Wild Rubber from Brazil; sustainable design supporting small producers and artisans in the Amazon Rainforest
When Rplanet’s founder, Suzi met Flavia Amadeau pre-pandemic, it felt like a meeting of minds. Over a delicious supper tucked away in London’s Soho these two girls, passionate about sustainability and making fashion a force for good, talked through the evening about Flavia’s design background in Brazil, and what drove her to form a social enterprise in the Rainforest. When you meet a person of integrity whose values form the heartbeat of their business resulting in a new, innovative material that yields social equity for indigenous communities, you find a way to collaborate!
Flavia has worked hard to bring her vision to life with ethics end-to-end. She is a vibrant example of how one person can make such a difference to people’s lives in isolated communities which in turn, preserves a part of this ancient forest known as the ‘lungs of the world’ and vital to the balance of our planet. She has developed a line of wild rubber accessories, regularly featured on Sao Paolo’s vibrant fashion circuit - and much more.
Brazil has been particularly badly hit by Covid and with a social enterprise comes responsibility for the workers. Flavia’s direct relationship with them and the trust they have built together, has proven vital during such challenging times.
We wanted to share with you, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ behind Flavia Amadeau, from a recent Q&A.
Whereabouts in Brazil Did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in the modern capital of Brazil, Brasilia.
Why did you study and research Sustainability?
I was already a designer when I understood that I could give opportunities to people through design, and I began to work with local artisans.
My relationship with nature and people comes from long ago. When young, I used to travel to nature locations with my father, for jeep adventures, beaches and waterfalls, while my mother was always involved with social work as a volunteer, with whom I saw different social realities in Brazil.
When I was fifteen, I went to the Amazon rainforest for the first time, for an ecological immersion. From that, the rainforest became a passion.
It was when I began my MA at the University of Brasilia that I met the Chemist Laboratory team and learnt about wild rubber.
I realised that that was my path and that I would return to Amazonia to teach the new techniques of processing rubber and manufacturing products to women and many producers in the rainforest. This was in 2004, the rubber became part of my MA in Art & Technology - which was much about the collaboration of art and science, and sustainability became an important part of it. Then I began to work with the communities and later, went to my PhD in the UK where I could fully dedicate my research to this thematic, in the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion.
What inspired your idea to produce wild rubber, with the different colours, textures?
In the beginning, my supervisor and artist Tania Fraga invited me to participate in an exhibition at Itau Cultural Sao Paolo. For that installation, I dove into the Chemistry Laboratory of the University to explore colours, textures and possibilities to work with this material. That was in 2004 and I never stopped researching and developing the material and products with it. Today, I work with more than seven kinds of wild rubber and want to learn and develop much more.
How did you begin to develop the social enterprise in the rainforest?
After my MA, I knew that it was time to return to the rainforest to teach people how to process the coloured rubber. I had my first product made of this material and wanted to make possible the production in the Amazon rainforest.
What are the biggest challenges to your work in the rainforest?
The challenges are amazonic! The distances are huge, there is no communication with many producers, costs are high and so on. However, the certainty of my path was confirmed during every trip to the rainforest, deep in my soul.
How has your work with the communities in the forest changed their lives?
I work with indigenous and non-indigenous communities and have seen many transformations. For example, a lady who was so shy that almost didn’t speak and today is the leader in her community. Another example is of an artisan who was illiterate and very poor and nowadays, he not only reads but has taught many counterparts, giving jobs to all in his family and neighbours.
Through working with the rubber and getting a good value from that, local people become even more proud of living and taking care of the Amazon rainforest. It is beautiful and that goes much beyond the challenges.
What impact has your work had on the environment?
Nowadays, we work in different parts of the Amazon region, especially in the States of Acre and Para.
AMADEU embraces more than seven wild rubber materials and supports the community’s income generation. We have worked with more than 600 people, working with dedication to integrating women and youth (over 16 years old) in the production chain.
What impact has the pandemic had on you and your team in the rainforest?
In 2020, we kept our production from a distance and could keep supporting our producers. This was a worry for us, if the company couldn’t keep going, our producers would also suffer a lot. They produced during the lockdown and when the roads opened, we absorbed the materials. The production was great and we were glad to know that nobody from our network was affected by famine or diseases.
We also developed some campaigns in which we applied 20% of our product’s revenue to attend to identified needs. In this way, we sent masks and food to municipalities where we work.
We look very much forward to seeing our producers in person again. We hope that all this situation improves soon.
What do you enjoy most about your work as a designer?
I love to travel, to meet and collaborate with different people, to be in different places, from the very simple community, the wild rainforest to urban and fashion centres such as London, Sao Paulo, New York and many others. I miss travelling a lot, the digital world helps a lot, but online is nothing as life experience and the friends that you encounter on the way.
What is next for Flavia Amadeu Designs?
This time showed us that the future is now. Sustainability is not for the future generations but for today… We want to contribute to the fashion industry to construct a new fashion.
Find Flavia Amadeu on Instagram