You can’t fully know the story of Neighbors Apparel without knowing Tess’s story. Here it is, in her own words:
I had dreamed of walking the halls of Vogue since I was 15. Stopping at nothing until I got there, I landed that coveted Vogue Magazine internship at the age of 20, with a year left of college. A young girl from small-town Ohio, you can imagine how I felt on top of the world walking those halls.
Then, the best thing that ever could have happened to me happened. I quit.
Two weeks into my role at Vogue, something wasn’t sitting quite right. My work as an intern was mundane beyond belief, and it got me thinking about what my purpose there really was. What was my time and energy supporting at the end of the day? When I boiled it down to its core, my personal version of that answer was: a glossy magazine page that told someone what to wear. Really?
Don’t get me wrong, fashion isn’t inherently bad. I love it for what it is, especially the unending creativity and inspiration to be found. But what value was I creating for the world? Was I helping anyone? What was I chasing other than my own selfish ambition to get my name on that masthead? (That one packed the biggest punch.) I fast-forwarded forty years into my career, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give my life to writing words and curating images that felt so fleeting and materialistic, all to create fame and fortune to the Tess Reeves name. Maybe that’s for you — and if, so, great. We need you (I mean, I still read Vogue). But it wasn’t for me. There had to be something better that I could give my life to.
I became so utterly convicted that I was meant to do something else that I quit my Vogue internship just three weeks in. While I didn’t (and don’t) take quitting lightly, it was surprising to watch myself so easily give up a dream I had been chasing for so many years. Later on I would come to realize this was my first time experiencing the power and validity of “gut” decision-making. I could take you back to the very booth of that NYC Starbucks where I sat and stared at my resignation email for three hours. I clicked send, and the next day hopped a plane back to Ohio, not knowing what the heck I was going to do if it wasn’t fashion.
Fast-forward 18 months later and you’ll find me plugged in with a non-profit organization that served refugee families. I went from not even knowing there were refugees in my neighborhood to falling in love with the stories, beauty and culture of these newfound neighbors. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this — helping and interacting with these kind, beautiful people who had been dealt the unfortunate hand of fleeing their homes and countries — this is what I wanted to give my life to. As I started pursuing social work, thinking perhaps I could go back to school to become qualified, I was approached by that same non-profit with an opportunity to start a business using my fashion degree. I had asked them for a job, but instead they offered seed money and free space in their building if I wanted to start a business that worked to create jobs for refugee seamstresses who lacked opportunities to use such talents for work.
And that’s how Neighbors Apparel was born. I know, right?
There’s no doubt in my mind this is what I’m supposed to be doing, no matter how tall of an order it is or how unlikely it seems that I should be the one doing it. Every day I’m reminded that I can’t do it myself, which is where you come in. True, lasting impact for our refugee neighbors will only happen if you and I both do our part to inspire others to get involved. Thank you for joining me in this mission.