Made in Brazil

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Arriving In A Strange Land, Thousands Of Miles Away From Home Can Be A Challenge For Anyone, But One Group Of Brazilian Women Are Determined To Forge A Sense Of Community And Identity

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. And so it is for so many Brazilians who upped sticks and moved continents to make Dongguan their home. Settling abroad is not easy either. There is a new culture to contend with and, initially at least, new communities can feel fractured, families displaced. People can feel their identities being challenged. But if there is one community that is good at sticking together and coming up with innovative ways of living in Dongguan and strengthening their community, it is surely that of the Brazilian women, who seem to continually strive to stimulate themselves creatively by doing what they love. That’s just how the Brazilian women living in Dongguan operate–always working to create something new.

If there is one community that is good at sticking together and coming up with innovative ways of living in Dongguan and strengthening their community, it is surely that of the Brazilian women.

Most of them moved here to follow their husbands’ careers. And, at first, many of them found themselves dedicated exclusively to family and domestic duties, but as wonderful and as important as family is to them, many found themselves wanting more; they wanted to realize the full extent of their inner talents, and to bring something useful to both the Brazilian and wider community. Many of these women have turned to making bespoke crafts and the annual Brazilian Home Made Fair is now a much loved Dongguan event. Though they each have different stories, these women share the same values and culture, making them feel a little more at home in Dongguan, this strange city that sits on the cusp of southern China.

More than just shopping malls

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Almost continually wearing a motherly smile, Fernanda Colla is one such woman. Moving to China to follow her husband five years ago, when her daughter was just one year old, she found it difficult at the beginning. Back in Brazil, she had a job in a shoe factory, but she is glad she made the move, “Living in China made us put family first, which is a good thing. But after a couple of years being a housewife, I felt like doing something more with my life, especially to give a good example to my daughter,” she says. Adding “One day my daughter came up to me and said, ‘Mummy, why don’t women work?’ It was then that I knew I had to do something.” Fernanda continues, “I was in Brazil on vacation, people asked about our routine, my daughter would say, ‘we take taxis and go to shopping malls,” says Fernanda laughing again.

It was a year ago that she started making her own home-made healthy foods. At the beginning, Fernanda was making the products for her own use, but her Brazilian friends encouraged her to produce for everyone. “I went to Brazil to do a course about whole wheat products. And when I came back, a nutritionist Francielle Rech helped out deciding the ingredients.” Fernanda cooks bread, cakes, cookies, and some gluten free food too. The products are put in clean transparent plastic bags that are stamped with her brand, Healthy Life. Besides her best seller, whole wheat bread, she offers specialist products such as “Broa” a popular cookie from Brazil. Then there are here Banana cakes, each one looking like a small piece of edible art. As she refuses to use any preservatives, her products have become popular among foreigners looking for healthier habits. In many ways her small business has given her an identity that she felt she was lacking before “I’m not just Colla’s wife or Rafaela’s mother anymore, now I’m also remembered as Fernanda from Healthy Life products,” she says.

Recycling Passion
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Like Fernanda, Rakel Santos from “Use Trapos” has an intense passion for what she does. At first sight, it is clear she oozes style. Wearing tight jeans with her own creation t-shirt, set off with tattoos, a tooth piercing, and over-sized glasses, to say she looks pretty hip would be an understatement. Compared to many other Brazilians, she is new, arriving less than a year ago, due to her boyfriend’s job. Only 24 years old, she had a successful career as a window designer, when she accepted the challenge of moving to China. “I started working when I was just 13. It was an informal job in the shoe industry, later I worked in the finance department of a famous shoe brand and realized I wanted to work in fashion,” says Rakel. She took fashion classes in Southern Brazil, and then moved to Campinas in Sao Paulo State where she studied more. “I have always done so many things that I could never stop, I have worked my whole life”.

“One day my daughter came up to me and said, ‘Mummy, why don’t women work?’ It was then that I knew I had to do something.”

1215_made-in-brazi8On arrival in Dongguan, Rakel instantly felt challenged, “I will never forget the first time I went out alone here, my boyfriend was at work, and tried to buy something. I couldn’t communicate to anyone about anything. It was really frustrating, ”she said. She worked for four months in a Brazilian school, but stopped to completely to dedicate herself to “Use Trapos”, her brand that makes personalized and recycled clothes “We use different designs according to what the customer requests, and we try to customize existing clothes, thinking green as a sustainable fashion,” she says. Together with the other Brazilian women, Rakel is always looking for new trends and activities in order to innovate and promote her homemade creations. One idea she is encouraging is the use recycled bags, instead of plastic bags the supermarket. But Rakel’s bags are not just “green”, they are fashionable too. During the Brazilian Home Made Fair, all exhibitors wore a t-shirt designed by Rakel. She gets a lot of inspiration from the internet which she melds with her own ideas to make arresting printed t-shirts. With winter coming, she is already researching ideas to innovate with trousers and jackets. For those that want something a little bit cooler than the standard schlock offered by H&M or Zara, Rakel offers something unique.

Work as therapy
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If you think recycled clothes are unusual, Cristiane Franco’s miniature topiaries are even more offbeat. These small, stunning, yet perfectly formed trees and plants, are made from all manner of everyday bits and pieces. From coffee beans and cinnamon through, to dried flowers and even chili peppers; these ornamental knick-knacks are stand out decorations that will add an idiosyncratic touch to any home. Curvy, dark skinned, with a wild mane of thick, black curly hair, Cristiane is pretty stand-out too. Like so many others, she followed her boyfriend (now husband) to China, six years ago.“We thought it would be easy for me find a job as back in Brazil I had a communication and advertising degree, and was working as an English teacher as well, but it was tough,” she says. She wanted to work in her chosen profession, but it didn’t work in 1215_made-in-brazi6Dongguan; later, she started working as a teacher in a Brazilian school, and also gave private English classes at home. After three years in China, she felt something was missing in her life. “I suddenly started to love babies, and realized it was that what I needed.”Someone who never imagined herself having a child, she became a mother. Cravo & Canela is the name of her company, which prunes plants into ornamental shapes. This month she is even making some personalized pieces for the Christmas nativity scene. “If I could, I would make Cravo & Canela my only job, as it’s really like a therapy to me more than anything,” says Cristiane.

 

Perfecting the details
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Luciana Terezinha Souza, known to friends as Luti, is elegance personified. With her loose, flowing summer dress, and perfectly applied make-up, you would be hard pushed to tell that she spends her days slaving away in a kitchen to make toothsome snacks for the community. She makes regular Italian food, such as pasta, pizza, and pies, but she gives all her dishes a slight Brazilian twist. The Gauchos (Brazilians from the South) are fans of what is probably her signature dish, “Canudinho”, which consists of small pastry cones filled with potato, salad, or beef. They almost look like miniature ice creams. “New customers from South Brazil are surprised when they see Canudinho on the menu, as it reminds them of home,” says Luti, who came to Dongguan nine years ago, after first living in Guangzhou. She used to spend six months in China and six months in Brazil, as her two daughters were still studying in Brazil. “It was not easy at the beginning, as I never belonged anywhere, so I never thought it possible to think about my own business”, she says.

“If I could, I would make Cravo & Canela my only job, as it’s really like a therapy to me more than nything,”

Five years ago, she moved to Dongguan on a full time basis as her daughters started studying in a Brazilian school here. She began to think more clearly about what she was going to do here. Luti was working in the finance industry back in Brazil and, initially, never imagined herself turning into a cook. “I think having my mother, grandma and aunt as cooks helped me to start,” says Luti. She explains the process of making her products, how she tastes everything over and over again before putting it on the menu, tests the shelf life of each dish (which she freezes), and gets friends’ opinions as well, until she has absolutely perfected her product. “I plan everything in minute detail, before I start, to make sure it will work. My husband says I use my finance skills in the cooking,” she says smiling. After five years making frozen products, Luti can see the progress she 1215_made-in-brazi3has made, those little tweaks she has added to improve her product line, “I can see the difference now from when I started. I added new things to the lines such as cakes, sweets for birthdays, all on customers’ request.” Luti feels that making a product with her own hands from scratch is very deeply rewarding. “I’m very happy to be able to follow my family’s roots and use my creativity as well, it means something to me,” she says.

 

A homemade affair
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Nine years ago, Aline Martins dropped out of college in Brazil to start a new life in China. In 2010, her first son was born, and the second one was born in 2013. She had been dedicating her life in Dongguan only to family, until 2014 when she traveled to USA to visit her friend who was organizing an afternoon tea that sold handmade products. This garage sale turned out to be a source of great inspiration. Knowing there were so many Brazilian women in Dongguan making these quirky, beautiful, handmade products, so full of personality, she began to get the idea of putting them all together in some kind of event for them to showcase their wares. Thus the Brazilian Home Made Fair was born.

At the Brazilian HOME Made fair it the husbands that are in the shadows, not the women. These Brazilian women have an affinity, a connection which reinforces their Brazilian community.

In November 2014, Aline was in charge of her first Home Made Fair in Dongguan, with 14 exhibitors at her home. “I was not expecting such a success. So many people came and stayed, and my house was too small for the event,” said Aline. This year, Aline had to change the venue to accommodate more exhibitors and visitors, so it took place at The Fountain. “It was another success with 515 tickets sold and all the money was donated to [local charity] Treasures of Hope,” she says. This year they had 25 exhibitors, Zumba dancing, a fashion show, and a DJ. Besides Fernanda, Rakel, Cristiane and Luti, many other women, not just from the Brazilian community but throughout Dongguan exhibited their own homemade products. Almost beaming with pride, the satisfaction that Aline has that her small idea has gone on to be such a much-loved event is all too evident. “Before when I was only dedicating myself to my family, I was already happy. But there was always a day when I asked myself what else could I be doing to make the difference, and this is it. Now, even my kids look happier because I’m happier,” she says. She is eager to make it even bigger, to grow and help not just the Brazilian women, but the wider community as a whole.

For so many women, arriving Dongguan is difficult. They don’t know the language; their husbands work long hours and don’t always give them the time they need, and they have little to do but look after the children. It can be lonely, depressing even. But over time with a little hard-work, a little creativity, and a little passion something has begun to grow, to make them stronger. At the Brazilian Home Made fair it the husbands that are in the shadows, not the women. These Brazilian women have an affinity, a connection which reinforces their Brazilian community. When they join together, creativity, friendship and charity is generated. With determination, all of them can find an identity by doing something they love and sharing with others. The march of the Brazilian women may have only just begun.

Category Feature Stories