Embroider the story: Sep Jordan offers beautiful embroidery by refugee women in Jordan

Embroider the story: Sep Jordan offers beautiful embroidery by refugee women in Jordan

Ethical and fair trade brand Sep offers exquisite hand-embroidered homewares and decorative accessories. Pieces are hand-made by Palestinian refugees in Jordan who are skilled in the art of cross stitching; and four years into the project, some 800 women are working with Sep

By Abby Trow

Refugee camps are full of very talented and skilled people who want the opportunity to continue their work despite being displaced. Many camps, sadly, don't offer employment which is why Sep Jordan was founded in 2013 by Italian former banker Roberta Ventura. Sep is a fair trade business and says: 'Our artists are paid above market prices for their work - we do so to make sure they are proud to work with us and to encourage loyalty to Sep. We have specific operating profitability targets and all profits above such targets are re-invested at the camp (language classes, coding and computer classes, health and nutrition classes, the Academy). On average across products, the artists' work makes up for around 50 per cent of wholesale prices. Employees receive a multiple of the Jordanian minimum wage.'
*Click on images to see them in larger format


If you want homewares and fashion accessories that are ethical and eco friendly, not to mention beautifully hand-made, Sep is a brand to look at. Founder Roberta Ventura was determined to help Palestinian refugee women to put their embroidery skills to commercial use so they could start earning a living again. Fast forward to 2017 and this  high end brand now sells around the world - with ambitions to open boutiques in major cities including London. 

Cross stitched clutch bags are perfect when you're out for the evening
The operations co ordinator is in Amman
the cross stitching is done on a variety of textiles, such as linen and cotton, cashmere and wool
The company HQ is in Geneva
Cross stitching creates these contemporary geometric designs
An intricately stitched shawl in fabulous colours
Interpreting centuries old traditional embroidery for modern audiences

Ventura, who had a career in finance, says she has always been impressed by the way communities in the Middle East have managed to preserve their craft skills, despite many decades of war and displacement. Seeing Palestinian women in the camps in Jordan, she says describes her motivation to set up Sep (Social Enterprise Project): 'There is no way a woman spends months to embroider the most stunning patterns, and still she lives as a destitute: it is intuitively wrong. What is the root of such paradox? The refugee has no access to the international markets, she does not know the international taste and she has no way to reach us with her art. So the Sep idea is very simple: a brand that brings the world to the camp and the camp to the world in a harmonious way.'
The cross-stitch technique
Cross-stitch embroidery is centuries old and evolved as a way to convey status, wealth and glamour. It is solitary work that requires a great deal of patience and accuracy and there are three key phases:
* fixing a thread canvas onto the area to be embroidered, making sure it will stay firm throughout the embroidery process, which can take several months.
* embroidering on the canvas and fabric, counting each step and keeping a consistent ‘tone’
* removing the canvas thread by thread in a delicate way to ensure the embroidery isn't damaged. 
You can't do cross-stitching on a machine, so each person's work is unique to them and pieces can't be replicated so they're completely identical.


You can commission Sep to make soft furnishings for you - such as bed spreads and cushions
The designs are very geometric and have a modern flair
Sep homewares are luxurious and distinctive
The work itself is solitary but Sep artists collaborate on designs. sepjordan.com
Fabrics and sustainability
Fabrics are chosen according to the designs, so the Alhambra Collection, for example, is stitched on linen and cashmere as it's inspired by the opulent and intricate Islamic architecture of the Alhambra Palace in Granada.The Treasure Chest line, which features traditional Palestinian patterns with revisited colors and applications, uses locally sourced fabrics which are sustainable and vegetable dyed.

'Our makers like to source textiles from the area around the camps and they avoid chemical colourants. They work with their hands to make earth friendly luxurious products for customers,' says Ventura.