An Interview with SeeMe Founder, Caterina Occhio

An Interview with SeeMe Founder, Caterina Occhio

Before diving into the main conversation, what’s some of your background – personal, educational, professional, and so on?

I was born and raised in Naples, Italy. There, I studied political sciences and, at 27, I moved to the north of Europe. I went to Berlin first for a short internship, then Brussels where I earned an MA in Geopolitics and worked at the European Commission and various UN agencies…

Also, you’ve worked with various European Union and United Nations agencies as a development aid manager. What tasks and responsibilities came these positions?

I did, I worked for as a development aid manager for about 15 years. I was supporting employment and institutional reform and was specialized in the socio- economic integration of women.

You founded SeeMe in 2012.[i] It’s an ethical fair luxury brand, which produces heart-shaped jewelry, and accessories. The products are handmade by women victims of violence and are used to support other victims of violence. With this in mind, what was the inspiration for its founding, and its name?

Well, after 15 years of mere reporting on various issues affecting women, trying to come up with solutions that are rarely put in motions, I really wanted to take matters in my own hands. I’ve always had the itch of doing something creative and SeeMe is the result of that together with my experience in politics and the deep desire to act and make people’s life a little better. The premise was to create a product could potentially save the world in its own way, by looking good and creating wealth for all those involved. And SeeMe, well, it is a little inspired by my own initial and the desire to do my own thing (C=Me) as well as the idea that looking at problems isn’t enough, one needs to really see them. “SeeMe, don’t just look at me” was the first slogan of the brand.

SeeMe provides ethical sourcing for alternate fashion brands as well. What is involved in this?

When I created SeeMe I did not buy workshops, instead I helped build them and I never tied them to SeeMe. These workshops are independent, but SeeMe being Fair Trade certified, they are too, plus they are very professional and the quality they produce is fantastic. I use this angle to appeal to well known fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Missoni or Karl Lagerfeld… It goes something like, “I know an amazing producer that does amazing things, completely handmade, for a fair price and great quality. Plus they are fair trade certified!” And they love it!

Since the products themselves are hearts, the clients of SeeMe can join in the #heartmovement with the heartwarming purpose to have love replace violence. Where did this idea originate for SeeMe?

When I first left my job and started doing jewlery, I must say I was excited by all the possibilities and I started exploring different style directions… I really wanted to give my own twist to some of the amazing things I saw in the souks of Tunis or Ankara. That’s how the traditional silver circle chain, widely used in traditional Tunisian jewelry became a heart… It really stood out from all the other things I was doing and decided to drop everything else and just go with this strong symbol. The chain literally became a heart and I find it a beautiful metaphor for what SeeMe is endeavoring…

Have you had any commentary or feedback from workers, the women victims of violence, about the benefits to their own lives from this work? What kinds of things meant the most to you?

Oh yes! I am in constant contact with the workshop in Tunis… The team is headed by a workshop director, then there are two master artisans, and all the girls. And the poor boys are not only their trainers and mentor on the job, they are also their protectors and counsellors… They are all such an amazing family; it is heart warming… There is this one woman who worked with us for a while, when she arrived she was a shell of a person, alone with her son, completely lost… After a year with us, however, she started regaining confidence and, after putting some money aside thanks to her job with us, she took her own leap of faith and opened a small afterschool space for children with disabilities… I am so extremely proud of this.

Now, SeeMe is about to support the United Nations through United Nations Women.[ii] That is, the collaboration with the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.[iii] What are the contents and purposes of the support for the Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women?

An Interview with SeeMe Founder, Caterina Occhio

We are so proud of this. In fact, the UNTF to End Violence against Women selected our heart as symbol for their 20th anniversary. Knowing that the official color of the cause is orange, we have created a whole Orange Heart collection including two necklaces, bracelets, and an upcoming tote bag (but the bag is still under wraps…) –

There are some other serious issues to do with patriarchal cultures and single mothers. Single mothers will be shunned by that larger culture, which can create problems once out of their shelter homes and unable to find work. A job that can pay for them and their child or children. How can and do these women attain the appropriate training for work that can sustain a steady income?

The girls usually start their training while still at the shelter; they are then trained by master goldsmiths with decades of experience in the jewlery field and soonthereafter they are employing and start receiving a salary that allows them to pay rent and live comfortably. SeeMe also provides funds for schooling and other necessities for the kids.

SeeMe has been a source of income and a safe resort in Tunisia and Turkey. Why these countries?

I worked extensively in these countries; this is where the idea of SeeMe was born, where I saw a necessity and where the quality of the handicraft allowed me to produce luxury products…

What other provisions does SeeMe give to women victims of violence – in obvious need of assistance?

On top of training, work opportunities, steady income and emotional support, the SeeMe women also get funding for their kid’s schooling and need and, most important but less quantifiable, they regain their pride, independence and love for their lives…

SeeMe does a form of outreach to other fashion world brands through positive influence of them such as Karl Lagerfeld, Tommy Hilfiger, Vogue International, and others. What is the process for positive influence of these additional brands in the fashion world?

SeeMe is the result of the desire to produce beautiful product while providing economic and emotional support to all the people involved… An idea that, in its simplicity, got wide support from the fashion world.

What are the most in-demand product of SeeMe?

The very first product created, a big heart hanging on a very simple chain, is still the most loved and has become our iconic product… Link – http://seeme.org/collections/necklaces/products/large-heart-with-long-chain-silve

What is the importance of the companies and organizations such as SeeMe or United Nations Women?

Violence against women is a complex issue that needs to be approached from different angles… Having brands providing training and job opportunities, organizations providing funding, and media providing coverage and shedding positive light on the issue all contribute to making the lives of less fortunate people that much better…

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

I am just so glad to see that more and more people are jumping on the ethical fashion train, embracing slow culture and minimal yet meaningful consumerism… Never lose faith in humanity.

Thank you for your time, Caterina.

No, thank you Scott, it is an absolute honor to be interviewed by you for Trusted Clothes.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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