As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Caterina Occhio from SeeMe about the socio-economic integration of women, and the explicit role of business in International Development.
How did your years working in International Development inspire you to launch SeeMe?
I have based the SeeMe model on my 16 years' experience in supporting employment and institutional reform for national governments in international organisations. I have worked extensively for the European Commission and various UN agencies specialising in the socio-economic integration of women.
In 2013 I took a leap of faith and launched SeeMe.
The SeeMe collection is made by women in Tunisia who have been victims of violence. Why did you chose to work with women in Tunisia in particular?
In 2010 I was EU Policy Adviser on social inclusion for the new employment strategy in Tunisia.
It's during that mission that the first heart was born.
SeeMe is profoundly connected to Tunisia. All the items of the collections are made in our atelier in Tunis.
Do you partner with organisations who support marginalised women in Tunisia, or did you establish a network of jewellery makers yourself?
We collaborate closely with a local NGO , Amal, the Arabic world for hope. All our artisans have been hosted in Amal shelter home in Tunis where they can live for up to 6 months. After this time, if not financially independent, often they find themselves having to return to the homes they run away from in the first place, as no other choices are an option.
Witnessing this raw reality made me want to stop just talking about solutions but act upon it by creating opportunities for those women.
In 2015, SeeMe expanded also in Lebanon temporarily with a new collection made with the support of UNIDO.
We have also worked in Turkey in the past.
How many women has SeeMe supported through fair employment? What do you see as the biggest change before and after working with SeeMe?
We have supported over 20 women to date.
SeeMe employs women, often single mothers, who have suffered violence and were ostracized from their communities. Through training, SeeMe women empower themselves and learn the craft of jewellery-making following ancient Tunisian techniques. Therefore, while fostering their country's traditions they also secure a workplace for themselves and guarantee a future for themselves and their families.
This means regaining the right of having a choice in life.
What is the #HeartMovement?
The #HeartMovement was launched by SeeMe at Pitti 85 Trade Fair in Italy in January 2014. The core aim is to replace violence with love, which explains the hearts in our collections. Several fashion professionals and fashion icons became our testimonials and have already been portrayed with our heart.
#HeartsMovement now is a worldwide movement that groups likeminded businesses with an ethical approach to fashion.
What role do you think businesses can play in achieving sustainable development goals?
Businesses have an explicit, central role in ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice and fixing climate change. Guided by specific goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and general public to work together to build a better future for everyone. Businesses can take many actions to make our planet more sustainable.
"Ethical Fashion" is an extremely broad topic. What does "ethical fashion" mean to you?
We are fair trade verified by the WFTO - World Fair Trade Organisation which prescribes 10 Principles that Fair Trade Organisations must follow in their day-to-day work and carries out monitoring to ensure these principles are upheld.
Our ethical approach to fashion is based on the following principles: Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers, Transparency and Accountability, Fair Trading Practices, Fair Payment, Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour, Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association, Ensuring Good Working Conditions, Providing Capacity Building, Promoting Fair Trade, Respect for the Environment.
We at SeeMe want to stand right at the crossing of fashion and Fair Trade. We also provide ethical sourcing for other fashion brands.
What material do you work with, and what steps do you take to ensure they are fairly sources?
Mostly all of our collections are made in recycled Silver. We source the silver in the Medina in Tunis and surrounding markets buying big vases, cutlery and more silverware which we melt down, then gets given to the workshop so for our colleagues to play their magic.
What is the significance of the name SeeMe?
"SeeMe only with you heart". Everyone is equally important and deserves to have choices in life. It is also our message to the fashion industry, where often an impersonal approach prevails.
From our day one - our motto is " Do not just look at me - "see me" .
Lastly, how would you like to see SeeMe grow in the future?
Our aim it to export our business model to various countries across the globe and keep on employing more women in need of forging a new life for themselves and their families.