Nannacay, named after the Quechua Aymara word ‘Nãnākay’ meaning sisterhood of women, sets out to create just that through working with artisans in Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. We spoke to founder Marcia Kemp about the importance of creativity and craft as tools to build community, helping women towards a better life.
What inspired you to launch your brand?
I worked as a global sales executive for IBM for 25 years, while volunteering at Rio’s Child Institute, an NGO and developing corporate citizen projects. Taking from my life in Brazil and travels in Africa, I became very inspired by people and culture and I wanted to take this and show it to the contemporary world. Nannacay was born from a search to leave something behind; we wanted to build a legacy.
When did you launch?
We only launched in 2014, so Nannacay is still a baby. Back then, people still weren’t talking about sustainability as they are now, but I saw a gap, a space for greater change, and I wanted to take it.
What is Nannacay’s mission?
We want to give the people who make the products work to help themselves, their children and make their life better. We work with remote regions in Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. They are marginalised groups, people that can’t afford much, and what we are doing for them is providing them with the possibility of a better life.
The difference between Nannacay and other fashion brands is that is isn’t just about fashion for us – the aim is to transform people’s lives. The women who buy my bags admire simplicity and beauty, but they also want to give back to society.
Who designs the beautiful bags that Nannacay is known for?
I do. I work very closely with the artisans: I ask them about their lives, and we base the bags on that. Even little things inspire the bags, such as the chickens in their back gardens, and I find that these simple things actually make the biggest difference. Sometimes we think that we are there to help the artisans but actually they teach us so much more.
It can take 10-12 hours to make one bag, which may not seem like much, but the processes are intricate. Each day we are pushing the boundaries of innovation, we are upcycling, recycling, and looking at different fibres.
What are you biggest milestones?
To have a business in Brazil is not easy, and facing the challenges of crossing borders for import and export makes it even more complex. I have a passion inside of me and that is what drives me forward, it drives Nannacay forward. We set out to overcome the challenges we face to see the products being used and the effects the work has on the people that make them and to become a pioneer in the industry of fashion. That in itself is a milestone.
It has been hard to compete in the luxury market – everyone is starting to emulate the Nannacay style. This is our family business; we don’t have the money or the authority that they do. The tradition and heritage of Nannacay gives us an edge on competitors though, because no one else has our story. This is why I was honoured to receive the Eco-Age Brandmark because it shows that what we do is legitimate, and we now have the platform to tell our story to the world.
What has the reaction been so far, and how has it evolved?
When we launched, we wanted to aim for the luxury market and really help them to understand the mission and respect the purpose of the brand. I know that people are interested in what we are doing both for the people and the planet, but we still need others to get on board. There is more space if the world will fill it.
You were invited to sponsor Rolls Royce’s 100 Years of Exploring the Extraordinary in May. How did you feel when they reached out?
Nannacay has been acknowledged by Rolls Royce and sponsored their 100-year anniversary. This was a sign that we need to keep up the good work in artisanal luxury – the vision I saw when I was in Africa has a place in contemporary culture and I was excited to show this. I am very happy that now the second generation of my family have joined Nannacay because if it is to be a legacy, it is not in my time and I very much hope that Eco-Age will continue to support our story because you have seen the things that we are facing every day.
So… Beyonce! Can you tell us how that came about?
It was her birthday! Her stylist gave her our Maria Leque bag and she was celebratingwith it. It was made in South Brazil in such a remote area – can you believe that this bag travelled so far?
What are your future plans?
We have just opened our first store in Rio de Janeiro and would love to open a second store in San Paolo and then China, New York and London. What we do differently is that we create augmented realities within our stores that tell the stories of Brazil and help communicate the spirit of the artisans to the consumers through visuals and music. It’s a little bit of my soul.
What other businesses have inspired you?
There are a lot of other businesses that I admire. One that comes to mind is Osklen, for instance.
What advice would you give someone starting out in their business?
Be very determined and consistent – you need to be passionate about what you are trying to achieve. Dream big!
Explore more from our Bringing Business to Life series.
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Read Jeanne de Kroon’s story about reconnecting to the Brazilian Huni Kuni community through cotton.