Vogue Arabia speaks to Céline Semaan, Founder and CEO of the Slow Factory ahead of her upcoming conference at the United Nations.
Originally published in the February 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
“For many multidisciplinaries, myself included, design is more than simply aesthetics or function; it is a responsibility. I take this to heart and apply it to the broadest possible definition of what design is. I have spent many years teaching these concepts and dedicating my work to open education, transparency, human rights and environmental stewardship, and as a way to empower communities. For the past seven years, I have focused my practice around Slow Factory, a brand I started in 2012 that explores how fashion design can be used as a medium for social and environmental change, coining the term ‘fashion activism.’ Beyond sustainable sourcing and production, we generate funds, work with humanitarian and environmental causes, and advocate for social causes.
After a number of years of gathering research and findings, and inspired by changes in the world, through my Fellowship at MIT Media Lab, I decided to create a space for sustainable literacy and started a non-profit called The Library Study Hall, an intersectional conference series where scientists, lawyers, designers, and activists are invited to ask questions and explore themes around sustainability, technology, and human rights. The first Study Hall kicked off New York fashion week in 2018 and was covered in Vanity Fair as, ‘Is This the Future of NYFW?’ The interest from the fashion industry was palpable and real. Other conferences have since spun out in the same spirit after our first prototype, yet we remain one of the few platforms centering intersectionality and diversity as a method to create cross-perspective thinking.
I grew up displaced as a refugee from Lebanon. Returning home to a post-war country, seeing the cost the war had both on my people and on the land, has created a form of a mission in me. The presence of the UN in conflict zones is not new but growing up with the awareness of its presence on our land and their impact on our lives has always fascinated me. When the opportunity came to create a Study Hall Conference at the UN headquarters supported by the UN Office for Partnerships arose, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. At the heart of my practice is the capacity that the work can transcend different worlds and perspectives.
The focus of this upcoming Study Hall is to bring together UN officials, the fashion industry’s leaders, designers, scientists, researchers, and activists like Dapper Dan and Phillip Lim with allies like Tesla, Adidas, G-Star Raw, and Swarovski to foster positive, purposeful collaborations in order to explore the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Design thinking and using it as a way to explore ideas outside of the given constraints inspired me to curate this conference with a perspective that I think was never considered ‘sexy’ or ‘beautiful’ in the fashion industry before. The conference is called Good for the Earth and Good for the People, because for the fashion industry and beyond, that is the clearest way to design with responsibility.”
Watch the livestream on February 1 at Webtv.un.org