SEP Jordan

MEET THE MAKER: SEP JORDAN

SEP Jordan is changing the lives of refugee women across camps in Jordan by giving them a platform to show the world their unique cross-stitch skills.

SEP or Social Enterprise Project Jordan is based out of Jerash refugee camp in Jordan, the poorest of the ten camps set up in the 1960s for Palestinian refugees escaping the Arab-Israeli war. Originally a temporary camp of tents, residents of Jerash have since built more permanent shelters from concrete. 52.7% of the residents live below Jordan’s national poverty line of 814JOD (£932).

Most of the refugees at the camp moved there at its inception in 1967, unable to leave they have brought up their families there and generations of families are now born and live in the camp. Many of them rely purely on aid in order to survive. Employment is hard to come by as refugees are highly restricted by the Jordanian government to what industries they are allowed to work in.

Jerash camp
Jerash camp. © 2013 UNRWA Photo by Ahmad Abu Sitteh

When SEP Jordan founder Roberta Ventura first visited the camp three years ago, she discovered that the most commonly diagnosed illness is clinical depression and unemployment among women was above 80%.

SEP Jordan gives women in the camp the chance to earn money for their families by reviving an ancient heritage that was passed down in the Palestinian community from generation to generation: cross-stitch.

The women living in the camp are able to devote their time to creating beautiful, Islamic inspired cross-stitch designs in luxurious fabrics for the western markets, where they will be paid a fair wage for their time. Their work simultaneously improves both their financial situation and psychological sense of wellbeing.

SEP Jordan tablecloth
The intricate tablecloths can take upwards of nine months to hand stitch.

The embroidery is incredibly labour intensive with some of the tablecloths taking up to nine months to complete. The hypnotic, intricate designs are created entirely by hand, with the heart and flower motifs crafted using techniques that have barely been seen since the dawn of mass-produced machine embroidery.

At their request, the women are paid by the amount of thread they sew, rather than the number of hours they work, allowing them to work as and when they can around their family lives. In a culture where women working is not the norm, SEP Jordan’s staff are challenging preconceptions and giving young girls in the camp a better future otherwise not available to them, whilst respecting their cultural values.

From tote and clutch bags to woollen and cotton scarves as well as exquisite tablecloth sets, the women have almost free reign to design colours and patterns as they see fit, allowing them to develop and hone their unique creative skills. Three years ago, when Roberta went to Jerash to set up SEP Jordan she employed 40 women, now around 500 have been trained and actively embroider and cross-stitch SEP’s array of products.

With sustainability and ethical fashion becoming more and more important across the fashion and design industry, SEP Jordan is truly at the forefront of championing beautiful design but retaining a sense of ethics, often missing in the world of the high street and fast fashion.

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