Her company FLAVIA AMADEU is dedicated to empower people, mainly women, and to contribute to the preservation of the natural environment and culture using design and entrepreneurship skills as key tools.
A free spirit, a traveller and a dreamer, Flavia loves to live and to turn imagination into reality, through an ethical design process. Flavia also holds a PhD in Design and Sustainability.
Ogunte: What is it that you are doing differently, Flavia?
Flavia Amadeu: I care about building relationships with the producers and people across the production chain. It is all about continuity, feasibility and trust. Some of the most common challenges of working with producers in remote communities are logistics and communication. In the case of the Amazon rainforest, this is extreme. Building trustful relationships throughout the network is one of the most important ways of overcoming these challenges.
After many years, I can count on the support of many people, private and public institutions – such as NGOs, local government, universities and producers’ cooperatives among others who support logistics, quality control and communications. This network has allowed me to develop my work.
By combining the relationships from inside and outside the rainforest, a trustworthy network has enabled the continuity of my work and i have been able to see transformation. I have observed children turning into adults and getting involved with the rubber production. It is really satisfying to witness, as there is concern about the lack of interest of the younger generation towards their local production – due to economic issues involving older types of rubber, for example. I have seen women getting involved in the production chain with enthusiasm and sharing their knowledge of rubber handcrafts that I have introduced to them.
I have worked with the artisan and rubber tapper José de Araújo, the “Master of Rubber” who developed rubber shoes with the same rubber. I collaborated with him as part of my field research and we have never stopped collaborating, even when I was in London. We were always in touch, and I could see him growing and developing quickly, leaving a situation of poverty and illiteracy to buy land to protect in the Amazon rainforest. I saw him teaching and employing other people, and somehow I know I was a part of this process, as an adviser, a collaborator and a friend. Back in Brazil, I’ve spent days with him and his family. We have developed three new shoe models.
That is a “growing together” process”. And ultimately, It is all about love for the rainforest!”
Ogunte: How do women participate in this production? What do you learn from them?
Flavia Amadeu: In my experience, women are enthusiasts about manufacturing rubber and rubber artefacts. They see the possibility of income generation. This interest was shown by preparing a little exhibition featuring their handcrafts for the visit of actress and top model Lily Cole, who was the ambassador of the Sky Rainforest campaign in 2012. Nowadays, these women continue producing their handcrafts, but are still excited to further develop their skills and generate income from them.
Recently I received the support from professionals of UN Women to write a project in continuation of this initiative. In addition to handcrafts, we aim to develop entrepreneurial skills, raise awareness of women’s human rights and gender equality. We intend it to be a proper empowerment process for five more rubber-tapping communities. An important point is the monitoring and evaluation of social impacts for the local women (from 16 to 45). This is one of my dreams at the moment, for which I am raising funds.
Ogunte: What are some questions people never ask you, you wished they did
People become curious when they learn about the stories behind the products. They usually ask if I go there, how is it and say “wow”.
The questions people do not ask are about the challenges of my journey and the direct impacts the production of the rubber has on the rainforest.
Although I have been working with rubber tapping communities for many years, it is a whole learning process with many ups and downs. One of the milestones of this year was a contract with producers from Acre. On one hand, it ensures the continued supply for my company and on the other hand, the producers know they will keep gaining an income from the rubber. This is really good for both sides, as it results in the sustainability of the entrepreneurship as a whole being feasible.
Ogunte: How is your eagerness to be involved as a social entrepreneur stem from what happened in your early years?
Flavia Amadeu: My mother was always involved in volunteer work and it became part of my education. This made me to interact with people of all ages living distinct and difficult realities. However, there was something that made me feel uneasy at times. It was a paternalist idea of ‘helping’ without really changing anything, which is very common in Brazil. I began then to think of how I could contribute to promote positive changes and I how design could be a means for that.
Ogunte: Where can people find your creations?
Flavia Amadeu: I sell online www.flaviaamadeu.com and in galleries, boutiques and sustainable shops in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Brasília. At the moment I have a brand representing me in Australia and New Zealand called Purple Mango. I am always seeking other sales opportunities.
Ogunte: How does your world look like in 2030?
Flavia Amadeu: I dream that many communities in the Amazon rainforest are living comfortably and sustainably from rubber production and other natural resources. I hope I can facilitate this process in the years ahead.
I’d like my brand to be well recognized in sustainable design and will expand to many more products, all of which are harvested sustainably in the rainforest and elsewhere. By 2030, I wish to own protected land in the rainforest.
Interview produced by Servane Mouazan for Ogunte CIC.