There is an ongoing refugee crisis in our country and in our world. Millions of men, women, and children are making the incredibly difficult and impossible journey to a country they don’t know, with a language they don’t speak, to seek refuge and a better life for themselves and their families. The stories are heartbreaking, yet there are glimmers of hope in the darkness. Often these families come and we think that they need our charity. But what they really need is an opportunity–a chance. Charity doesn’t change lives in families, business does. A job does. Sustainable employment does. My guest this week is Stephanie Giddens, founder of Vickery Trading Co.–a children’s clothing company with a bigger mission–to equip refugee women with long-term success through vocational training, personal development, and fair wages. This is an absolutely incredible conversation about a topic that I’m incredibly passionate about, and I know that you’re going to be encouraged.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL PATH
Stephanie graduated college with a community health degree and went on to get her master’s degree in theology. She now works for a fashion company. While this may not seem like your typical career path, the pieces fit perfectly together for Stephanie. Her fashion company is not like most, and she spends her days working with refugees–allowing her to draw on her community health knowledge. Vickery Trading Co. is a non-profit social business that equips refugee women for long-term success through vocational training, personal development, and fair wages. They hire refugee women, train them to sew at a professional level, and they produce clothing (mostly for little girls). This unique company spends an hour of each and every day assisting their partner refugees with personal development and cultural assimilation through English as a second-language, handwriting, and typing classes. This allows the refugees that they work with to become valuable, employable residents of the United States.
SEWING AS AN OPPORTUNITY
Stephanie decided to use sewing as a teachable skill and a tool to help these refugee women assimilate. It is a uniquely social skill in that it allows for community and relationship-building. These women are all sitting in a room together working and learning, which helps them build both trust and English skills. The company was built upon this foundation. In terms of product, Stephanie saw a lot of companies making jewelry and handbags, and not as many folks doing clothes–especially children’s clothes. Stephanie saw a hole in the social business arena for people who want to do good when dressing their children. From that point of choosing their niche, Vickery Trading Co. moved on to running focus groups for mothers, allowing the team to develop their product ideas even further.
A HEART FOR HELPING
Stephanie’s first experience with the refugee community came when she was dropping off a donation box and was invited into a woman’s home. The woman told her that what she needed and wanted the most was a stable job. While the culture gap can be challenging, Stephanie has long had a heart for helping refugees. She has found the refugee populations she works with to be incredibly hard-working and industrious–always wanting to do their absolute best to create a better life for themselves and their families. At our very cores, despite our differences, Stephanie believes that we are all similarly humans with the capacity to form relationships and love one another.
About Stephanie Giddens, Founder & President of Vickery Trading Co.:
In the summer of 2000, Stephanie met poverty face-to-face in the slums of Calcutta. She will never forget the eyes of children whose daily reality was far different from hers. She returned to the U.S. confused and guilt-ridden about the luxuries she had but never appreciated.
In 2008, she took her first trip to East Africa. While wandering through a market in Kampala, Uganda, she bought a handmade paper necklace from a local artisan. In the artisan’s eyes, Stephanie saw something different than what she’d seen in Calcutta. The woman’s physical circumstances weren’t any better, but Stephanie’s purchasing her handiwork allowed dignity in a way that charity never could.
In 2011, Stephanie helped to develop a project that partnered businesswomen in Dallas with like-minded women in Rwanda. She raised money for leadership training and microfinance lending to launch Rwandan businesses. Many thrived.
Later in 2011, she was confronted and horrified by the proliferation of human exploitation, so she organized a panel to address human trafficking. Stephanie recognized again what she’d seen in Uganda – the unbelievable redemption and freedom that dignified work affords the human soul.
In the last five years, she’s studied social business and learned how work empowers the vulnerable. Stephanie and her husband seriously looked for social business opportunities in East Africa. Their plans to move to Rwanda in the summer 2013 fell through at the last minute – heartbreaking to the two of them and many who supported them.
They found themselves settling back into Dallas and though their plans changed, they knew they’d still been called to help. Their church began to engage refugees that lived in a neighborhood near their home called Vickery Meadows. Stephanie realized that she didn’t need a passport, or to live 8 time zones ahead to empower the vulnerable. She decided that if she couldn’t go to Rwanda, she would help women right there in Dallas.
CONNECT WITH STEPHANIE