I first walked into the shop and production center that is Vickery Trading Company (VTC) in July of 2018. I was stopping by to interview founder Stephanie Giddens, but the hour I spent there convinced me I needed to return and get to know the ladies who make things happen at VTC.
After a few emails, Stephanie invited me to shoot photos and assist with social media on a part-time basis. I began moonlighting as a Vickery Trading employee, which allowed me to build relationships with the women who made such an impression during that first visit. Before working at VTC, I had never met a refugee. Nearly a year later I have about a dozen friends who fled their homes in Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Congo.
Vickery Trading Co. is a children’s clothing company and nonprofit based in Dallas, Texas that equips refugee women for long-term success as they begin new lives in the United States. Upon hire, each associate is trained to sew and work in a business environment. They’re paid fair, living wages and offered resources—from education to counseling to job placement services.
Within my first month, I felt comfortable with and known by each of the ladies. We greeted each other with hugs and kisses on the cheek. At lunchtime they offered me some of their food, and every afternoon they asked if I’d like some tea. Despite initial hesitation, they grew comfortable with the camera hanging around my neck, giggling as they tried to pretend they didn’t notice the lens just a few feet away, capturing them working away on a sewing machine.
The truth is that my time with the women of VTC was filled with photography about five percent of the time. The rest of the time? Getting to know each other. The natural curiosity that buds between two people of two very different cultures is a prime platform for quick-forming friendship. They cook for me; I’ve driven them to dentist appointments; we’ve visited the local arboretum together.
This is the beauty of a photo project: the way to produce a successful image is not by capturing the perfect shot but by investing in the subjects as individuals. Not just admiring them from afar, but diving in deep. Stepping out of my comfort zone and starting a conversation with a stranger, not on the pretext of “Can I take your photo?” but rather “Can I get to know you?”