fashionable leather earrings, buckle cuffs, antler necklaces, and a variety of colorful and textured clutches.

Some women participate for several months, while others stay for just a few weeks until they can find a full-time job. “We never set out to be a full-time job, but we wanted to be somewhere that paid well in the in-between time. [We wanted to] help build their confidence, and give them some marketable skills,” Heise explains, adding that it’s important to be able to see the women progress and make these accomplishments so that they can give them a solid job reference.

So far, they’ve helped change the lives of 22 women. And with each woman who finds success beyond the pink doors, another seat opens. “We celebrate when we have an empty chair, because that means someone got a full-time job. It means we have space for another girl to come in,” Heise says.

There are many ways to get your hands on their beautiful work. Stop by during shop hours, order online, or visit a handful of local shops and boutiques that carry their products. Local merchants offering the DFJ products include Swagger, Little Details, Monroe.26, Carolina Roots Boutique, and The Local Squirrel.

The sign in the shop’s front window reads “Your Purchase Matters,” and it couldn’t be more true than here at DFJ. “Every $12 you spend is equal to a living-wage hour that we can give to someone,” Heise notes. And for someone like Pamela, an artisan who is reaping the benefits of DJF, it’s so much more than a monetary gift. “I’m just so grateful,” she shares. “You don’t know how coming here helps me. When I’m weak and I can’t make it, I sit at this table and somehow I get strength to carry on another day. I’m just grateful that I’m here.”

Looking to volunteer with DFJ? Visit to learn how you can get involved.

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