This month Purple Mango co-founder Renata Reis was trilled to be interviewed by the outstanding sustainable and ethical fashion and lifestyle personality and blogger Jennifer Nini, from Eco Warrior Princess.
Right when Purple Mango started, Jennifer interviewed Roberta, also co-founder; so it was great to share the brand story a few years down the track.
So, here are Jennifer's words:
"Three years ago, I published a piece about sustainable jewellery brand Purple Mango and interviewed one of its founders Roberta Rangel.
I lost contact with Roberta in the years that followed so when Renata Reis – Roberta’s business partner – emailed to invite me to their pop-up store event in Sydney last year, I was thrilled to learn that they were still in business.
In the six years that Eco Warrior Princess has been operating, I have seen many brands come and go. To learn that a sustainable brand is still alive fills me with joy. In her email, Renata explained that she and Roberta did take a hiatus from the business (oh…), but had refocused and are both fully back on board (phew..!).
I’m delighted that Purple Mango is back in business. They are exclusive stockists of sustainably-made jewellery by Brazilian designer Flavia Amadeu. The jewellery is unique and handcrafted using 100% recycled certified metal and organic wild rubber produced by rubber tapping communities from the Amazon rainforest. Each creation is like a wearable piece of art. I don’t think I’ve seen ethical jewellery like it; it’s striking colours and design cuts through the fashion clutter, particularly in the Australian marketplace.
Purple Mango’s genesis story
One look at the unique ethical jewellery pieces and it comes as no surprise that Renata and Roberta hail from the vibrant country of Brazil. The jewellery is as showstopping as Brazilian women themselves. “I remember when I moved to Australia I was surprised how many compliments I would get quite regularly on the unique fashion pieces and accessories I wore,” Renata recalls. “Until moving to Australia, I actually hadn’t realised how incredible and special our Brazilian fashion style was – I mean, I always loved and thought we had great fashion in Brazil, but only when moving over overseas I actually realised how unique the style was.”
The women sensed a good business opportunity and took entrepreneurial steps that would eventually lead to Purple Mango. “When we started researching fashion projects in Brazil, we came to realise that the passion for our tropical culture wasn’t enough,” Renata explains.
As they explored the brand’s central philosophy, the two realised they shared interests in environmental and social issues. So it was a natural conclusion that the women unite their love for their heritage with sustainability and ethics. “When we realised that our fashion could have a purpose, it was a really special light bulb moment. Everything then made sense!”
Since its launch, the brand has now expanded its collection to include shoes and homewares.
Why call a sustainable brand Purple Mango?
It’s a question I failed to explore years ago when I interviewed Roberta. And in writing this piece, I again almost forgot to ask until I played back my tape recording and realised I had failed to ask it again! So I shot a quick email to Renata. Thankfully she responded in detail:
"I actually had a dream with the name Purple Mango. For us, this sounded like a great representation of a strong – but delicate – feminine and tropical name. In Portuguese, substantives actually have a ‘gender’, and both the word ‘fruit’ and ‘mango’ in Portuguese are feminine words – so mango was a super feminine word. And ‘purple’ for us added an extra touch of femininity, uniqueness and strength."
Hence, Purple Mango. I would never have correctly guessed it if I hadn’t asked!
For all the hopes and hard work that these mindful entrepreneurs bring, the fashion industry is still a tough marketplace. It’s overcrowded and it’s highly competitive. And for emerging ethical brands it can be even tougher as it not only competes with fast fashion companies that have huge marketing budgets, but it also has the additional task of re-educating consumers as to why their products are dearer.
“The biggest challenge we face is the lack of education for the general fashion consumer around the concept of ethical and sustainable fashion,” explains Renata. “In fact, sometimes [ethical fashion] almost sounds like a ‘turning off’ point, and people might immediately associate it with less quality, weird, hippie; so breaking that initial misconception is always a challenge.”
Fortunately Renata has a marketing background and its these skills that gives Purple Mango an advantage. She knows that a fashion brand must stand on its own if it is to compete and that means being stylish and desirable enough to the consumer. Unfortunately, a brand cannot compete on ethics and sustainability alone.
“Most of the fashion influencers have the mainstream fashion mindset and ethics and sustainability are just not at the top of their agenda,” Renata admits. “They are there for the styling and the fashionable aspects and that became very clear to us early on.” Focussing too much on the ethical aspect of a brand and not enough on the fashion aspect sets an eco brand up for failure. If a brand wants to attract more customers, it must focus on how the product looks. After all, fashion doesn’t just serve a function, it is used to explore and express identity.
The Tropicca sustainable clutch bag perfectly illustrates why style should be the central message when reaching fashion conscious women. It is a beautifully designed handloomed bag made from old recycled VHS tapes, something that is not obvious to the naked eye. If these bags looked like a horrible upcycling project, I doubt it would have been featured in Vogue (Brazil). The bag has also won an award for its sustainable design concept.
Good design is the reason that people are interested in the first place. The story about Brazilian artisans and their time-honoured handloom techniques is a secondary concern. Women’s primary concern is style. Brazilian fashion designer Joao Antonio understood this and produced a bag that isn’t just eco-friendly, but is absolutely stunning.
Tropicca also gives people an opportunity to make an income using their traditional skills. The bag’s popularity has helped to revive the handloom industry that was almost dead in this rural area of Brazil.
Although a career in marketing has helped Renata understand why women’s focus is on style, she still wishes for the maker’s stories to be front and centre. “It breaks my heart when people show zero interest to hear the beautiful stories about the people behind our brand – because in fact, we are so passionate about all of them; we actually don’t even like to use the expression ‘behind the brand’, as we strongly believe Purple Mango is a collective effort – and we all walk side by side.”
It is clear that Renata is proud of her heritage and uses Purple Mango as a vehicle to celebrate her culture and introduce Australians to eco fashion from her home country. And if this is just a taste of what we can expect from sustainable designers in Brazil, I’m excited about what else is in store."
To check out the designs by Flavia Amadeu and Tropicca, visit our online store