The beauty of a hand crafted piece of jewellery is second to none and something that no price tag or designer name could ever replace. And knowing that your purchase has not only helped to empower the lives of female victims of violence but will also continue to help train and sustain more women like them is true beauty in itself. I sat down with SeeMe Founder, Caterina Occhio, to see how her inspiring brand is continuing to spread the love, one heart at a time…
Tell me the SeeMe story, how did it all start?
SeeMe was born while walking through the souks of Tunis, the slums of Ankara, and the streets of Beirut. After almost two decades of reporting on women’s conditions in the MENA region I decided to take matters into my own hands. Through my reports and travels I, unsurprisingly, discovered that being a single mother in the region equals being unsuitable for work, marriage and society. SeeMe was therefore born as a safe haven, training centre and work place for women otherwise deemed lost.
How are your female workers trained as artisans?
With the help of master artisans – two goldsmiths who had been working for a renowned French jeweller and became unemployed when said jewellery brand decided to relocate because of the Arab spring happenings – a first workshop was set up on the outskirts of Tunis. There, the SeeMe women learn the craft of jewellery making, following ancient Tunisian techniques. Therefore, while fostering their country’s traditions they also secure a workplace for themselves. To ensure SeeMe women’s personal and financial independence, after a period of training they are employed by the brand.
Why is the fair trade movement so important to the brand and how is SeeMe managing to bring luxury and fair trade together?
Fair luxury is a mix of fair trade and luxury and implies that beautiful, first-class products can be produced in a fair environment; creating items that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also full of history and well doing. Honestly,fair trade is merely an expression of SeeMe’s core ethical values. After building SeeMe’s model and working within the fashion industry, all the while staying loyal to certain values, we realised that the 10 Principles of Fair Trade represented a lot of what we were already doing and some of what was desired.
Each SeeMe creation features a beautiful heart design, can you explain the significance?
The heart symbolises the love replacing the violence that previously permeated the SeeMe girls’ lives. The brand aims at breaking the circle of brutality and hopelessness through work and optimism.
How did the #heartmovement come about? And how important is social media to the growth and outreach of the SeeMe brand?
SeeMe has given birth to what is known as the heart movement recognised by celebrities, socialites and the press alike. To this day, people meet by wearing their heart, they gift a heart, they talk about the heart. A real love chain that is growing and making the lives of so many people that much better.
Although most of our PR is still done the old fashioned way, i.e. in person, social media is still essential in its own right. It helps us reach different heights, allows us to stay connected with our followers as well as our business contacts, and also helps us to share the inner life of a social enterprise. We’re definitely working on garnering a larger following on social media as we hope to not only increment sales but also spread the message and spread the love.
SeeMe have collaborated with some big designer players including Karl Lagerfeld and Missoni. how did these collaborations come about and are there any more in the pipeline?
Through a mix of good PR, interesting design, heart warming story and a good dose of luck, I managed to secure great collaborations and coverage for SeeMe. Beside past collaborations with Karl Lagerfeld, Missoni and Tommy Hilfiger, SeeMe is now working on a project in collaboration with the United Nations (UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women), but the details are still top secret…
What advice could you give to other brands to encourage them to embrace a more fair-trade approach to their business?
Working with disadvantaged but culturally rich communities, leads to what SeeMe calls a ‘win win’ business situation. In fact, by adopting local craftsmanship and cultural practices, luxury brands can add a dimension to their designs while ensuring that those practices do not die out. At the same time, and for obvious reasons, communities also benefit from being fairly employed by luxury empires. Hence, the win win.
What’s the next chapter in the SeeMe story?
SeeMe in the world. We’d love to scale up the model and replicate it elsewhere, everywhere. This could also be done by expanding the brand into lifestyle and having specialised ateliers around the world. Creating employment for women in need while fostering local handicraft and tradition is what SeeMe stands for. There is so much to explore out there, so watch this space!