In-depth with Roberta Ventura, the brain behind Sep
When I entered Milanesi a Milano, I was given the task of talking about fashion. When fashion encompasses a billion different things, there are numerous topics to discuss, and, as I got to know brands with a different mission than just selling, I understood that giving them a voice was a way of acknowledging them. I have always been drawn to supporting women, so when I came across this brand and read about their vision, objectives, and values, I understood there was something else in fashion.
Sep is a company that not only fights for and supports women but also inspires them to believe in themselves, to recognize their own value, and to pursue their own sense of power.
Social Enterprise Project is known as SEP. It is a luxury, fashion, and lifestyle company with an emphasis on social impact. In 2013, SEP became the first privately owned Jordanian business to open in the Jerash "Gaza" Camp. They collaborate with more than 500 embroiderers who are also refugees. Residents of the camp are seen as collaborators and artists rather than as people in need. The brand is laying a solid foundation for hundreds of women and their families to achieve economic independence.
How do you fuse Palestinian handmade embroidery with Italian style, to start a brand like SEP?
When I first visited the refugee camps, I was struck by this incredible stitch, the "cross stitch," which is usually embroidered over black polyester fabric with red, green, and white thread, extremely traditional tones that have been used for centuries.I found myself buying or looking at things that were either of amazing quality or things that no one I knew was going to wear, so that’s what gave me the idea.
So many thoughts came into my mind: how can they live in such poverty in the refugee camps with such a talent? I'm not an expert in embroidery, but I would love to have bags, scarves, cashmere, and hats with these patterns stitched onto better quality fabrics...
I got in contact with the ladies and came across the problem of having full stock rooms and no one wanting to buy the items. They were quite skeptical and depressed about this fact. I got to agree with them about which items were functional in the fashion business and would be aligned with my taste and the Italian style.
After discussing with many people about working with artist refugees and getting to understand everyone's opinion about this sort of collaboration, which, for them, sounded a bit crazy because everyone thought it would be a mess, since the refugees did not have a working tradition, deadlines to respect, or a general sense of work,
It’s here where I decided it was worth giving them a try, got creative, sorted out the process, and jumped into this journey.
Who is the brain behind your designs?
Myself and my husband designed everything so we would wear it. The ladies in the refugee camp most of the time help us with color combinations because they have a great sensibility for tinctures, so when it comes to making this type of decision, it's a great co-creation process.
Can you tell me more about the SEP-Tamari Foundation Academy?
I knew someone in Italy in the fashion sector, an expert in embroidery, and took her to the refugee camp. She spotted a few technical mistakes that the ladies would have learned for generations; she taught four ladies in the camp, two teachers, one for operations management and the other for quality control management; she managed to go back to the 1800s, where the technique was developed, with no knots, being aware of what happens in the back of the fabric, no thread leftovers, etc.
We have had a line of ladies waiting to learn and perfect their techniques since day one, and we offer this type of course for two months, where they get to practice and unlearn the bad habits that are commonly done while embroidering, in order to be able to create long-lasting garments of exceptional quality.This is how long it takes from “I am a good embroiderer; I learned at home” to “I am a professional embroiderer of the highest international standard.”
Every year, we have from 80 to 100 ladies pass the final exam at the Academy.
Would you consider expanding this type of training and aid for women in other countries?
Yes, definitely. We started off as SEP JORDAN; we removed the Jordan from the logo two years ago, thinking that Jordan was the first step, where we created the brand and developed the try-outs. If it continues to work, the plan is to bring it to other countries with ladies in a similar situation who have heritage skills but lack the means or knowledge to turn them into a profession, which they would be able to do with our assistance.
It doesn’t have to be Palestinian or Syrian refugees; over time, it could be anywhere.
Which generation is your product primarily aimed at?
It's interesting, because when we sit down as a team to create and design, we think about an age range between 35 and 45 years old because both my husband and I are in that range of age, but we really want to do things that don’t have an age or gender bias, which makes me super happy to see my 18-year-old daughter wearing our mittens, beanies, hoodies, etc. I am really happy to see that millennials, Gen Z, and others are picking it up.
Explain the transparency of what you’re offering to your customers.
To be honest with you, we show off our know-how because we would be extremely happy to see people all around doing the same with their own interpretation and their own DNA. At the end of the day, there are millions of refugees in the world, and as much as we would love to work with all of them, it would be impossible to get to that amount of people.
We debated internally about how we wanted to address the internal movements at SEP, arriving at the conclusion that the best way was to become a B corporation, which is a process that takes from 1 year to 3 years. In our case, I worked for a full year for a few hours every day. The B-corp does an in-depth audit; you open your books to them. They see who your suppliers are—names, addresses, and how much you pay every single artist; in the end, if you get a certification, it means that you put profits, people, and the planet on the same level.
To us, that was all we wanted—a third-party, independent audit to say that’s what we do. We are really proud to be a B-corporation.
We are raising the bar with the artisans’ payments; we think everyone should value their work and pay them accordingly.
Are you more into sticking to evergreen (classic) designs over trends of the moment? Why?
We will never be fast fashion; everything we create, even the 10€ scrunchie, is designed to last a lifetime and remain fashionable.Nothing is to be considered seasonal.
Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers to entice them to visit the SEP store in Milan?
Sep is an experience, not just a shop. The embroidery is a 3D experience, and the artists put their effort into every creation.
Smells and energy—this combination creates a sensory experience.The scent in every SEP store is based on the artists’ olfactory memories. You travel to Jerash Camp in Jordan, captivated by scents and spices that fill the air the artists breathe in. With their positive memories, it's a very powerful way to connect—a mix of cumin, myrrh, and the Middle East.
To end this article on a personal note,
I believe that when you buy a handmade product, you're purchasing much more than just an object. You are acquiring hours of experiments and failures. You are purchasing days, weeks, and months of work. You are not purchasing a thing; you are buying a piece of someone's heart, a moment in someone else’s life. It is not expensive; it is handmade.
To visit the store, Via Dell'Unione 7
@sepjordan on Instagram