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Meet Stephanie Sunderland

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Today we’re introducing our new interview series, featuring Soko insiders, supporters, partners and attaches - taking you behind the scenes into the worlds of entrepreneurs, designers, and leaders.

Every Tuesday, we’ll showcase an inspiring individual who embodies the values, drive, and style of a “Soko Babe” - people who, like all of us at Soko strive to do, are “fashioning a better world.”

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This week, we sit down with Stephanie Sunderland, Soko’s first photography fellow. Steph’s intimate portraits of Soko artisans open a window into the world of production - showcasing the faces and hands that play a role in creating every exquisite piece of Soko jewelry. Steph spent last summer living in Nairobi and capturing the story of Soko in her gorgeous photographs. Sound like your dream job? We’re on the hunt for our next photography fellow! Learn more about the program and apply today!

Home base: Lehi, Utah, USA

Your style in a few words: Natural, Soft, Story-telling.

What prompted you to get involved with Soko?

I was in Kenya for a photography internship working with Growth Africa. I met the founders of Soko there and fell in love with what they were doing. I had the opportunity to do some photography for them as part of my internship.

What was your photography experience going into the fellowship?

I had been photographing for about 3 years, and for most of that time I was studying photography at Utah Valley University. When I was a freshman with no clue what I wanted to major to in, I took a photography class for fun and quickly became obsessed. I declared it as my major my 2nd semester of college and never looked back. I graduated with my BFA in photography in April 2013.

What were some of the highlights of working in Kenya with our artisans?

It was such an amazing experience being able to meet all the artisans. They are so dedicated and creative - it was truly inspiring. My favorite shoots were when we would go to their homes and shops to document, well, everything - both work and life. While I would photograph the artisans would talk about themselves and their work. It was wonderful to hear how they came to this point in their life, and it allowed me to hear their stories during the process of documenting them.

Were there any challenges you faced as a photography fellow? How did you overcome them? Sometimes we would work with people who hadn’t had their picture taken very often, and so they were very uneasy. It would take some work to make them feel comfortable with the camera there. I found the best way was to just keep talking to them, and asking them about themselves while I was photographing.

Where do you seek inspiration for your work? I am inspired by a good story, a beautiful location, and by people. In school I took a Photo History class and I often refer back to some of my favorites I learned about, such as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Lilian Bassman, Edward Steichen, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Gertrude Kasebier

Any advice for aspiring photographers? Photograph something everyday.  

Favorite Soko piece? Ahh, that is so hard to decide! I don’t have a favorite piece but I was always partial to the recycled glass. I loved the colors.

Check out Stephanie’s current work, and view some highlights from her time with Soko below! 

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