STITCH BY STITCH – SEP JORDAN
by Alexandra Osváth
To coincide with World Refugee Day on 20 June 2019, THINGS TO DO IN GENEVA speaks to a Geneva-based businesswoman who is making a concrete difference to the lives of women refugees in Jordan – one stitch at a time.
What if every stitch you wear told a unique story?
Today’s consumers are more conscious than ever about the origin of the products they buy, many turning to brands with strong ethics at their core.
Roberta Ventura, the Geneva-based founder and CEO of SEP Jordan, speaks to THINGS TO DO IN GENEVA about how her social enterprise is empowering refugee women.
Roberta opened a Sep Jordan boutique in Carouge in December 2018.
HAND-EMBROIDERED BESPOKE PIECES
SEP Jordan offers a variety of luxury lifestyle accessories, each delicately hand-embroidered by women living in Jordan’s Jerash refugee camp.
“No two pieces are alike,” Roberta tells me. “The SEP artist chooses the colour and the pattern, and then pours her feelings and emotions into her work. Each item is signed by name.”
The 525 artists employed by SEP Jordan meticulously embroider luxurious Italian fabrics with mostly traditional Palestinian patterns, as well as geometric patterns inspired by Islamic architectural geometry.
For bespoke orders, customers can select the colours, patterns and measurements they prefer, especially useful for items for the home such as tablecloths.
SEP Jordan’s key fashion accessory is their contemporary keffiyeh, which can be worn year-round as a scarf in winter, or as a pareo in summer. SEP Jordan also offers mini versions of the keffiyeh that can be worn as lightweight summer scarves.
SEP Jordan provides more than just beautiful, unique items, however. Social impact is at the core of its mission.
“Jerash Camp opened in 1968, so this is the fourth generation of people living there,” Roberta explains. “They face tremendous difficulties on a daily basis: very little work, no proper education and healthcare, nutrition problems, inadequate shelters, sewage overflow, and rampant debt from wild micro-lending, which has landed many of the SEP artists’ husbands in jail.”
Roberta’s enterprise is working to change that.
“SEP Jordan has an emotional and economic impact on the lives of women who happen to be refugees,” Roberta tells me. “The SEP artists find us through word-of-mouth, and we provide them with a compulsory 2-month free training program to upgrade their skills to the highest standard. We then pay them per item they complete at a 30-50% premium to the market rate in Jordan.”
SEP Jordan works directly with each artist, and holds weekly conference calls with the camp manager. “There isn’t a middle man,” Roberta says. “We keep track of the work of every single lady and make sure they are paid on time.”
SEP Jordan also provides activities at the camp, such as talks on domestic violence, nutrition, art, and English classes for children.
Prior to founding SEP Jordan, Roberta worked in Investment Banking and Asset Management for 20 years.
“I’ve always been passionate about helping refugees, and realised that the situation was actually getting worse despite relief funds,” she says. “While donations from charities are crucial in times of crisis, people are negatively impacted by living off donations in the long-term. I realised that the private sector could make a positive impact, providing a dignified lifestyle to refugees while they wait. By giving the SEP artists an opportunity to earn a living and take pride in their work, our social enterprise is changing not only this generation at the camp, but also the next.”
SEP Jordan has been featured in top fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar, on CNN’s Amanpour show, has been endorsed by celebrities and supermodels, and even provided the costume embroideries for the 2018 film Mary Magdalene. Seeing their work on the world stage gives the artists a strong sense of pride, self-esteem and dignity.
“The timing of the launch of SEP Jordan coincides with the world consumer becoming more conscious,” Roberta tells me. “The international press likes us because we’re new and different. We offer Italian taste and fabrics fused with Middle Eastern talent, colours, and designs. And we’re more than just an initiative to help – we seek to destroy stereotypes and build respect for refugees.”
ROBERTA’S TOP THINGS TO DO IN GENEVA
“I recently discovered Green Gorilla, which is my new favorite superfood spot,” Roberta says. “I also love Gelato Mania in Carouge, Misuji in Plainpalais for sushi, and Relais de l’Entrecôte in Rive.”
Located just off Place du Marché in Geneva’s Carouge district (rue Vautier 31, 1227 Carouge), the SEP Jordan boutique is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9:30 to 18:30.
Tel: 078 911 54 27