SEP Jordan Business Model
Ethical fashion from Jordan
Have you ever thought about running a startup in the middle of a refugee camp? Roberta Ventura and he husband actually did it. Since 2014, the couple runs SEP Jordan, an innovative social enterprise based in Jerash, one of several refugee camps in Jordan. Their goal? Matching fashion with social impact.
As a matter of fact, SEP Jordan crafts and sells hand-embroidered accessories around the world. At the heart of the projects are “SEP Artists“, craftswomen who happened to be refugees inside Jerash camp.
Problem in context
When interviewed by ElleDecor, Roberta Ventura told about the first time she visited Ein El Helwe refugee camp in Lebanon. After talking to some residents, she immediately understood that they were seeking something more than just charity and donations. In fact, they were lacking opportunities to find “purpose and pride” again: they were lacking empowerment and job opportunities.
Fast forward to 2014, when Roberta and her husband decided to launch a social enterprise project in Jordan. From there, “SEP Jordan” 😉
SEP’s mission has been clear since the beginning: empowering refugees with personal, professional and economic stability. To achieve this, the startup employs refugee artisans in Jerash and Azraq camps, who craft fashion items that get then sold across the globe.
SEP Jordan Business Model
SEP’s proposition is unique, since it blends Italian style with Middle-Eastern craftsmanship. Its creations fully embody the concept of “ethical fashion“, since artisans (usually second or third-generation refugees) receive above-market salaries and profits are re-invested to provide additional services inside refugee camps (jump to “Revenue Engines + Surplus” section to learn more).
When it comes to its architecture, SEP Jordan adopts a “beneficiary as employee model“, selling its products both in physical stores (in London, Geneva, Dubai, etc.) and through online channels.
SEP also follows eco-sustainable production methods, focused on recyclable packaging, recycled-based materials and limited use of machines. These components, together with hand-crafted manufacturing and unique designs, determine premium prices, typical of top-notch products.
De-coding SEP: Social Business Model Canvas
Precisely, how does SEP Jordan business model work? Let’s dig into it using the Social Business Model Canvas.
Social Impact Mission
As clearly stated on their website, SEP tackles the consequences of aid-dependence in refuegee camps. To use their own words, they want to provide “employment as opposed to charity, empowerment as opposed to dependence“. And this is precisely their ultimate goal: empowering Syrian and Palestinian women who happened to be refugees in Jerash.
Beneficiaries + Value for Beneficiaries
Until today, SEP Jordan has worked with over 500 refugees, coming from both Palestine and Syria. As a matter of fact, thanks to SEP, women turned from refugees into creative artisans, able to design and craft beautiful fashion accessories, experiencing again a sense of pride, fulfillment and community. Moreover, they learn new skills and receive stable, merit-based salaries through which they can provide for their families.
As previously discussed, SEP Jordan produces and sells high quality fashion and lifestyle accessories, hand-embroidered by refugees. Each product (keffiyeh, handbags, hoodies, etc.) is a combination of traditional Middle-Eastern geometric patterns/designs, merged with contemporary styles. Just to get a taste of it, you can find some examples below.
Customers + Value for Customers
Because of the premium prices associated to each item, we can rightfully assume that SEP Jordan’s target customers are high spending individuals, mostly women, willing to pay extra-money in order to have sophisticated, embroidered ethical creations. SEP’s audience is somehow similar to those of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Hermes, but with a stronger orientation towards ethics and sustainability. “Every stitch tells a story“: a unique fashion statement that customers around the world are willing and happy to pay for.
When it comes to reaching out to its audience, SEP takes advantage of different channels. First, to create brand awareness and run communication activities, SEP strongly relies on social media, especially Instagram. Shifting from marketing to sales operations, SEP’s e-commerce platform play a crucial role too, as most sales are generated through its website. Finally, let’s not forget about physical channels such as brand boutiques and retail stores (i.e. Harrods and Boutique1), as they are key offline touch-points for both building brand visibility and driving additional purchases.
We can divide SEP’s key activities into four main sections. First: training refugee artisans in the art of embroidery. Thanks to the partnership with Tamari Foundation, SEP Jordan created indeed the Cross-Stitch Training Program, where refugee women can learn about different stitching techniques and methods, later to be used to create the final products. Another key activity is clearly crafting the items, hand embroidered and hand assembled often without even using machines. A third category relates to distribution and sales activities, that have to be carried out across different countries, using different channels (physical as well as digital). Lastly, marketing and communication activities play an important role too to increase brand reputation, attract new customers and build customer loyalty.
Key Resources + Key Partners & Stakeholders
If key internal resources can be easily identified (artisans, brand and owned channels), it is interesting to take a moment to discuss partners and providers of external resources. For instance, Tamari Foundation is a charitable foundation that supports SEP Jordan in carrying out training and educational activities. Similar initiatives were also initiated together with other partners, such as UNHCR (check “MADE51” to learn more). In terms of supply chain, textile suppliers are either local manufacturers (keffiyeh scarfs) or small businesses based in Italy (cashmere) and Lithuania (linen). As imaginable, all suppliers respect SEP’s ethic and sustainability policies and codes of conduct.
After reading this article, it is easy to break down SEP’s main costs components. From fabrics and raw materials (mostly imported from Europe) to personnel and distribution, there are several factors that determine a consistent cost structure for SEP. Moreover, it is good to remember that artisans benefit from above-market salaries (paid weekly) and receive performance-related bonuses.
Revenue Engines + Surplus
As repeatedly said, SEP creations are top-notch, fashion products, thus sold at premium prices. Sales are carried out directly (through online channels and brand boutiques) as well as indirectly (via department and retail stores). In terms of surplus, SEP reinvests its profit in wraparound services for Jerash Refugee Camp, such as after-school programs for artisans’ children and a publicly accessible library.
Since 2014, SEP Jordan is re-defying stereotypes about refugees, fostering social and economical development in Jerash and Azraq camps. Thanks to its unique business model, refugees get trained and turn into skillful artisans, becoming the core engine of a profitable startup (instead of sole recipients of international aid).
In conclusion, we believe SEP is a great example of sustainable, ethics-driven social enterprise trying to disrupt the fashion industry and setting new standards.
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