Featured Founder: Karla Heeter, Grace Gear

Karla Heeter’s Whyography is one of more than 30 stories featured in the “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose” book. 100 percent of proceeds from book sales benefit the Fueled by Purpose micro grant fund for womxn-owned businesses. To purchase the book, visit the Marketplace page.

Editor’s note: This is an edited version of the story Karla Heeter wrote while participating in a Whyography workshop.

“I felt like you never loved me,” Karla Heeter confessed to her mother. Her chest was tight, and she fought back tears and nearly choked on the words as they came out. Karla was in her early 50s at the time, but in that moment the wounds of her childhood were real and raw. She’d been raised in a family that never expressed love for one another. There were many times she felt lost, alone and unworthy of love. As she talked with her mom that day—adult to adult—and bared her soul, she hoped for a miracle. She didn’t get one. “You were always so obnoxious and overbearing,” her mother said. “No one wants to be around that.”

Though the conversation was painful, Karla was finally able to focus on healing. That included reflecting on the path her life had taken and focusing on the good that had come from her upbringing. She had developed a deep and loving bond with her childhood best friend—a horse named Julimar. That led her to the Western riding community as an adult, and she even started barrel racing at age 40. She also found what she needed at the local church growing up, which she often attended on her own. She went on to pursue a life of service as an adult, both in her career and through mission work in Guatemala.

It also influenced Karla’s entrepreneurial journey. After beating cancer and grieving the loss of a close friend and the tragic deaths of two colleagues, she co-founded the Bounce Back Project with Dr. Corey Martin. It’s an organization dedicated to making communities healthier and happier through resilience education. The pair also launched Bounce Travels, which focuses on resilience-centered group excursions.

Then, another business idea began to tug at Karla. She wanted to inspire others to get to know God the way she did. Her faith in God gave her the strength to persevere. She thought about how her Bible and the hope she’d found within it had been with her through the years. She envisioned creating embellished leather-bound Bibles so beautiful their owners would display them prominently on their coffee tables, where they would spark conversations about faith.

In 2017, Karla launched Grace Gear, a company offering extraordinary tools of faith. In addition to handcrafted and custom Bibles, she creates leather Bible covers and journals. She also offers devotionals and bookmarks and sells all of her products online and at select Western events and venues. This venture has enabled Karla to achieve her personal mission to share the unconditional love she found through her relationship with God. Her customers share stories about how the Bibles are starting conversations, just as she hoped. She also donates a portion of Grace Gear’s profits to support families in Guatemala.

Through her faith and a lot of self-reflection, Karla came to realize that purpose is often just on the other side of pain. After years of suffering, she was able to accept that her mother did the best she could and to forgive her.

To learn more about Karla’s businesses, visit GraceGear.shop, BounceBackProject.org and BounceTravels.com.

Photo: Grace Gear


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