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curiosity to mars

Céline Semaan Vernon, Founder of Slow Factory


Céline Semaan Vernon, Founder of Slow Factory

City: New York City

Passion: Inspiring 


Forced to flee war-torn Lebanon as a child, Céline moved between Montreal, Paris and her native Beirut before settling in New York City with her family last year. The artist-turned-web native designer began looking at the stars, as they were one of the few things that felt familiar regardless of her whereabouts.

Keen to give back, she started working with Creative Commons and became even more fascinated by the constellations when she began overseeing content contributed to the organization by NASA.

Céline sees life as “a cycle of passions” and the arrival of her first child a few years ago gave her the opportunity to take a break to figure out what she really wants to contribute to the world.

More than a practical or fashionable accessory, scarves are a symbol of Lebanese culture. While on her maternity leave, Céline decided to combine the two things that help her feel more connected to her homeland, scarves and stars, to start Slow Factory, a fashion studio printing NASA images on silk scarves.

Now back to work at her day job, she dedicates every spare moment to growing her beautiful line of wearable art pieces and is speaking to potential investors in the hopes of being able to focus on the company full-time again in the near future.


I kept moving here and there and, as a traveller, the notion of home was always a mystery to me. I don’t have childhood friends, but I can relate to almost anyone and live in any country. Looking at the stars was the only way to ground me.
My initial passion, which is really to inspire and help people, led me to working with Creative Commons, where I began working with the NASA group. It wasn’t the first time I was passionate about astronomy and the stars, but it enabled me to feed my brain with images that have a strong effect of calming me down in a strange way.
I would spend hours awake at night thinking of all the things I could do with these images so one day I tweeted, ‘What if I printed these images and created silk scarves?’ A very good friend of mine was like, ‘Yes, do it.’ So I did it. We launched the website on August 6, 2012; the same day NASA launched Curiosity to Mars. It was a complete coincidence but I felt it was a sign.
Why a scarf? Obviously I come from the Middle East and we always wrap ourselves with scarves, whether we’re religious or not, it’s just our culture. I wanted to create something collectable that told a story. Not a high-end, super deluxe product like Hermes, but something in-between that would remind people of something.


I was lucky to have stumbled upon a new friend, who gave me a manufacturing connection in India so that’s how it began. I wanted a company that is Fair Trade; I didn’t want to make these beautiful scarves with a company that was making children work for $1 a month… so the company that I work with is socially and environmentally responsible.
It began as full-time and eventually moved to becoming my side business because I really need to fund it. I teach every day at an independent school and that’s basically how I’m funding Slow Factory right now.
Sometimes things take a lot of time. I tend to rush into things, it’s the Lebanese way to just go, go, go and react like you’re in survival mode. My biggest failures were when I rushed things. I force myself to slow down and that’s why I called my company Slow Factory.


I studied art to become an artist and stumbled upon a career as a designer after I learned everything online. I was on my maternity leave and was really looking to do something else because I didn’t want to be designing interfaces anymore. I was ready to do something different.
At the beginning I didn’t know what I was doing, so I would rush into writing an email that I should have waited before sending and burn a relationship that just started blossoming, especially a professional relationship, but I learnt from that.
My day is full. I teach from 9am-5pm, I run to day-care, pick up my daughter, I come home, I feed her, we play, she goes to sleep at 8.30pm and then I get back to work on Slow Factory. I hope I’m going to get funding so I can keep moving forward.


I moved to New York a year ago because my husband got a new job. I got hired as a designer and thought maybe I’d do that really quickly and get my visa. But then I got fired for the first time in my life, so that was one failure I had to cope with. I let it really hurt me, more than it was supposed to, even though I was miserable and wanted to quit.
I used to let failure embody me. It was so hard to get out of that circle, but eventually I realized if you start feeling bad for yourself, you sort of excuse yourself from even trying or pushing forward; you become your own worst enemy at this point.
Now when things go wrong, I have a tendency to want to fall on the floor and be dramatic, and live it like it’s a Greek tragedy, but time and experience has taught me to try to push it away as soon as it lands.


Fear is a powerful genie. My biggest fear, I think we all share it, we’re afraid to fail, whatever that means because I think we need to redefine failure. I’m extremely spiritual, I find meaning in all sorts of things and I try to look for healing, so instead of looking at them as failures, I like to see them now as opportunities to learn a lesson.
There is a beautiful Ted Talk by this woman who said when fear occurs, you’ve got to sit down with it like it’s a troubled child, and address it and talk to it, calm it down and see what it’s about, and then move on. So that’s what I try to do now. Yes, I get scared, it really occupies my whole body, but then I remind myself to sit down, have a coffee and talk to myself about what I’m afraid of.


When I got fired, I found myself, instead of living on a very big salary that I used to make, having to live on $100 for two weeks. I had to find creative ways to make meals with the bare minimum that were still interesting and delicious. But I found all of these constraints, maybe because I’m a designer, made me even more creative and even more appreciative of everything around me. I went from being angry and sad to being extremely moved, and then being inspired and grateful; this really changed how I see everything. I lived it as something I should be gaining from.


I try to meditate as often as I can because I notice that when I don’t for a long stretch of time, I become very much owned by fear. I’m nervous for no reason, I don’t have patience, so definitely meditation helps me stay grounded, release tension and to be balanced.
I eat out and don’t ask restaurants what was the chicken’s name, but at home we make a conscious effort to have no processed food and to eat organic, local produce.
I would love to work out more. This is something I feel that is missing from my life, just natural movement, stretching, getting things done with your body. I go to the park a lot with my daughter, but it’s not like being alone on a yoga matt or doing something for you. It’s just hard to find time.


Only recently, since I entered my late twenties, have I realized that my parents are a great source of inspiration to me. My father has had so many careers in his life. When we left Lebanon, he lost everything and never looked back. It was a hard path for him to rebuild himself until he found a career that he likes and is successful at. My mother had to learn English and work long hours, but was always so positive and always cooked for us; I don’t know how she did it. I’m so lucky to have seen that courage.


I have a psychic healer friend, who lives off the grid in no comfort at all, but she has this unconditional love towards people. She is my mentor and helps me find my strength and perspective. I met her randomly but she has been my angel, helped me to find myself and find this notion of home that is actually within us; wherever you are is home. She showed me how to mediate and how to help others; she’s the most empathetic person I’ve ever met in my life.


Look for meaning in everything you do. Meaning will give you a sense of fulfillment that is far greater than looking for happiness. Happiness will fade away but meaning will give you this anchor that will always bring you back up and keep you going.