Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Rio: Fashion From Favela Rocinha (2/2)

By 1990 Tetê, initiator and guardian of COOPA ROCA, was able to get the attention of the fashion industry and by 1994 they began to produce clothes for the catwalk. A new strategy was adopted: Tetê started to contact factories to convince them to hand over their waste luxurious fabric to the cooperative, and with this new approach a new concept came into existence. The traditional sewing techniques that were used by the women applied on the luxurious fabric resulted in an interesting combination for the fashion industry. As Tetê said, the secret is to surprise the buyer, a surprise which in this case is achieved by the unexpected combination of ‘poor’ (or culturally rich) traditional techniques with ‘rich’ (but actually recycled) luxurious fabrics.

Tetê was able to convince fashion designers to give workshops to the women of the cooperative on skills and trends and one day after their first workshop, both Elle and Vogue magazines reported on COOPA ROCA. Through the 2000 and 2002 exhibitions of REtalhar (‘patchwork’ or ‘to shape’), organized by Tetê, partnerships were formed with fashion designers to provide designs to the cooperative, like for example with Dutch designer Tord Boontje and French artist Stephen Dean. While the sales of the clothes started off in kiosks in shopping malls and at local markets, nowadays COOPA ROCA collaborates with big fashion brands like M.Officer, Eliza Conde, Amazonlife, Dautore, Osklen and C&A.

But COOPA ROCA is not only about income and fashion. It is also about perspective. There is a ‘New Generation COOPA ROCA’ project, that educates the art of sewing to girls in the ages from 16 to 21. Also, the girls receive education in dance and get sexual education. Quite an important issue, as Rocinha is the community with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the municipality of Rio de Janeiro. COOPA ROCA has the ambition to educate the future leaders of the community.

The group has grown from about 20 in the beginning to about 150 nowadays and still growing. But there is still a lot to be done. The cooperative does not have access to the Internet yet, so it is still hard to keep their website updated. And the central office has become too small, so small in fact that the Next Generation initiative had to be put on hold. But in 2006 the construction started of a new headquarters on a plot of land in the middle of Rocinha, that was a gift of one of the collaborators in fashion of COOPA ROCA.

It represents the start of a new phase in the life of COOPA ROCA.

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