“My motto is ‘Everyone is needed so everyone contributes in our family; it’s how we function best,’ ” shares Gia Hamilton, founder of Gris Gris Lab. The expectant mother lives life on her own terms. A New Orleans native, Hamilton returned to the Big Easy from the Big Apple, following Hurricane Katrina, because her creativity and her  community are uniquely bound together.  As she puts it, “it was a healing experience for me and I was able to see how the combination of things I loved, would serve a need in this community and how the work here could be used as models for success across the world.”

This spring, Hamilton will publish her first coffee table book, The Story of Magic Making: How Gris Gris Lab Began, which shares her story of transitioning, healing and why she marches to the beat of her own drum.

A lecturer and workshop facilitator, she’s often tapped to speak to college students in Women’s Studies programs and before women’s groups on her ingenious concept called Social Magic™. Read what she has to say. –yvette caslin

Can you give me the 30- to 60-second elevator pitch about you and your company?
Gris Gris Lab is a holistic consulting group and creativity lab that puts cultural knowledge into action. We consult, coach, and connect you to your optimal work and home environment. Gris Gris Lab uses Social Magic™, our trade secret to actualize your company’s vision. We focus on organizational design and structure, staff engagement and professional development, coaching, project management and carefully curated community focused events.

Why did you start your business?
I have known for a very long time that I was an entrepreneur and that I work best when I work for myself on projects. I was working and building a freelance practice in the New York-area for over 10 years.

Who do you serve?
My focus is on community building and engagement, I believe both nonprofit and for profit corporations benefit from Gris Gris Lab’s fresh approach to the work and our process of working using Social Magic. Social Magic ™ is our signature method of working with our clients to rid them of old paradigms, visualize solutions and create new patterns of success through adaptability, innovation and inspired work environments.

We also offer coaching services because everyone from executives to stay-at-home moms need a little extra support to identify and actualize goals from time to time.

Why is it important?
I believe that there are enough resources to raise the standard of living for all human beings and to be in harmony with our planet. For me, Gris Gris Lab community engagement works. Organizational, group and personal healing are a part of the process to reach that goal. Social Justice, equity and harmony are at the helm of my work.

What did you like most about living in New York?
I moved to New York City when I was a young adult attending New York University and it was a ride. I learned so much about me, my capacity to survive and grew thick skin, discovered community [the concept], developed professional skills and engaged with lifelong mentors. I enjoy the inspiration it gives me; there is so much to see and be motivated by. I started homeschooling my children when we lived there and the city was the greatest resource on the planet. On any given day, we sketched while on top of Rockefeller Center, played soccer on the pier or just hung out in a gorgeous public park, feeling at home learning everywhere. I love the people, I miss the culture. I loved the abundance of variety of food, culture, style and aesthetic.

Why did you move back to your hometown?
Raising three sons in an apartment was what I signed up for but knowing they missed their grand and great grandparents, a house with a yard and space to grow were huge factors. I was apprehensive about moving home; I didn’t have any professional contacts, I had no friends and a new baby that I traveled with. I was a big transition but within the first year I quickly learned why I was home – to reconnect with my roots and strengthen my core for what was ahead. Since returning home in late 2008 early 2009, I’ve seen my family blossom and change for the better, and establish roots here. Even though we have plans to travel internationally, we plan on New Orleans being our base.

What are some of the improvements you’ve seen in the city with the rebranding after Hurricane Katrina?
New Orleans is ripe with new opportunities. Even as a young professional woman of color, I have encountered challenges. Never before has this city been more ready for my kind of contribution. Before, if I had chosen a different career like a lawyer, it would have been easier for me to connect through associations, but as an applied anthropologist, curator and coach, I have been able to make connections outside of old New Orleans mentality. New Orleans is modeling community building, urban agriculture, educational alternatives and artistic projects. So many people flock here because it is a place to create and innovate for sure. We are also at the forefront of the entrepreneurs and small business boom; it is the absolute best time to work for yourself.

What does motherhood mean to you?
Motherhood was an afterthought when I was a young teen. I talked all the time about becoming a corporate lawyer and maybe having children one day. But, the universe allowed me to have a pivotal moment when I was young woman – a paradigm shift which is when the development of Social Magic™ first emerged. Being pregnant and committed to my vision of birth and motherhood rocked my core, allowing me to know myself on a level deeper than I had known before. My intuition was dead on and allowed me to think about my family and my child, my work from an integrated place, what would seem like a sacrifice to some became a part of my core values. I had my children at home, breastfed them and allowed them to wean, challenged breastfeeding in public, prepared vegetarian and raw meals and gardened and farmed, learned about herbs and natural family planning and finally homeschooled them to give them what they needed to succeed and learn to master themselves. I am very proud of each of these decisions; they have allowed me to cultivate amazing relationships with the young men in my life. I also felt it’s important for me to give them a new way of seeing me through the eyes of the world as someone outside of just being their mother, in an attempt to model happiness and fulfillment. In return, they are learning how to live with a dynamic woman so that they will be able to understand leadership and partnership.

They have also showed me that it is important to show them the world outside of the U.S. and western lifestyle and to give them global access. My middle son is learning Mandarin and French. My oldest son went to France this year; he’s 10-years-old.

Do you still homeschool your sons?
I creatively school my sons. I give this answer because they are currently all at the same school and have been in school for three years, but they attend public charter school with a French national program; it’s the same curriculum in France and Montessori. They love it, but are excited about our journey to homeschool or creatively school again. To me, creative schooling means apprenticeships, internships, discovering passions, un-schooling and structured learning time all wrapped up into one with travelling as a family across the globe.

What steps are you taking to reduce your carbon footprint?
We are conscious consumers, realizing that they fact that we live in America gives us privilege that the majority of the world has never known. I stress this to my children to help them make good decisions.

We recycle, compost, upcycle and reuse things as much as possible, which is easier because I have an art studio in our house. We garden and have a small urban farm where we grow oranges, figs, herbs, greens, veggies and edible flowers. We use edible landscaping principles and frequently shop at the thrift store for goodies and finds as well as other things we might need. We were a TV-free home for 10 years and last year bought a TV with very limited use, but I stress that we use our free time to be creative and use our hearts and our heads and spend time together. I cook every day and prepare their breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks with them mostly from scratch. We just enjoy food, use cloth napkins and pick flowers and herbs from our garden to set the table. It is my favorite job and with a new baby coming in February 2013, we are all learning the art of flexibility and interdependence. My goal is to build our family house on my family’s land in Vachere, Louisiana where my great grandfather started a family orchard and lived.

You mentioned in a blog that your children are exposed to the work in the creative lab, how do you balance your business and motherhood?
My clients know I have children. I talk about it as a positive and part of my goal is to normalize how parenting is viewed – as a stabilizing transition for fathers. As a mother, I am more grounded and focused because I practice the skill of multitasking and problem-solving on a regular basis, among other things. My boys have attended meetings with me, conferences and I look for opportunities for them to learn more about what I do or other professionals do. I have a client who worked with an architect. I brought my oldest son, who loves drawing and houses, along. He loved being able to ask questions afterwards. My motto is “Ask questions, don’t make apologies.” I don’t ask for permission to live my life in an alternative way. I see it as exposing people to other ways to approach life, which actually informs my work. The whole thing really is a big experiment. Sometimes it works flawlessly and other times it fails but in the failures I always learn something. More importantly, I appreciate being able to live authentically and true to my values.

There are times when I have meetings at my office – a triplex with a studio, four-bedroom apartment and office space – where clients and community members are excited to meet them. I also program events so that they can be included. I believe children learn best when they are included in the society and not excluded from it. I strive to give them opportunities to get a head start on interacting with adults and learning, to sit and listen and ask good questions.

Yvette Caslin

I'm a writer, image architect & significance marketer. Love photojournalism, creative expression & originality.