TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bazaar Brazil: Bringing Fair Trade from South to North

Brazil has had a long tradition of handicrafts. Most of the larger cities and metropolitan areas have what we used to call, "Feira Hippie", or Hippie Fairs. Many of the craft skills were brought by European immigrants, but these melded with both African and Indigenous influence into new interpretations of the crafts that are identifiably Brazilian. For example, the Portuguese brought bobbin lace making as an art with them during the colonial days. The skill spread up and down the coast among fishing villages, especially in the NorthEast. Lace techniques were used to make fishing nets, hammocks, bed spreads, curtains and other household items. In the 1970's, Brazilian artisans enjoyed a true renaissance in craft mediums. The craft fairs really were populated with the hippie generation trying to make a living from their cottage industries.

Imports from Indonesia, China and other countries almost devastated craft production as they could undersell the products of local artisans. However, with the growth of fair trade projects around the world and increased opportunities through online marketing and sales, Brazilian artisans found supportive audiences both at home and abroad.

Brazilians have three things in abundance that make fair trade products viable: excellent raw materials, an abundance of rural and urban poor who need work, and the entrepreneurial spirit that is necessary for project success. Bazaar Brazil embodies these elements in their wonderful selection of Brazilian fair trade crafts. Located in Redwood City, California (US), the shop is owned by two Brazilians who are doing their share to represent these artisans:

Mara Sallai is from the same area I grew up in. My brother was born in her city of Londrina. We had a brainstorming session trying to figure out if we had any acquaintances in common. We didn't, but we do share a love for Brazil and a hope that these crafts will empower the people they represent.

Bazaar Brazil focuses in on products that recycle waste and that are made by truly disenfranchised people. Many of the artisans are handicapped, have served time in prison, or live in areas where there is either no or very low-paying work.

Coasters, boxes and other objects are made from recycled wood by people with down syndrome.

Recycled polyester that are cast offs from large factories are made into textured pillows and throws.

Two of Mara's favorite products are banana fiber vessels and the Baniwa baskets. She describes both in terms of their local economic importance.

Baniwa from the Rio Negro- weavers of tradition

"The Baniwa basketry are made of "Aruma fiber" and have a sustainable feature - each cut fiber creates seeds for another two or three. The fibers need to be dyed before they are cut in under steam; the dyes are 100% natural.

Patterns of the baskets express their language and symbolize their environment. Authentic and without the touch of the western influence, the weaving tradition becomes a statement itself. Baskets can be used as storage units to help declutter your home, bottle and card holders, or bread and fruit displays. Each piece promotes indigenous design, culture; and helps provide protection to the Amazon rain forest.

Ethnic designs of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest cross rivers, waterfalls, distances and challenges to mark their significance in the "Western" market. Before arriving to the biggest city in the Amazon rainforest, the fair traded baskets travel 4000 miles navigating through three rivers and sixteen waterfalls."

Vessels made from recycled cardboard pulp covered with banana plant fiber.

Mara continues:
"In the interior of Minas Gerais (a Brazilian state), banana plant fiber and recycled cardboard pulp have changed the lives of a group of rural workers. The hands that once tilled the soil, crocheted or kneaded dough, now separate and and work the fibers from banana plants. Instead of making bread, they make papier machie. Their decorative pieces are winning the world over.

Sixty artisans now produce 800 pieces a month, on order. The decorative plates have found distributors in other Brazilian cities, Germany, France, Italy, and in our own California Redwood City, USA. They work within a cooperative system and have learned that the banana plant not only gives them fruit, but also sustains their families. They have also seen that their products fulfill both eco and fair trade principles."

Mara also works with individual artists. This one is from her home town of Londrina. The artist recycles used coffee filters as a canvas for her objects:

Many of the fair trade shops one sees around have been selling the same crafts for decades. Although they still play a vital role in the economy of the lives they represent, Bazaar Brazil offers a fresh selection of high quality handicrafts and decorative items. On the first page of their website, there is a link to a wonderful little video interview with Mara that shows the store and other products nicely. Bazaar Brazil does not have a web store, but I'm sure they would welcome your inquiries and if you are in the neighborhood, it's a must visit!


1 comment:

“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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