Want To Make The World Better? Here Are 3 Women Doing Just That

If you've spent the better part of the past year thinking about how you can do something good — mentor a teen, donate your clothes (or your cash) to those in need, or take part in a beach cleanup, for example — you're not alone. With all that's going on in the world, spreading good vibes and giving back matters more now than ever, because the way we see it: good creates good. Gap wholeheartedly agrees and, as such, launched Gap For Good. This initiative is designed to not only support the brand's latest sustainability efforts but also inspire everyone everywhere to act responsibly and thoughtfully and do what they can, big or small, to better the world around them.
To celebrate this mission, we tapped a trio of remarkable New York-based women who all aspire to improve other people's lives — in very different but equally meaningful ways. From a fashion stylist who does double duty as a Girl Scout leader for young girls in the shelter system to an artist who plasters inspirational poetry on the streets, these women (all of whom put their own unique spin on Gap's just-released Soft Wear Denim collection, which is made using 20% less water than traditional washes) don't just radiate positive energy, they live by it, too. Get to know them, the good deeds they're behind, and their advice for anyone who wants to contribute to shaping a more empathetic, optimistic world, below.
Solange, a fashion stylist and brand consultant by day, is a Girl Scout Leader for Troop 6000, a Girl Scout program serving young girls in the New York City shelter system.
What's the story behind your involvement with Troop 6000?
"Last year, I was asked to be the stylist for a Teen Vogue shoot with the original troop. I met the leader Giselle, her daughters, and the other girls, and I was so inspired by their stories. I offered to help in any way that I could."
How did you know it was the perfect fit?
"I have always been motivated by women and underrepresented minorities and fixing the misrepresentations that are in the media. This was the perfect nexus of all of my interests — economic, racial, and gender. Sometimes, it's hard to find something that actually aligns with your values. This was a great opportunity that felt authentic."
Tell me about your experience spending time with the girls.
"It's mostly art related. We try to plan interesting educational field trips and think of meaningful ways that we can engage with them to inject stability in their otherwise chaotic lifestyle. They crave stability — and the attention and admiration of adults who look like them and respect them. We don't treat them differently."

I hope to teach the girls how to be leaders and give them the confidence to assert themselves.

—Solange Franklin
What other values do you hope to instill in them?
"I hope to teach the girls how to be leaders and give them the confidence to assert themselves. It's important for me to drill into them that their perspectives matter — and that it's something that no one can take away. Despite whatever is going on around you, that's something you can always control."
With your seemingly hectic schedule, how do you find the time to volunteer?
"Being a freelancer now, I'm able to buffer in time for it. I schedule jobs around it, because it's so important that the girls have regular stability."
What would you say is the biggest reward?
"It's as simple as the hugs I get from the girls every week."
Johanna, an immigrant from El Salvador, is the creator of and visual artist behind The Unapologetically Brown Series, a creative house and street-art series in New York City meant to empower communities of color.
How did The Unapologetically Brown Series come to fruition?
"It first started as a SoundCould project — I was doing spoken word. But I found that it was a bit of a challenge to reach people that way. You really have to force them to listen. However, if you see a poster on the street, you can't really ignore it. I realized that if I put everything on paper and literally plastered posters all over the streets, people would pay attention, one way or another."
So what has the reaction been like here in New York?
"It's been amazing. People send me photos they've taken by my posters all the time, where they're smiling really big, which I love. Just recently a woman sent me a picture of her little girl next to one of my pieces. At the end of the day, that's truly the reason I'm doing this. I'm a firm believer that if kids can't see it, they don't know they can be it."
On that note, what do you want that little girl to take away from your art?
"Little girls, older girls, people in general — I want them to look at my art and realize that even though walking around in a universe where they may not necessarily see themselves in everything, it's still for her."

I think people get caught up in what it means to give back. It doesn't have to be huge. Just being kind works.

—Johanna Toruño
You also make your posters free, via your website.
"I do. The whole point of my work is for it to be accessible, so I also put a lot of the posters online for free. People print them out and use them as protest signs or take them to their own streets, all over the country. I have educators email me and tell me that they put them up in their classrooms, which is so cool."
That's so incredible. What else are you doing to push this movement forward?
"There's more to what I do than just putting posters up. I teach workshops. I teach kids how to wheat paste so that they can go out and make their own content. It's really important for me to pass down the tools that I've learned."
What's your advice to someone who wants to give back in an impactful way but may not know where to start?
"I think you have to look around and understand what table you're sitting at. Everyone's experiences and resources and privileges are different — maybe what you can do, I can't do. So I'd encourage people to look in their backyard, see what they can offer, and extend a hand. It's easier than you may realize. You don't have to be curing diseases. I think people get caught up in what it means to give back. It doesn't have to be huge. Just being kind works."
Emilia is a spiritual health advisor and mental health advocate who utilizes social media and her own personal experiences to raise awareness and help people gain a more digestible and relatable understanding of mental health.
Tell me about your experience growing up. Was mental health a topic that was talked about at home?
"I am a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn. I grew up in a spiritual family, in the sense that bruja and energy work were big things and very present. Mental health, however, and addressing it, weren't. Growing up in the hood, it's one of those things that you realize no one talked about. It's almost like there was no time for that. So, as someone that deals with my own battles, mental health wise, I didn't have anybody to talk to. There was no one in my community that could understand what I was going through."
So at some point, you were ready to do something about it.
"Exactly. I got tired of being the depressed kid that no one understood, so I decided to start talking about mental health."
How did you start that conversation?
"I took to social media. I began making videos that were 60 seconds or less, covering different things related to mental health — like anxiety and depression. I started to build an audience and establish a space to talk about these things, because I wanted people like me to know that there is someone out there that sounds like them that can relate to these things, too."

I am trying to be that voice that I didn't hear growing up — and show people that we all have a place in the world.

—Emilia Ortiz
You're talking about stuff that isn't always easy to talk about. What motivates you when things get challenging?
"I am trying to be that voice that I didn't hear growing up — and show people that we all have a place in the world. If I can be taken seriously in the spiritual world and in the mental health world, then there's no reason that anyone from any background shouldn't be able to be taken seriously, in whatever field it is they're in."
In what other ways do you hope to inspire women?
"Because I have a strong accent and I don't have a degree, I was told over and over that I wasn't going to be able to do the work that I'm doing and no one was ever going to take me seriously. I want other women to know that being yourself is not going to damage your cause, your brand. That includes doing things your way. You don't have to follow the rules every time. The rules weren't made for everybody. We're not all the same people. I hope that my work inspires other women to know they they can be real, they can be themselves, and there's nothing wrong with that."
What you're doing has such a positive impact on so many people. How does that feel?
"It feels incredible and it's very fulfilling, but it's also a very big responsibility. I am mindful that it's something to be responsible with. I am inspiring and helping so many people, and while that's amazing and I'm allowed to be flawed and to be human, I also have to be ethical. It's a bit of pressure. It feels especially good, because it feels like I haven't found my place in the world but that I actually made it. It believe it's better that way."
Shop This Story

More from Fashion

R29 Original Series