Brooklyn brand mixes fashion and social activism

- The current political climate is providing one local fashion designer with endless inspiration.

Céline Semaan's Slow Factory, based in Brooklyn, uses clothes and accessories to tackle social and political issues.

Céline was born in Lebanon in 1982 in the middle of the civil war. A refugee herself, she has always felt a special connection to the displaced people of the world. Céline says she saw the cost of the war on human rights and on the environment at a young age, and wanted to dedicate her life to advocacy and social change.

Her brand, Slow Factory, is considered fashion activism, merging style with social change. Céline's key necklaces, made by Armenian jewelers in Lebanon fund ANERA, which provides education programs for refugees.

Céline says the key is a symbol of hope and dignity for refugees: hope that they'll go back home one day, and a symbol of dignity because they came from somewhere.

Over the summer, Slow Factory made headlines when Selena Gomez stepped out in their We The People necklace, a design Céline created for the ACLU. The necklace, handmade in New York, sold out in 72 hours. Slow Factory made more and continues to donate 10 percent of each purchase to the ACLU.

Slow Factory also designed a reversible flight jacket for the ACLU with the First Amendment written in Arabic on one side, and in English on the other. Slow Factory gives 10 percent of the jacket's purchase price to the ACLU.

This year has been a busy one for Slow Factory, with political issues popping up nearly every day. Some, like the proposed travel ban, hit especially close to home. Céline says that when the ban first came up she got a phone call from her immigration lawyer advising her not to travel even though she has a green card.

That call inspired Céline to Google an image of North Africa at night. She printed the image on a silk scarf with the word "Banned" across it, crossed out.

Scarves are where it all started for Céline. After seeing Hubble images of the earth in her 20s, she felt compelled to turn them into sustainable silk scarves. The project was spontaneous at first. She says she just wanted to put the images on silk squares so people could wrap themselves in the world and the universe.

The most powerful was an image of Gaza at night. There was no electricity in Gaza, so you could only see the explosions from space. Slow Factory raised $10,000 selling that scarf, which enabled them to build a school in the West Bank and distribute dignity kits to displaced women in Gaza. 

Céline's latest project, The Library, is a denim collaboration with designer Andrea Lauer, a dear friend. They worked with Thread International using a special kind of denim that is 19 percent recycled plastic bottles. The rest of the fabric is American-grown cotton.

The Slow Factory studio is on Woodpoint Road in Williamsburg. Céline hosts panels and pop-ups there. You're always welcome to drop by and do some socially conscious shopping.
 

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