It all started... more than 20 years ago, when Maria Teresa Leal, a sociologist, organised a workshop about the recycling of materials for the children of Rochina, one of the biggest shanty towns in Rio de Janeiro. Children would create toys from pieces of fabric and rubbish and their mothers would sew pieces of rags together to create beautiful shirts and dresses.
...it flourished into Coopa-Roca, a co-operative that uses cast-off fabrics to create cutting edge, award-winning garments and decorative products such as lamps, rugs, linen, sheets, pillow and sofa covers. The Coopa-Roca initiative - in the largest favela in Brazil - started when Rio de Janeiro native Maria Teresa Leal encouraged a group of 5 women to start manufacturing products out of textile remnants.
it works! The work of Coopa-Roca's women has been shown in exhibitions and fashion shows and has been reported in both the Brazilian media and international press. Magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire and Vogue have portrayed Coopa-Roca clothing in their fashion editorials. The co-operative now comprises 150 craftswomen and a great portfolio of work produced in collaboration with some of Brazil’s best-known fashion designers and artists. Using their skills in patchwork, knotting, crochet and fuxicos, a traditional Brazilian form of circular patchwork, the aim of the co-operative is to enable women to work from home, contributing to the family's budget while looking after their children at the same time.
favela & fashion design: since then, Coopa-Roca has constructed a social and economic bridge between the two disparate worlds of favela and fashion. The founder’s innovative idea of "creating value NOW!" plays with common perceptions: she takes designs and labour that are perceived as "poor" (but which really are culturally rich, e.g., migrant women) and juxtaposes them with materials perceived as ‘luxurious’ (but which are really free, e.g., fabrics that are donated, recycled, or provided by the client).
for women’s sake: Coopa-Roca's members are women between the ages of 18 and 65. The vast majority were homemakers with no income before they joined the co-operative. Now they can earn 200 - 600 Brazilian reais per month (US$87-$263), depending on how many pieces they agree to sew or crochet.