“It’s better to learn, to put something in your mind,” with passion in her voice, her eagerness is evident as she reminisces on her journey with Papillon and that which she has accomplished. It isn’t difficult to find Stephanie in the production area, as her smile quite literally lights up a room, her joy tangible. Although I’ve only known her for a short time, she never fails to greet me with a hug, not the kind out of obligation, but one of complete sincerity. Stephanie, at just 23 years old, has managed to create for herself a life she could have never anticipated six years ago.
We sit across from one another in the ceramics department, surrounded by unfinished handmade mugs awaiting to be painted with various vibrant colors of glaze and finished in the kiln. This is where she thrives. This is what makes her heart beat. With clay stained hands, she begins to unfold the details of her past that have helped pave the way for where she is today, the pottery manager, helping to manage over 40 people.
In the summer of 2011, Papillon was seeking employees for their sewing department, a new venture to expand the company’s product line, but Stephanie had no experience sewing. In an effort to find employment, the then 17-year-old sought to convince those hiring that because her mom could sew, she would be the perfect fit for the position. However, her argument fell pretty flat. But the rejection would not discourage her persistence. Pregnant at the time, she knew she needed an income to provide for her child and for herself. She never gave up, waiting for the day a position would open. Near the end of the summer on August 15th, she had the opportunity to roll paper beads for two days, and at this point, she was willing to do whatever she could to get her foot in the door. After those two days, she was called back. Today, she accredits her friend, who was an employee at the time, for securing her a permanent job with Papillon.
She began making jewelry and while she made it without complaint, it was four months following her initial start date that she discovered a new excitement, an endeavor that would not only reveal her passion but arguably her purpose as well. There was an opportunity to learn about making pottery – specifically mugs, a product that would become one of Papillon’s most unique and notable. It was a risk because it was only training, but Stephanie had a desire to learn. Something about it gravitated her toward the craft. It was not long before she fell in love with creating and sculpting and molding clay into different shapes and designs and forms.
It has now been four years since she began managing the ceramics department. And while it still brings her great joy, it is not void of difficulties. She describes the struggle of managing others at such a young age, especially in a culture where age defines authority. In fact, when she got her travel visa to visit the States for work purposes, there was jealous tension amongst her co-workers. But, despite that which is hard and discouraging, she intentionally seeks encouragement, praying that she would always be patient and kind, despite the circumstances or situations in which she finds herself. She focuses on the future, setting personal goals for herself, always with her child in mind. With only two years left of high school, she hopes to finish her education and someday become a sculptor, inspired by the sculptures she saw when she visited the US. But more than anything, she longs to cultivate her mind, pushing herself to learn more so that she, in turn, can teach others to do the same.
Stephanie is just one artisan of many who continues to defy the odds stacked against her. Papillon is, without a doubt, a better place because of her.