I kind of knew what to expect as we navigated the bumpy, narrow and congested streets that make up the Gaza camp. Siblings holding hands and crossing the road like they owned it. They remind me of adorable ducklings clueless to the dangers of oncoming traffic.
We arrived at our location, the SEP office and see even more children. This time waving furiously at us, their innocence and excitement contagious. These kids are on bikes, and make-shift buggies not iPhones, no gadgets in sight. This is what a real childhood looks like…
We are ushered into the SEP office and greeted with that all-familiar energy of positivity that emanates from women that have pride in their work. Their posture a little straighter, heads raised a little higher. Their scent is one of emancipation and hope, a beautiful fragrance…
SEP is the Social Enterprise Project, where ethical fashion and lifestyle, meets philanthropy and business. Founded and headed by Roberta Ventura, a thirty-something sophisticated Italian woman who left a high-powered job in the corporate world to start her passion project. SEP in layman’s terms is a fantastically trendy fashion and lifestyle brand, that brings together the heritage of the Palestinian cross stitch and the luxury of Italian fashion.
SEP will officially open its first boutique at the Landmark Hotel in Amman tomorrow morning. The collections ranging from embroidered linen beach towels (my personal favorite) tocashmere embroidered ponchos are superb in quality. There is nothing mediocre about these products, an ailment often associated with artisana work in the region. Where crooked lines and uneven stitches are affectionately accepted as ‘as good as it gets’. Not at SEP, where every stitch tells a story. The woman’s personal story that she pours into her work, but also the story of Roberta Ventura’s international standards that her business is based on. In order to compete on the world’s market you need to have international standards.
SEP is a self-funded and privately owned business. As Roberta introduces me to her husband Stefano (who recently quite his job to become the CFO of SEP) and their beautiful children Julia and Andrea, I understand Roberta’s phenomenal drive. There is a lot at stake, the livelihood of her family, and more importantly perhaps the livelihood of the 800 Gaza camp residents that she employs. This is not a cute charity organization this is an international business and it is run that way.
I was once told that numbers speak louder than words, show someone your statistics and let your achievements speak for themselves. SEP was created three years ago, in this time the women employed by the company has grown 40 times, from 20 to 800. SEP is currently stocked in 7 international boutiques in Paris, London, Geneva, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and of course now at the Landmark hotel in Amman, Jordan.
SEP has received the Butterfly mark, an ethical fashion certification carried by labels such as Stella McCartney and Giorgio Armani. SEP will also be represented at the world renowned Maison et Objet trade fair in January 2017 where their home accessories line will be officially launched. Perhaps to me the greatest accolade is the commissioning of SEP with the wardrobe of the upcoming movie Mary Magdalene, staring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Pheonix. You may have the same reaction to this piece of info as my teenage daughter who said, ‘for real?’ to which I responded, ‘absolutely!’
Roberta Ventura has the stamina and unwavering focus of a passionate woman. Driven by her love of philanthropy first and foremost, Roberta’s work with refugees is what spearheaded her desire to create a company that they could all thrive from, employer and employee. And thrive they have, thanks in no small part to Roberta’s vision and business knowledge. There is an Arabic proverb, ‘give the bread to the baker’, and that is what she has intelligently done. Roberta, like Warren Buffet (who famously meets with his board once a year) only physically visits her Jordan-based company annually. She has established a reliable team headed by the phenomenal Mrs. Nawal Aradeh, the project manager of SEP. A teacher in a previous life (naturally) she has the communication skills, diligence and organization to run the center like a top-notch school. She is firm yet loving, stern yet kind and most importantly effective.
Roberta communicates daily with her Jordan team, then gets to work on the other crucial element of her business the selling process… With a firm understanding of the importance of networking and collaborating, Roberta has left no stone unturned. With prestigious brand ambassadors such as Mary Nazzal Batayneh and Helen Uzaizi, and good relations with her counterparts in the West. Roberta is trailblazing through international markets hell-bent on introducing her brand to as many people as possible. Her husband’s background in finance keeping the company healthy and viable.
What I loved most about the brand and the team is its pragmatism. They are not overly emotional in an Arab sort of way. As tempting as it sounds…imagine the combination: underprivileged women, refugees, Gaza camp and Palestinian embroidery make for a sad story indeed! What has replaced this sad story is their own story of growth and hope. This happy ending doesn’t come without discipline and hard work though. These underprivileged women from the Gaza camp are responsible, dependable, earnest and hardworking. They deliver outstanding work, every time, on time to some of the most luxurious boutiques in the world. They have been taught empowerment and accountability and it works…