Whatever one's stance on the fashion industry and the unreal standards of beauty it promotes, there can be no argument that in Rio, it's here to stay. Fashion Rio, the official Brazilian fashion event - which has been held bi-annually (Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter) for the past 20 years - is the third-largest employer in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The fashion industry employs 51,000 workers, 70 per cent of whom are women. Fashion Rio alone generates more than 3,000 jobs in just one week.
Parallel to Fashion Rio runs the Fashion Business, a fashion fair, the sixth edition of which was held in June 2005 (June 14-19) at the Modern Art Museum (MAM) in Rio - also the venue for Fashion Rio. Besides bigger players in the fashion industry, this edition also showcased the work of poor women organized in cooperatives or working with government projects and NGOs.
Sï¿½nia Onï¿½rio, who works with the NGO Fuxicarte - an organization of craftswomen - was one of the women who sold her works at the fair. She says, "My children are very proud of me. They tell everyone at school that their mother took part in Fashion Rio. My first luxury spending with the earnings at the fair was to take them to lunch at McDonalds for the first time."
In fact, at this edition of the fair, an exhibition of photographs called 'Operï¿½rias da Moda' (Labor Fashion Women) honored women - dressmakers, chambermaids and assistants - who helped in building and sustaining the industry. The giant 5x7 meter-pictures, signed by photographer Murillo Meirelles, were hanging from the palm trees in the MAM garden.
The exhibition featured women like Lï¿½cia Helena Folignus, 45, who had to stop studying because her parents could not afford to pay for her books. She began sewing when she was only 12 and, at 14, began working in confections (elaborately crafted clothes). She married at 15, and started sewing clothes at home and selling them on the streets. With that money, she set up a small store. Today, she is the owner of a store that has 53 employees and a production of 20,000 pieces a month. "Sometimes when I stop and think, I can barely believe that I have come so far," she says.
ï¿½rica de Oliveira Xavier, 26, and Luciene Fortuna, 40, are also featured in the exhibition. They are part of the NGO Criola (Creole), which works to give visibility to, and improve the quality of life of, Black women. Criola displayed the works that 27 of their craftswomen produced at the fashion classes it arranged for them.
Everyday, over 1,500 people visited Fashion Business - in fact, on the Fashion Rio dates, the numbers touched 80,000 - including national and overseas buyers.
"The media gave much attention to our work during the previous Fashion Rio (early 2005). We received many orders after that and, today, we are able to sell our products in the Macaca store in the upmarket neighborhood of Ipanema. We hope our participation here brings even more business," says Janice de Aquino, of the NGO Aï¿½ï¿½o Comunitï¿½ria do Brasil (Community Action of Brazil), which promotes and defends the citizenship rights of vulnerable youth. She says that the NGO demands that buyers in the industry use the original label to respect the makers' copyright.
The Federation of Industries of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FIRJAN) and the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (SEBRAE) recruit these women to the fair in order to encourage their active participation. FIRJAN and SEBRAE - along with the Brazilian Textile and Confection Association - also organize business classes and fashion stylists to help the women.
"There's no point in having a beautiful product that does not sell. It is important to adjust the products to the fashion trend, and also to help the craftswomen understand the importance of deadlines and quality control," explains Ana Maria Pianetti, assistant to director, Casa do Artesanato (House of the Craft), an organization maintained by the state government, which gathers craftswomen from across the state of Rio.
Casa's participation in the previous Fashion Rio event brought in so many orders that the organization had to recruit afresh to meet the demand. Fashion Business 2005 has registered a 20 per cent hike (at total earnings of about US$ 144 million) over the last fair in its sales to the internal market. It is expected that exports will earn another US$ 10 million in the next 12 months - twice as much as the last event.
In fact, the event is now considered so important that the Governor of Rio, Rosinha Garotinho, has created laws that enable tax collection from participants only after a period of four months to allow them to collect money from clients before paying taxes.
The fair also opens doors for the representatives of fashion poles, which are collectives of fashion producers from different regions in the state of Rio. "This event is a store window for the world. Buyers invest in all regions, not just the capital cities. So, even small companies in small cities are represented," explains Nilcï¿½a Citeli Soares, representative of the Pole of Fashion of the Northwest Region, about 330 km from the capital and comprising 300 formal and non-formal companies.
Geisa Lobasco, who represents the Pole of Friburgo, a mountainous region, says, "Women began to sew at home. Many set up their own company in their backyards, and the family would work together. Today, the Pole brings together 800 labels. Our consistent participation in Fashion Rio has made us a reference point for lingerie, our specialty."
Women's organizations from other states of Brazil also participate in the event. Identidade do Sertï¿½o (Identity of the Backwoods), a craftswomen's collective from the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais; Apoena, a collective from Brasï¿½lia; and the cotton producers' cooperative Fibra Nativa (Native Fibre) from Mato Grosso are some of such participants.