Turning trash into treasure, founders of From Belo Charlotte and Maria have shown that plastic bottles and seatbelts can make stylish bags for life, helping lives at the same time. The dynamic duo share the inspiration behind their award-wining brand and their priorities for the future.
What inspired you to launch From Belo?
From Belo was inspired by our feelings of helplessness and wanting to make a difference. Charlotte came to South America in 2015 and volunteered as a physiotherapist in the slums. It broke her heart that people did not have the same opportunities as she had been given, not even for basics such as food. After Charlotte’s volunteering experience ended, we both caught up over cocktails and discussed how we could make a difference. Maria had already started a company where she was helping clothe the young women of the favelas where she lived so they could own something themselves. For every item she sold, she would donate clothing to the young women at a women’s refuge in her city.
We thought we could do the same to help supply food. What better way to do it than creating a bag – the exact object you need to carry your daily meal from market to home. A bag for life that helped lives: not only by donating meals but also supplying well-paid jobs. So the journey began. We both retrained in short courses in design and started researching materials. On that journey, we discovered how polluting leather and fabric production can be and how, if not appropriately managed, it could cause further health problems to the community, let alone the environment. Being kind to the planet is extremely important to us – especially to Maria because she grew up in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest and that made her even more passionate about the environment and the importance of protecting it. Our company centres around kindness, therefore we had to find a way that was positive to the people and the planet. And that’s when materials that already exist in abundance like seatbelts and plastic bottles became our chosen fabrics.
This is where our journey began into turning trash into treasure that with every purchase, meals are donated to the homeless and in need via our partner charity Casa de Maria.
How does it feel to have an award-winning bag?
To be honest, it still is fantastically overwhelming. Our team were so excited and proud as we worked together to achieve our goal. There was so much talent, and we feel so lucky to have won. It has given us the confidence to up our game as a team and push our company forward.
What are your sustainable priorities for the business?
Our first sustainable priority is using recycled and upcycled materials to create our recycled accessories and handbags. We are continuously developing further ways to reuse discarded materials. We want to be known as a reference in the Sustainable Fashion market as the brand that turns trash into treasure. We are also currently working on ways to create recycled hardware so we can make bags that are 100% made of materials saved from landfill. We find nothing more exciting that reworking materials that already exist, refurbishing them into something glorious again. Our second sustainable priority is ensuring that our team feel appreciated and respected with not only their work conditions, hours and atmosphere but also their fair wages. We believe in investing in communities so that as we grow, they grow. Ensuring that this is maintained as we grow is incredibly important to us. Our company was inspired by offering opportunities, so, maintaining that at the centre of our business is vital.
How challenging has it been to maintain your eco principles?
Being sustainable and sticking to our eco principles is very challenging because of the current status quo of the world. It is easier and cheaper to design and create products with new materials than it is to develop sustainable products. Especially when you are recycling and upcycling as the materials work differently, this can be challenging/ time-consuming to find the best way to work with these materials. Increased time to create the product can mean an increase in the cost price of the item. It puts pressure on the design aesthetic to be reworked so that it is cost effective and also works within the properties of the recycled materials.
Also, manufacturing in Brazil, where the importance of sustainability is not disseminated, is a big challenge. We need not only to educate but also convince our artisans and manufactures of the benefits of practising sustainability. In the beginning, it was challenging to find people that wanted to work within our eco principles because, unfortunately, it is more lucrative not to be sustainable.
We feel that part of our purpose in Brazil is to disseminate the importance of sustainability and how it can also be beneficial to their pockets, their health and world. Nowadays at the Cooperative, the artisans implemented recycling bins, and they have boxes of discarded materials so they can study how to reuse them instead of throwing away.
Through the last 2 years, we have learned that with time, planning and patience, everything is possible. We’ve been finding ways to work with decommissioned materials that are cost-effective and our artisans are getting more passionate and conscious about sustainability. Recently, Fran, one of our artisans, told us she started to recycle in her own home and teach her children about it – it brought tears to our eyes!
What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?
Creating a sustainable business can be quite overwhelming as while you want to be 100% perfect straight away, unfortunately, due to many factors, including cost and logistics it may not be immediately achievable. So take each step at a time, develop your concept on sustainability, start it, and you will learn along the way how to build and progress your businesses sustainably. Always listen and learn from your peers, friends, families and experts around you they may have a wealth of knowledge that will help your progress. Also, don’t be scared to step outside the box and do something out of your comfort zone – it might be the one thing that will enhance your unique selling point.
Which other sustainable businesses have inspired you?
Oh my gosh there are so many. Freitag, Elvis and Kresse, All Birds to name a few. There are so many inspirational brands out there doing amazing things with innovative materials, waste and also supporting communities it’s hard to pick just a few.
What’s next for From Belo?
We plan on increasing our stockists in the UK and maybe even internationally – which is very exciting. Due to high demand from our From Belo customers, we are working towards developing our range to be accessible to a wider male audience next year. And, of course, developing and reworking more materials from landfill.