I dove into fashion because I saw the potential to transform lives through it", said Ludmyla Oliveira.
As small children, my two sisters and I were encouraged to learn a craft that would spark our creativity. My grandmother taught me how to embroider when I was around ten years old. Along with fostering creativity, education was an important cornerstone in our upbringing. Myself and my sisters received scholarships to attend ,a private school. At the age of 14 tragedy hit my family with the death of my father, and what was once a hobby became a means to maintain our household and pay for our transportation to school. That’s how fashion entered my life: half out of enjoyment, half out of necessity. As a teenager, I embroidered clothes for major brands in Rio, Brazil, along with other women from my neighbourhood.
High school was not easy for me, and the encouragement from my mum was crucial to my success. At the time, I couldn’t even image that at the age of 30, I would have my own brand of handbags and accessories. As a marginalised black woman, I faced many barriers to accessing higher education. After two years of trying, I finally achieved my dream of being accepted into a fashion institute. I was unable to attend due to financial constraints.
But I was raised to face prejudice and overcome it. I never gave up. I resolved to try again. At 21 years of age,I came very close to being accepted at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Do you think I gave up this time? No. With my high A-Level score, I won a scholarship to attend a private fashion institute; but I no longer saw fashion as a viable path. Instead, I chose to study business administration. It was the best decision, because today, with my knowledge of management, I’m helping other female entrepreneurs.
Fashion came back into my life on the eve of my graduation. I was invited to be the maid of honour at a wedding, and I couldn’t find the perfect clutch. ,So, I decided to sew my own purse and I’ve never stopped since. First, I set up a workshop at home with my mum. In 2015, we founded Crioula Criativa—or Creative Creole—a brand of handbags and accessories centred on Afro-Brazilian culture. Inspired by our ancestry, we are championing female appreciation through the use of colours in textile waste in the production of our accessories. Along with that came a new way of seeing myself, and I’m now transforming my insecurities into an ethnoracial consciousness. We also open doors of our workshop once a week to teach cutting and sewing to women from our community. Thisencourages them to rediscover their connection with creativity. This is of paramount importance for me, because I know that fashion transforms lives and I’m a great example of that.
Initially, I used to spend my days as a manager at the office, working at the studio by night. In 2016, I began providing trainings and I started meeting other women entrepreneurs. Then, in 2018, I was selected to take part in the technical training and creative part of AfroLab, an entrepreneurship training project for black women launched by Adriana Barbosa, the organiser of Feira Preta—or Black Market—the largest black culture trade show in Latin America. That project gave me the strength to quit my job and take the plunge into entrepreneurship. Not only at Creative Creole, but also as a financial adviser to other women like me. At AfroLab, I saw that many entrepreneurs have a hard time managing their businesses. So, I joined AfroLab's "facilitator" team, and now I’m the project’s representative in Rio.
Black people and other marginalised communities first began businesses out of necessity, and now we find that we have always done this. It's in our DNA. Brazil is the largest part of the African Diaspora. Today, over half of the entrepreneurs in the country are black. Every poor child has watched their mum or grandmother making sandwiches to sell, because more money was needed to make ends meet at home. In January, I, together with two women entrepreneur friends of mine, Geisa Nascimento and Manoela Costa, founded the collective Cê Vira nos Negócios—or You’re in Business—which offers training and consultations to support entrepreneurs with financial management, accessible technologies, and fashion production. I dove into fashion once I understood that I could transform people's lives through it. I believe in the power of marginalised communities and in the importance of working and growing as a network.
“Black people first began starting businesses out of necessity, and now we find that we’ve always done this, ever since we had to pay for our own emancipation."
This story was orginally published as part of a profile series in Marie Claire Brazil , in partnership with C&A Foundation. To see the original version click here.