Brazilian fashion industry finds its feet
The latest edition of Sao Paulo Fashion Week is under way. Earlier this year, I gained some insight into the Brazilian fashion industry when I visited the city to attend the 11th edition of the Inspiramais fair.
Instead of only showcasing designers and their products, the fair takes a look behind the scenes, at industry developments, key trends for the future, as well as technological innovations in fabrics and components.
As a city, Sao Paulo runs the gamut from a poor urban inner city to the well-heeled Jardins area, where the wealthy browse hip boutiques and dine at chic restaurants.
Brazil, rich in natural resources and with a diverse ecosystem, is one of the leading suppliers of the raw materials used in fashion, and is looking to boost exports of these materials.
"The trade with China is a connection that's been going on for a long time," says Ilse Guimaraes, superintendent of Assintecal, which organised the fair. "It started when they were trying to put Brazilian products into the Chinese market. And from the last visits I made to China, I realise that there is room for growth, to bring in fashion a lot more and to gain more understanding."
Inspiramais' creative head Walter Rodrigues says there are two aspects to the plan. "The creative aspect is very simple. We have human material and we also have very interesting materials, so we can create very good products," he says. "On the other hand, in order to build an industry, it is much more complicated. The costs of everything, of all this, in Brazil are very high."
The creative, more theoretical side of Inspiramais was a fascinating insight into what drives Brazilian fashion on a design and inspiration level. Rodrigues himself used to be a noted fashion designer with his own label, but has since focused on bringing creative clout to the industry-focused fair. As he walked around the fair, Rodrigues showed us the latest techniques used in dyeing and tanning leathers and exotic skins such as python and Amazonian fish skins. Like Italy, Brazil prides itself on a rich and developed leather industry.
For fully made products, outstanding native designs include intricately laid wooden clutches featuring stunning floral patterns, all created from sustainable and locally sourced wood.
Designer Jefferson de Assis heads up the Brazilian References creative project shown at Inspiramais, and drew inspiration from the town of Cabaceiras, including the techniques used to stitch and sculpt leather (the region's main raw material).
Overall, there was a focus on nature, not only in design and construction, but trending references used. Since sustainability in fashion is becoming increasingly important, Brazil is at an advantage to capitalise on its expertise in this area.
There are some parallels that can be made with China's fashion industry - both are massive developing nations (part of the so-called "BRIC" nations) with fashion industries that are transitioning from production-only to being driven by native design talent.
There's been an attempt in both countries to build legitimate creative centres. Clearly, Brazil is not short of fashion talent, but expensive and overbearing government taxation is a huge barrier to a flourishing local industry.
"If you open a fashion company in Brazil, you need very strong money support to make the whole system work," Rodrigues says, from personal experience. "And the biggest problems these companies face is to make incredible products, but at a final price that is commercially viable. Often, it becomes too expensive."
Young designers thus find it difficult to grow quickly or export overseas.
"It is a very political thing," Rodrigues adds. "The government does not have a solid [strategy] on the fashion industry. We have very strong competition. For example the automobile industry, petroleum, construction, buildings in general ... get more support than fashion."
There is an effort to move away from labelling Brazilian fashion as "exotic" on the global stage. To truly become a creative force in fashion, Brazil needs to widen its appeal beyond exoticism, hence the inroads made by events such as Inspiramais, and on a much more public level, Sao Paulo Fashion Week.
"There is a lot more that we want to show, that we want people to really think about when they think of Brazilian fashion," says Rodrigues.
"That's why it's important to educate people on the fact that we're multicultural, that we're vibrant, and we're sensitive to natural sustainability. After all we have the Amazon."
Guimaraes says, however, that Brazilian fashion might need to "get out a little bit more and look for more partnerships". "What has changed is that there is more authorial work happening," she says, meaning more independent and exclusive designers are gaining traction.
"We're being able to offer more of our own style, our own thing, rather than just going on the things that are already famous in other modern countries."