Sunday, 9 January 2011
Brazilian shoes rule
(Chie Mihara) (Alexandre Birman) (Amapo) Earlier this week, a friend of mine who runs fashion website Fashionable Maven sent me a message on Twitter about a shoe brand called Chie Mihara that she had discovered at John Lewis. It turns out that the designer is Brazilian and it got me thinking about the relationship between Brazil and shoes. When I first came to England, I always got excited when I saw that a pair of shoes was made in Brazil; it somehow made me feel proud even though I had nothing to do with the process. My mum too, who struggles to find comfortable shoes, always feels triumphant when she does. “See – they’re made in Brazil!”, she will say (if they are, indeed, made in Brazil; she has been known to find good shoes from other countries too, but I’m trying to make a point here). That point is that Brazil makes good shoes. As a fashion business journalist, I can now say this with some authority. With retailers and brands increasingly spreading their manufacturing bases to pick countries that specialise in certain types of production and better manage their costs, Brazil is becoming even more popular as a footwear manufacturing country. A combination of readily available raw materials and technology makes Brazil an ideal base to produce quality shoes. But what’s interesting now is that, while Brazil continues to export shoes as own-label for retailers and brands across the world, Brazilian designers are also using Brazil’s footwear manufacturing history to make a name for themselves. They are helping Brazil to become not only a producer, but also a pioneer in footwear design. Alexandre Birman is one such designer, who prompted the founder of iconic designer boutique Browns in London, Joan Burstein (or Mrs B, as she is affectionately known), to tell me: “Alexandre makes sexy and beautifully made shoes but because his family owns the factory and the shoes are made in Brazil the retail prices are a third less than your average designer brand. Mind you - there is no compromise on the materials he uses or the quality of the finished product. He is a perfectionist who knows the business and is here to stay.” I’ve already written about my admiration for footwear brands like Veja (a French brand with Brazilian roots), Raiz da Terra and Cavage, and I will now extend it to Amapo, too. Amapo is a fashion brand known for its bright, daring designs, and its shoe collection doesn’t disappoint (see picture above). The shoes are quirky and right up there with innovative UK footwear designers like Nicholas Kirkwood and Rupert Sanderson. Other cool brands like Kat Maconie, which isn’t actually Brazilian, is making the most of Brazil’s footwear expertise. Launched for autumn/winter 2009, Kat Maconie is a designer footwear brand that manages to keep its prices low for the designer market by manufacturing in Brazil, which has lower costs than Italian factories. Around 140 different countries import shoes from Brazil, according to industry body Albicalçados, generating US$ 1.91 billion in revenue. The chief importers of Brazilian shoes are the United States, followed by Argentina, the UK and Canada. Whether it’s made in Brazil or designed by a Brazilian, a pair of “Brazilian” shoes is a safe investment bet – both in terms of quality and, now, design.