This Refugee Champions Sustainability Through Her Intricate Jewelry And Fashion


Céline Semaan is committed to new aesthetics and new narratives. She is compelled by the need to humanize and embed our world with a palpable sense of empathy. It’s no wonder considering that before the age of five Semaan had been displaced to a new country because of a war in her home country. She grew up in Lebanon. But violence forced a move to Montreal. Later, she was able to return to Beirut with her family. War defined her world view and instilled in her a deep desire for change, something she knows the world cannot survive without. Little did she know then that fashion and design would be one of the ways she would begin to craft that change.

She describes herself as a hyper-active kid who “grew up dancing and entertaining adults; putting on plays and shows for them; and have always enjoyed being on stage.” Her favorite toy was a Fisher Price guitar which allowed you to record your voice on K7 tapes. “My friends and I would record radio shows on there for hours. It was just the best. In Montreal, we were in Québecois Native American summer camps where we learned chants, legends, songs and was very inspired by nature, the spirit of Mother Earth and a deep respect for the environment.”

The collections Celine creates are made sustainably with important causes at the heart of the process

Semaan says her love for fashion definitely came from her mom who she loved watching get ready to go out, doing her make-up and choosing that to wear. She describes her mom and her aunts as “masters of everything Middle-Eastern beauty rituals,” always braiding their hair and dressing up impeccably no matter what. When Semaan turned thirteen, she and her family moved back to Lebanon. “So I got to be a teen-ager there, and wearing kohl on our eyes, which is the equivalent of smoky eyes, and shawls and scarves have always been a cultural thing for me. My grandpa collects vintage Phoenician jewelry and fossils, and I viewed them as treasures!”

As a child, she dreamed of being an astronaut, of going to space, of seeing the universe. She describes herself as having a genuine love for the Earth and the idea of watching it from space struck her as the most amazing thought ever. But, she says, she was terrible at math and her teacher told her that because of that she would, she explains, “Never be an astronaut” (to be said in a slow motion voice).” After moving back to Lebanon, her astronaut dreams drifted and she decided that she wanted to be an Ambassador. “I wanted to throw parties and reconcile any party that is at war with one another.”

Being back in Lebanon, she witnessed the cost of war on both the environment and human-rights and says it marked her for life. “Ever since that day, I dedicated my time, my work, and my skills to support causes related to either human-rights or the environment.” Her first gig out of University was as a Community Lead for Creative Commons, a non-profit devoted to open licenses, where her work was around advocating for access to information, open knowledge, and the open web. It’s a cause she deeply believes in to this day.

Slow Factor collaboration with Camille D. Jewelry funding Best Bees

At that time, NASA had joined Creative Commons and released their images as open data. And then, she says, “Something in me lit up.” It took a few years before she did anything with the images as she was also working as an Interaction Designer and designing interfaces for companies. Then one day she tweeted, “Wouldn’t it be nice to wrap yourself with the world and the universe and stop killing each other?”

She got such a wonderful support on Twitter, that she decided to make it a reality. “I sort of began the project as a side project where my passion for art, fashion, science, and NASA would come together.” She knew very little about manufacturing or running an e-commerce site. She began researching sustainable ways to print the images as she didn’t want to print them on anything “that might hurt the Earth or people in the process,” she explains. That is how her journey in sustainable fashion truly began. “Our first collections sold out quickly; our work went viral a few times; and, fast forward almost six years later; we have expanded our work in jewelry now and looking into apparel too.

Slow Factor collaboration with Camille D. Jewelry funding Best Bees

She designs under the label she created called Slow Factory, which she defines as an “independent label working at the intersection of Fashion and Activism.” The collections she creates are made sustainably with important causes at the heart of the process. “We team up with NGOs and help raise their voices and their missions. We create pieces that raise funds and awareness for causes we believe in, mainly around environmental rights and human rights.” Her collections have supported the work of a variety of organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund and UNICEF.

Semaan has also collaborated with ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid). As part of her work with them, she went to refugee camps to work with displaced youth. When she did, she brought some of her Slow Factory scarves with her. “Our USA by Night, New York by Night - our entire Cities by Night collection - and let the girls play models with them. Watching them wrapping themselves with cities they dream of going to filled them with so much hope. That was the most beautiful moment.”

Slow Factor collaboration with Camille D. Jewelry funding Best Bees

Still, Semaan experiences challenges in her work every day, constantly actually. “Sometimes, I realize I am a challenge to my own self. Like I self-sabotage myself all the time, thinking I don’t deserve something I have worked so hard to achieve.”

Other challenges she has faced and continue to face are issues around sexism and racism. “I can’t believe that in 2018, I am faced with racism because I am Arab,” Semaan says. “Being treated as less than, trying so hard to fit in a small box that is not meant for me. Working twice as hard to get a seat at the table, or simply dressing up extra modest not to be considered a snack or patronized because of my femininity. Prejudice and privilege hurt minorities who have suffered trauma, and displacement, and yet have to fight harder to achieve and make their dreams come true.” But, she says, every single hardship she faces shows her how strong and focused she truly is.

And people’s reactions to her work at Slow Factory has certainly proven her pursuits to be both worthwhile and desperately needed. She is grateful to read people’s emails about, “when they get to wrap themselves with the Universe. I get emails about how it connected them with a lost one, or when people get to wrap themselves with parts of the world they have lived, or have a loved one there.”

6min read

What Sexual Abuse Survivors Want You to Know

In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.

For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.

Believe it or not, I am happy about that.

The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.

It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).

These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.

So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.

Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.

The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."

In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.