My Journey From Middle East Refugee To Fashion Designer

by Celine Semaan Vernon

I wrote my very first personal essay on Refinery 29. Would love your feedback! 

This is the picture of our refugee status back in the 80's when we escaped Lebanon's civil war. It is among the few pictures from my past that we managed to save. Notice how my mom looks amazing while probably inside her is a tornado of feelings.

My earliest memory is fleeing war-torn Lebanon when I was three and a half years old. My father had safely made it abroad and was waiting for my mother, my younger sister, and me to join him, holding on to hope that he’d see his family once again. As we said our good-byes, I remember the wet kisses from our relatives; I remember the sobs and the tearful wishes for our uncertain future. We were leaving our homeland as refugees, hoping to re-establish the meaning of “home” somewhere safe.

Read full article on Refinery 29 here "My Journey From Middle East Refugee To Fashion Designer".

Filed under: dear diary fashion activism

Hello Goodbye

by Celine Semaan Vernon

"I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello
Hello hello"

 

The time comes in every company when great employees need to go their own way and experience new things. I find it bitter sweet and am trying not to be too sad to see our lovely Amina go! But at the same time I am so so proud of her and know she will impress and delight her new company. 

So I'll take advantage of this happy and sad post to send a message out there into the universe that we are looking for someone to take over her position.

...

Slow Factory is looking for an HQ Manager

Qualities we are looking for:

- Good communication skills

- Enthousiast

- Optimist

- Resourceful

- Organized

- Meticulous

- Creative

- Honest

- Reliable

- Punctual

Job description:

You would be fulfilling orders, taking care of customer service as well as occasionally helping us with social media, photography, blog posts and other social media posts, designing random cool things. If you love snap chat? You're in for a lot of fun!

Hit me up if you are interested!

 

Filed under: dear diary

Following the Stars to Slow Factory

by Shelby Strattan

It was just weeks before Halloween, and I was diligently searching for the perfect galactic accessories to accompany the silver metallic dress I had just purchased. I hopped on Pinterest to see what I could find, scrolling though interstellar make-up designs and sparkly tights. But alas, I saw something that really took my breath away.

The sheer, beautiful star-printed globular cluster scarf would be perfect for my costume – and everyday wear too! I excitedly clicked on the picture that then led me to Slow Factory’s website. At the time, Slow Factory was promoting different collections that included many different prints of galaxies, clusters, and nebulas. I looked at every product on the website and became infatuated instantly.

If you’re reading this article, you probably know at least a little about this company, so I’ll spare some details. But as I was surfing every last pixel of Slow Factory’s site, the social mission blew me away. This company is the “trailblazer in fashion meets human rights” as founder Céline Semaan later told me. Few companies with such a strong rooted purpose exist, let alone with product lines near as whimsically beautiful as Slow Factory’s. I read every blog Céline posted on the website and searched the origins of the company. I read everything I could about Slow Factory – my connection was immediate and strong. Maybe this was a result of the way my father always talks about the stars. Ever since I was a little girl, he would spew out facts about outer space, black holes, and galaxies far away. We still hunt down constellations at night, wait hopefully for shooting stars, and follow celestial events. I knew fate brought me here.

I followed Slow Factory on all media platforms and regularly checked the website for new products and blog posts from Céline. Her independence, unique creativity, and fearlessness inspired me. She created this company from the ideas that organically manifested in her mind, inspired by her passion for design and social responsibility. She is a boss lady and no one can refute that. As a woman, I have looked up to her as a role model for all she has accomplished and her strong will to succeed with what she sets her mind to.

So I decided to email her and tell her just that. I wanted to part of the sustainable company that thrives on innovative fashion that supports humanitarian and environmental causes. I told her a little bit about myself, how I found Slow Factory, how I purchased some scarves as Christmas presents, and how I would love nothing more than to work for a such a driven company and motivated female boss. We emailed back and forth for a little bit in January, but it was hard to keep in touch and establish goals or objectives. The company was seeing great growth, and Céline was busy with her second child, so nothing materialized at the time.

Months passed and I was sitting in class a week before Spring Break checking my email. My eyes stopped and fixated on Slow Factory’s newsletter heading: Headquarter Opening Event. I clicked on the email and starting reading how Slow Factory was opening its HQ out in Brooklyn and anyone was welcome to come celebrate. Its grand opening was happening over my Spring Break, and some gut feeling inside was telling me I HAD to be there. I wanted to see the beauty of the company unfold and meet the team behind the ingenious designs. Initially, I was going to go home to Nebraska, but the idea of going to New York was infinitely more appealing.

With a little finagling and flight changing, all of my accommodations were booked within 24 hours of reading the email. I emailed Céline and told her I would be in town, asking if she would have time to meet outside of the event. She was excited to hear from me again, and we set up a time a few days after the HQ opening. I was absolutely ecstatic.

I flew to New York with an exhilarating energy pervading my whole body. The day of the event arrived, and I recruited my dear friend from the area, Aidan, to come with me. We met at Union Station, all dressed up and ready to attend the event that ultimately brought me to New York. We pulled out our iPhone maps and navigated our way to the address on the email invite. My heart was pounding so fast as we walked up to a beautiful space populated with Slow Factory friends and family. The “We Are Home” collection was on display for the first time. Everyone was so happy and expressed their sincerest congratulations for Céline, celebrating this huge milestone for Slow Factory. I only briefly said hello to Céline at the event, as we were to meet in a few days, but she was glowing was a humble radiance, grateful for those that attended this wonderful event.

A few days later I went back to the headquarters in Brooklyn, alone this time. I arrived early and anxiously waited for Céline outside the store. After a few minutes, I saw her walking up, pushing her new baby in a stroller. What a power woman, I thought. She made us tea and put some little cookies on a plate for us to munch on. My memories and feelings from this meeting are so vivid. The feeling of sheer awe washed over me – it was hard to believe I was sharing the same time and space with this woman. I asked her all the questions I always dreamed of. I got to know her and how she got to where she is. I also handed her my resume and told her that if I was going to be in New York for the summer, I would love to help her out on a part time basis. We talked about different objectives and short-term and long-term goals. And as we wrapped up, she gave me a scarf imprinted with an aerial image of New York lit up at night. “It’s so cold out there,” she said as she draped the luxurious silk around me. “There. That will keep you warm.” I could’ve cried I was so happy.

In brief, we continued to email back and forth for a bit until things were finalized and we could set a start date for us to meet again when I arrived in New York for the summer. So here I am in my cozy, little apartment in New York writing about how I somehow ended up in this city at Slow Factory. The stars brought me here, and I am eternally grateful for their unwavering positive light and wise direction.

 

Filed under: dear diary

Why are we Sold Out?

by Celine Semaan Vernon

A lot of you have sent us emails asking us when a sold out scarf will be available again.

To answer you all I decided to write a short open letter to explain why we sell out and why we have over 1000 people in our waiting list for sold out scarves. You may not be aware that this company started as a side project and quickly outgrew my bedroom, then my living room and allowed us to open our first storefront studio ("Atelier") in Williamsburg, Brooklyn!

The short answer is that we produce distinct collections in small production runs and don't overproduce, so all of our collections are, by nature, limited edition. That said, we do sometimes reproduce designs that have an overwhelming demand, but you can't count on it!

The longer answer is divided into 2 parts which explain the foundation of our core philosophies.

Fashion Activism

Our collections are usually tied to a specific cause, with a portion of profits going to an NGO doing meaningful work, so we like to focus most of our attention at any given time to that current collection. Right now for example, we are focusing on the We Are Home collection celebrating a positive image and support for refugees in Lebanon, with a proceeds going to ANERA's work in education for refugees stranded in Lebanon.

We therefore keep a smaller catalog at any given time so that we can donate the most and have the biggest impact on the world.

Slow Fashion

Our brand is called Slow Factory for a reason — we manufacture and advocate for Slow Fashion, responsibly sourced materials, we use 100% natural fabrics and eco-friendly dyes. Our company is responsibly designed and our operations are carefully managed so that our growth is sustainable. This means smaller production runs and holding less stock, which again means that we plan on running out of things. We truly believe that slow and steady wins the race!

Although it might feel frustrating to be waiting for a print, please know that with each print and each contribution to Slow Factory you are voting with your wallet and you are being part of a healthier ecosystem for our industry.

Re-stocking Soon by Popular Demand

A lot of you have asked us when will we reprint and we finally have an answer for you! We will allow you to pre-order some of your favorite prints so that we get a clear count on what prints you want and start manufacturing them asap!

We are opening our pre-orders on May 22nd (because we are waiting for Mercury to finish its Retrograde) and will start manufacturing on June 1st. Please know that a normal lead-time is about 4 weeks or so until you receive your scarf!

Thank you for all of your support, love and encouragement. We are in this together. We are Floating in Space.

Filed under: dear diary fashion activism

Dignity, Defeat, Motherhood and Feminism

by Celine Semaan Vernon

Originally wrote this a few months ago, but never felt the courage to post it. I was finally motivated to share this piece after reading Lena Dunham recent post. So, voilà!

 

9 months #fullterm #readyornot

A photo posted by celinecelines (@celinecelines) on


“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” Madeleine Albright said recently at the Glamour Women of the Year celebration at Carnegie Hall. I wish I could have been there, but with my eight and half pregnant self [at the time], all I could do was lay down and watch it unveil on my phone.

I am in my early thirties and one of the rare women among my group of friends who already has a child and is expecting another. When I was living in Beirut, Lebanon, in the 90's, I made a very conscious decision at the age of fifteen: to never have any children, because I thought that to be considered an equal to men and have a career, a woman should be childless - for lack of role models, that was my belief. Fast forward a little bit over a decade later, I got pregnant not even trying yet, with my first child, which was both a surprise and a nightmare.

How was I to reconcile myself with the reality of a woman’s career sacrifice if she decides to bear children? How could I change this paradigm? How would I address the patronizing opinions of the world around me as it decided for me that I had “given up” on my career.

The amount of times I have heard: “Relax, you are pregnant, you don’t want to stress your baby, don’t worry about your business now,” or “Your career is not as important as nurturing the baby you have in you,” has deeply affected my self-esteem. I know people mean well, but I still felt what my fifteen year-old self felt at the time: rage! Why? The comments people make presuppose that we can only be one thing, or do one thing. But we are infinite beings and amazing multitaskers!


Flamingos #selfie #brooklynbeta #party

A photo posted by celinecelines (@celinecelines) on


No one noticed I was pregnant until I was seven months into it, and I never really announced it either, fearing my peers’ reaction. During my first pregnancy, I lost several very career opportunities after potential partners and employers found out I was pregnant. Even from my female peers, support was scarce. How could I have not controlled and designed my life more carefully?

I then began a never-ending soul-searching journey that mostly consisted of arguing with my inner fifteen year old self. She would try to make me feel terrible on both sides of a paradox: on the one hand, I was a bad Feminist for “giving up” my equality and career goals by becoming a mother; on the other hand, I was a bad Traditional Mother for not “giving in” to withdrawing from my career to focus on my pregnancy and family goals. Therein lies the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation that recurs so frequently in women’s lives around ideas of motherhood, sexuality, assertiveness, independence and feminism itself.

Despite being seen as a walking talking cocoon that couldn’t be given any more opportunities since she was already at full capacity carrying a child, I did run my own business, and moved it from Montreal to New York. I’ve been growing an ethical fashion-activism studio based in Brooklyn. We’re three years into our business of creating silk scarves with prints of NASA Satellite images that raise awareness and financial support for the World Wild Life and international NGO’s. And yes, I have a young child, and yes, I have a business. It is possible.

When I found out I was pregnant again this time, I was in the midst of preparing to raise our first round of funding. Trusted advisors I had brought on my board (men and women I admire, but who don’t have kids) told me to try not to show that I was pregnant, that investors won’t invest in a pregnant woman’s company. So I dressed accordingly until it was getting pretty hard to cover up. I felt ashamed. Meanwhile Kim Kardashian was showing off her belly and fighting all of her haters one perfect Instagram post at a time, not hiding who she is to her 20+ million followers. I found her inspiring and courageous not to take their judgement personally. Haters gonna hate, right?

The project of raising my first round of investment fell through as my peers began to discourage me that I should drop the idea of raising capital while I was pregnant. Again, I was encouraged instead to focus only on my baby. My fifteen year-old self wanted to smash everything. I didn’t know what to tell her. I dove deep into a depression, I found myself having very little energy to move and to think; all I could do was feel terrible about myself.


sweet early morning #saturdaymorning

A photo posted by celinecelines (@celinecelines) on


My three-year-old caught me looking out the window one day, with an empty look in my eyes, thinking about how much I had failed. She put her sweet little hand on me and said “Mommy, why are you sad?” Her question broke my heart open. “Why am I sad?” I asked out loud, and, on the verge of crying, “I don’t know baby! You are right, why am I sad even?” She climbed on my lap, this beautiful soul, and hugged me tight. At that moment I felt the super-power we have as mothers: we are here, we exist. And we made all of you!

Few examples in the mainstream media portray mothers as inspiring heroes to look up to. There are however, lots of these women out there, and we are given a chance everyday to become either loud or quiet heroes. We are the heroes our daughters and sons look up to everyday, the quiet heroes of our little growing family.

I want to be a loud hero. No, I will NOT feel ashamed for bringing life into this world. I will NOT feel guilty for running a successful business even a few weeks from my due date. I will work whenever I am inspired to and I know that my children will grow confident and happy to be raised by a happy and thriving mother. Yes, I know we can do more than one thing at a time, I am a proof of it and so are many women I met who run successful businesses and raise amazing children at the same time. As a woman, friend, peer and mentor to other women, I will always be there to support, help and guide them especially when they will be expecting mothers. I will not feel guilty for thinking that people might think my work is going to be less good now that I am a mother. Because that’s not even the truth.

I read Amanda Palmer’s Medium post justifying herself to her entire fans that her work will not suffer by her pregnancy, and again my fifteen year old self felt like smashing everything. I wanted to tell Amanda: “Of course not, girl! Your work will blossom! It will be different and will mature! And so will you!”

My ultimate message to mothers: we need to keep representing our diverse and inspiring selves without shame or guilt. Being a mom and the notion of a mom will be valued again in a matrilineal society — and women will not guilt trip each other — they will help one another.

Filed under: dear diary entrepreneur life feminism personal growth

How to run an ethical fashion business in New York as a mom, without credit or investment

by Celine Semaan Vernon

I am 3 days away from going into labor with my second child. Three years ago, shortly after giving birth to my first child in 2012, I started Slow Factory; an online design boutique that creates limited edition silk scarves with digital prints of NASA images. I had been rejected from all the design schools I applied to, from Paris to Montreal because I was considered “too artsy, too fine-arts”. After I graduated from Cyber-Arts and Computation Arts at Concordia in Montreal, I realized that being coined (labeled) as “too artsy, too fine arts,” was actually a blessing in disguise. It meant that I understood one or two secrets in this world;


1) L’art c’est la vie - Art is life.

2) You can be anything when you believe it (this I learned from my performance and video art days).


I ended up as a successful self-made interaction designer and user-experience designer for HUGE Inc. in Brooklyn, New York and thereafter, onto start my own consultancy Le Design Team inc.


I started working as a designer and used Google to figure out anything I didn’t know, from fonts to typography, layout, interaction design and documented everything on a personal blog that got me to be discovered for this new job in New York at HUGE inc. in 2008. Later on that same blog got me to become a UX Design instructor at General Assembly for two years. I taught students and professionals such as an entire department at Condé Nast, Trip Advisor, and AXA France (I am fluent in French so that was easy). I went from an interaction designer to a fashion design entrepreneur while still keeping my clients and working on Slow Factory during my free moments (evenings mostly). I did this for two and a half years and up until recently, I have shifted my efforts towards Slow Factory full-time since June of this year.


Slow Factory was a young company, when I moved back to New York from Montreal, and because I am Canadian, I didn’t yet have any credit history, so couldn’t really get myself a credit card or a line of credit. The 3 C’s, that I am sharing below helped me save money, focus and use my time wisely and my creativity to get my company off the ground. In a year our products were sold at the MoMA Store, worn by style icons that I admire such as Nadia Abulhosn, TK and Ciprianna Quann, and Samar Serqui de Buttafaco, featured in Vogue and closed a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to help preserve our oceans.


The 3 C’s that inspire me:

Cook.

Cooking can be therapeutic and help you save a lot of money!

I learned to cook from my mother who cooked throughout my childhood despite the fact that she was a young immigrant with three children and working full-time at her own restaurant. We had homemade Lebanese food 24/7. At the time we always complained, us kids wanted to eat out or eat regular food like the others, but looking back I am so grateful I grew up far from my country, Lebanon but yet, very close to it through the taste of my mother’s daily authentic Lebanese food. So cooking has become a big part of who I am, and part of my child’s life in New York while running a company with very little budget.


Curate.

Curate your life, your closet, the kind of food you eat, the people you hang out with. Curate to enjoy life better.

    Have you read the book ‘The life-Changing Magic of Tidying up’? This book teaches you how to keep less than 30 items in your closet that bring you joy. Apply this rule to everything else: books, music, objects you keep around, and even food! When you feel good about it, keep it, eat it, hang out with it. Curating, is the art of making collections, telling stories and better defining who you are.

    In the online open-knowledge culture, we say that curating and dj-ing are pretty much the same thing. The time when you used to create a mixtape cassette for your friend or your crush: that was curating 101! Moving back to New York after Montreal with a one year-old was a big deal! I had to curate our life’s inventory to fit a New York sized apartment. All the lessons I’ve learned curating my new life and embracing minimalism, I applied to my business. The “less is more” mantra can be relevant to running your business too. For example, when deciding on the upcoming collections, (aside from having constraints like wanting to use eco-friendly dye and material, fair-trade production, materials with minimal impact on the environment, and quality) I also had strict constraints about the meaning and the story of the product itself. I am very mindful of a product's ecosystem. From its inception through its life-cycle. While in Paris, studying in art school I quickly learned: “Knowing when to stop” is a valuable insight and in Brooklyn, as a designer at a major design firm I quickly learned that “self-imposing constraints” is something I have control over. Good design is knowing how to gracefully navigate constraints and come up with a delightful experience and product. Define and create your own constraints, whatever values you have, that can help you better create products that will bring you joy.


    Channel.

      Channeling your insecurities, fears, creativity is key in maintaining a productive rhythm as an entrepreneur

      Make up your own rules, do what you need to do to find what’s best for you, but the goal is that you must channel positive and negative emotions in a constructive way. First lesson I learned is don’t take anything personal! It’s easy to when you get a bad attitude from a sales rep, or someone hanging up in your face. Perhaps it’s also the kind of wisdom you acquire when raising a two year old. These emotions are tourists; they come, they go and they shouldn't leave a trace, shouldn’t pollute your well-being. Let it go.

      Fear. Fear is your friend. If you try to push fear away, fear will become this needy annoying creepy friend that will keep calling you and drive you to the verge of a nervous breakdown. Talk to fear, sit down with it over coffee, have a chat like in a David Lynch movie. Fear is complex. It comes in many forms. Sometimes it can be in the form of a voice recorded in your brain (the brain is an amazing recording machine!). Listen to the message. Accept it. It’s shining a light on something you must deal with from within. Rumi comes to mind here, “The wound is where the light enters”. I find myself talking to fear so many times a week, and out loud sometimes too. “Hey okay, I heard you! Thank you! But I’m going to jump anyway because I am more afraid not to jump then to actually go for it, so I appreciate your input there, Fear, but I’m okay.” And Fear understands. Mindful meditation helps.

      Creativity. Hi Creativity! What an awesome idea! I’m so excited! I can feel it working! I know exactly how to make this work except we don’t have the budget for it! OMG Fear just heard me! Okay Okay, let’s break it down together and see how we can work it out. I’ll go for a walk.

      These are some of my experimental methods dealing with channeling these genies into productive work and I am nowhere close to having found the holy grail. I feel that we all go through these emotions and talking about it with peers and sharing our own homemade remedies can be very inspiring and helpful.

      These are the three C’s that make it possible for me to run an online company from a studio in Brooklyn. Building my network of trusted collaborators and peers, creating collections that both raise awareness and funds to support causes that are important to me and raise my little family with the culture that I come from despite the fact that we are millions of miles away.

      I really wanted to share the 3 C’s with you and somehow as a message in a bottle to my future self, the one who will try to figure out how to balance life again after giving birth to a second child. I’m hoping this will help me in the future focus, laugh, and keep on keeping on growing Slow Factory into a sustainable - slow and steady - online business that creates a bigger and bigger impact each year.

      Filed under: dear diary entrepreneur life fashion activism fashion revolution inspiration