I was born in São Paulo, the youngest of four siblings. I was raised with freedom and to believe in the importance of education and strength of character. I am the daughter of a black mother and a white father with whom I had little contact. And up to the age of 12, I found it difficult to understand that I was black because my mother and my grandmother grew up identifying with white culture. I always straightened my hair. It took me a long time to leave it natural.
“Helping seamstresses from a favela create a brand, turn their work into a business and empower them with knowledge to lead more independent lives is powerful” - Eliana Cristina da Consolação, 42, sales analyst and volunteer at C&A Foundation
It was only when I was 13, when I moved into a new neighborhood and made new friends, that I was introduced to the black movement and Malcolm X. There, I discovered: “Black culture really exist.” No one had taught me that before.
I was introduced to the fashion world by one of my sisters. She worked as a seamstress and always brought me clothes. I was very well dressed. At 18, I got my first job in a men's fashion company. I started as a dispatch assistant, counting T-shirts and organizing boxes. Five months later, I was promoted to the sales area, where I worked for 12 years. At 31, I went to business school, and, at the same time, I took courses in history and fashion production. I wanted to understand more about the world that I worked in. When I left that first company, I went to an office that represented brands, where I stayed from 2011 to 2013, until I was offered a six-month temporary contract with C&A as a business analyst. When that period ended, I was unemployed for almost a year before joining a food business. But it wasn’t the right place for me. I'm always changing my appearance; I'm a chameleon. Sometimes I came into the office with my head shaved or I’d dye my hair blonde. That I had accepted my black culture and would wear my hair natural was quite surprising for others.
Back to C&A, a good decision
In 2017, I was once again offered a position at C&A and it was one of the best things to happen to me. The company was genuinely concerned about diversity, looking at women, people of color, immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community, and that is extremely important to me. I don’t know if in 2019, I would be able to work in a place that did not value these issues. I believe it is essential to have diversity and visibility: I have a 16-year-old daughter, Marcela, and it is important to teach her the significance of these principles.
On my return to C&A, I discovered C&A Foundation and became interested in its Volunteer program. In it, employees register to participate in community exchange projects carried out with partner institutions that work in the field of fashion. The goal is to increase capacity and autonomy of social organisations, and to strengthen the communities so that they can generate their own income. At the Good Fashion Festival, for example, volunteers set up a fair where social organizations that support women to produce garments showed their work. Volunteers used the knowledge acquired working for C&A to help the community to set up the booths and with their sales approach. In another occasion, we helped with the reform of an atelier to improve the working conditions of a collective sewing workshop formed by the transgender community. Also, during a volunteer trip to Vale do Jequitinhonha, a Brazilian region known for having one of the lowest social indicators in Brazil, volunteers gave training to local female weavers so they could improve their business skills and improve their working conditions, also helping them to build a new workplace and shop.
30 women and a business
For me, the most remarkable experience was at the Women's Association of Paraisópolis, in the largest urban favelain Brazil, we met a group of 30 seamstresses that were already producing handbags, made from scraps. Through regular meetings, volunteers provided support for them to establish a brand and since then they have started a business. We went with a team of tailors who were able to use their technical expertise to assist in the search of fabrics and made recommendations for the number of bags to produce for the brand launch. Talking to each of the 30 women, I saw that almost everyone's dream was to be an entrepreneur and own their business. I coordinated the logistics on the day of the launch. They were their own models and walked the runways with the bags they had made.
I found the meetings to be very enriching. Seeing a person smiling because of something you helped build is sensational. Seeing those women fulfilling their dreams and learning more about their craft was magnificent. I wanted to bring freedom and hope to them, to tell each of them ‘you can do it’. I wanted that feeling to reverberate in their lives. I felt powerful in bringing my empowerment to those women. It was a small action, but somehow, they felt touched. We planted a seed there. I received a lot of gratitude and felt extremely privileged to be there. That experience gave me strength and structure to continue facing my own obstacles.”
I wanted to bring freedom and hope to them, to tell each of them ‘you can do it’. I wanted that feeling to reverberate in their lives.
The above text is part of a series of profiles published in the magazine Marie Claire Brazil, in partnership with C&A Foundation. Click here to read the original version.