Brazil has always been a hotbed of creativity and with sustainability high on the agenda for numerous designers and artists, it’s a movement that has been a priority in the Amazon where local artisans have been creating beautiful wood carvings and furniture from managed forests, as well as reclaimed and dead trees.
The Caboclas Project in the Tapajós region has been working with local communities to develop forest management systems through traditional woodworking that supply local furniture retailers. Some of the group’s most popular works are animal carvings which vibrantly draw on the Amazon’s wildlife for its inspiration. Made from tropical wood, these unique pieces of furniture include playful stools in the shape of dolphins and turtles.
Until recently, these products were not available outside of Brazil. Now Ecostasy, the New York-based sustainable design retailer, is making these handcrafted wooden stools available to a wider market for the first time via its online store.
“The Caboclas Project is an excellent example of handcrafted production combined with sustainable forestry to provide an important source of income for traditional communities, reducing the need to seek alternative activities outside their homes and habitats,” says Ecostasy founder Katherine Ponte.
The Caboclas Project is one of a number of artisans, artists and designers that Ecostasy partner with in Brazil. The online store, which stocks products made in Brazil and Portugal, includes furniture, homewares, accessories and baby clothes. Each item is carefully selected for its originality, craftsmanship and reflection of the culture and traditions of the communities they are made by.
“I set up Ecostasy to fulfill an interest in promoting social and environmental good through conscious commerce,” Ponte says. “It was an opportunity to expand the market for beautiful, handcrafted goods raising awareness and promoting commercially the traditions and habitats of indigenous groups in Brazil.”
“The preservation and promotion of centuries old indigenous communities and practices is extremely important to the environmental stewardship of endangered lands,” Ponte adds. “These communities know best how to live and work harmoniously in these lands. Ecostasy tries to expand the economic opportunity for these communities so they remain in place and preserve their ecologically important habitats.”
With strong ties to Brazil and a passion for its creative production as well as its indigenous communities, Ponte has established a one-stop-shop in Ecostasy which offers contemporary and hard-to-source designs whilst showcasing the vibrancy of South America’s largest country.
“Our products are not easily sourced,” Ponte says. “In most cases, we are the first to make many of our products available outside Brazil. Ecostasy source directly from carefully selected artisans, designers and communities that reflect our rigorous socially and environmentally responsible sourcing principles. We carefully researched each partner and product. We identified regions and raw materials of environmental importance. We made every effort possible to identify individuals and communities living harmoniously with nature and producing high quality products in these regions using these raw materials responsibly.”
Ponte, a Portugese immigrant who grew up in Toronto, admits to a life long love for handcrafted products and traditions, fostered by her ancestry. Having also worked and lived in Brazil, during that time she developed a strong appreciation for its culture and arts.
“Brazil is rich with beautiful natural materials. I was also greatly impressed with Brazilian ingenuity and the artisanal skill to apply traditional craft techniques to create modern products,” she says. What also fascinated her was the strong “no waste” ethos adopted by the country’s crafts and design communities, with many “beautiful and practical examples of refuse transformed into design”.
It is an ethos that the former lawyer has applied to her own protocol when searching for designers and artisans for Ecostasy to work with. “I look for designers and artisans that are first and foremost working with sustainable primary materials such as wood, natural fibers, seeds, recycled or repurposed materials,” she states. “I look for personal accessories and home décor items which are beautiful, high-quality and usually handcrafted using processes and materials that conserve natural resources and sustain ecologically important areas.”
Among the brands that Ecostasy stock is Tora Brasil. Designed by founder Cristiano Ribeiro do Valle, Tora Brasil’s solid wood collection – each with its distinctive characteristics and shapes – is made of certified wood from Brazilian forests. The Pequia Coffee Table, on sale at Ecostasy, is both a prized piece of tree trunk and natural art. A unique furniture line, do Valle’s range preserves the natural state and beauty of Amazon woods.
Ecostasy provides a balance between the traditional, timeless pieces and the modern, timeless pieces. In addition to collaborating with artisans located in the Amazon, Ecostasy also has a team of designers working out of urban spaces geared towards repurposing and recycling. “Brazilians are phenomenally skilled and creative. They have a tremendous ability to transform sustainable materials into modern design works, which reflect the beauty of nature and artistry,” Ponte says.
A prime example of this within Ecostasy’s current collection is the Cabeludo Rug. What looks like a convincing shag-pile of grass that you want to walk bare foot on is infact a rug made from factory remnants of swimsuit and bikini fabric – polyamide-with-elastane mesh being the fabric in question. The rug was made by a sister design duo who develop innovative products and applications, including PET threads from recycled plastic bottles.
Blending the recycled with the unusual is something that Ecostasy clearly has an eye for. One of Ponte’s personal favourites from the store is the Fish Leather Clutch. She explains that skins discarded from processing fish for human consumption are treated in a process with parallels to leather tanning for use as a fabric. “Like the shaggy rugs, the fish leather clutch is made of materials that would be otherwise discarded. The material is completely transformed and unrecognizable from its original state. The final product is chic and unique,” Ponte adds.
For the time being, Ecostasy remains focused on Brazil and Portugal, but Ponte hasn’t ruled out working with other indigenous communities elsewhere. “With great opportunity and inspiration in my life, I have always wanted to give back through my community and entrepreneurial activities,” she says. “We are interested in exploring opportunities to expand the markets for beautiful things from other underappreciated groups if they are complementary with our mission.”
Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a journalist who writes about sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com