• Conexão Solidária (Solidary Connection) is a nationwide Brazilian cooperative producing homewear and garments based on local craftmanship. With headquarters in São Paulo it is a fair trade cooperative umbrella organisation that links and supports a network of small workshops in areas with difficulties all over the country.

    The set-up ensures greatest transparency of the financial management, helps the communities to set themselves up autonymously and provides distribution and access to the market. This is all made possible through corporate sponsors.

    In 2009 Conexão Solidária launched its own fashion label and staged its first own fashion show at Dragão Fashion Brazil in Fortaleza in April 2010. The fashion shoot in this VERY issue is the first international fashion series including the Conexão Solidária label.

    “We work with local artisans who find themselves excluded from the marketplace. They mostly live in socially dangerous urban areas in the outskirts of cities, in places they have taken possession of and or in settlement situations, slums. In other occasions they live in rural areas which are mostly aided by the Bolsa Família (Family Allowance) programme. In sum, they are poverty-stricken communities that need a lot of support and self-esteem encouragement to face their day-to-day reality.” — Marilda Líbia de Araujo, Conexão Solidária manager of the region North-West Brazil

    Maria Ocirene Bezerra de Sousa, 49
    I was born in the municipality of Aracati, in the state of Ceará. When I was seven, I started practicing craftsmanship with the straw of the wax palm of South America making straw hats. Now, at forty-nine years of age, I am married with four children. Working with embroidery and sewing I help to support my family. I am a member of a cooperative in the Mucuripe suburb and, thanks to God, I have achieved a great deal of good things in life to the benefit of my family. Taking part in the Conexão Solidária fashion show with my sewing and embroidery was another professional and personal lesson, and actually a great feeling of happiness and achievement.

  • Maria Vilma de Oliveira Sousa, 47
    I was born in Fortaleza, in the state of Ceará. I started my artisan career as a married woman with grown up children. I currently take courses at the community centre to improve my embroidery, patchwork, costume jewellery, trinkets and a little sewing. As a member of Cooperativa Arte e Costura Grande Mucuripe, I have a profession that increases my family income and improves the life of my family.

    I was moved to be able to take part in Conexão Solidária fashion show with my embroidery. It was very good, mainly because I met people from other countries. I feel I am an accomplished woman because the work I develop makes me feel worthy.

    Maria Iracilda de Matos Castro, 51
    Born in Castelo do Piauí, in the interior of the state of Teresina, I worked as an artisan since I was a child. I went through the whole process, from picking wax palm straw to selling the finished straw hat my family and I produced, contributing to the income of my family.

    I have lived in Fortaleza for twenty-three years. I am a married mother of six children. Here in Fortaleza, I have studied and developed my practice of painting, embroidery, crochet and sewing. I have become professional and I am a coordinator of the sewing area at the Cooperativa. I also teach a course of cutting and sewing, embroidery and crochet for the Mucuripe community neighbouring the one of the Cooperativa.

    I am always furthering my knowledge, am able to help the community as well as increasing my family income. My greatest dream is to enrol in a fashion design college. Having participated in Conexão Solidária fashion show was a wonderful moment. I felt fulfilled as an artisan seamstress and flattered to come out on the catwalk at the end: it was a great dream come true!

  • Maria Necí de Almeida, 48
    At ten years of age, I used to make mazelike items to help to pay the expenses of my family who lived in hardship. When I became an adult, the income provided by my work was not up to my expectations. I decided to change to traditional embroidery and began to learn a variety of embroidery loops and increasingly improve my skills to be successful. Currently, thanks to God and to my willpower, I feel fulfilled for having acquired the knowledge and taken the opportunity to get where I have got.

    My greatest success is not limited to my apprenticeship, but to be able to teach everything I learn to other people who may be able to reach a similar position, to be a multiplier and plant a seed of gratitude and professionalism. I am from a family made up of artisans, which is one of the reasons for my success. I have not become an artisan by sheer chance, everything was in the Creator’s plans and I proudly confess that one day the world will talk about me, and I will see my work valued. I am proud to be an artisan!

    Maria Carolina Sousa Constantino, 15
    I was born in Fortaleza, state of Ceará. I am fifteen years old, the daughter of an artisan mother and am currently a high school student. I live with my parents. I do not have a job, but I help my mother and go to school. My greatest dream is being a famous photographic model and having my work recognized. I have had a number of opportunities that I could not take up for financial reasons, but everything I wish is to be able to realise my dream!

    Conexão Solidária

    All photos: Sarah Shatz