Surf + Turf

By Bianca Alexander

The average garment factory throws away 60,000 pounds of perfectly good reusable material each week. This includes items like thread, buttons, zippers and fabric textiles, all of which are left over after a standard production run. As a result, an average of 15% of all materials used in the manufacturing process end up in landfills.

One ethical fashion brand, Retalhos Cariocas, is helping solve this problem. A woman-owned enterprise situated in Rio de Janeiro, the company transforms recycled and sourced fabrics into well-crafted sandals, apparel, and accessories perfect for wearing at the beach or on the streets.  After graduating from fashion school, founder and co-owner Silvia Oliveira returned to her childhood home, the Barreira de Vasco favela – a slum that is also home to Rio’s garment manufacturing district.  Finding herself surrounded by rejected materials every day, she decided to turn lemons into lemonade.

Though the brand works primarily with what most people would consider trash, it serves as a beacon of hope for Brazil’s slum communities. Founded on a socially responsible ethos that empowers local women to improve their lives and work themselves out of poverty, the company is not only doing its part to protect the planet by diverting tons of waste from landfills:  It also sustains the lives of the women it employs, most of whom come from nearby favelas themselves. In a cozy, colorful space full of beads and lively bustle, they learn valuable skills and receive a fair living wage for creating sandals with built-in booties that take fashionistas from surf to turf.

Growing demand for their unique hand-made products allows for employment of more and more women out of the favela. Silvia explains, “People from the favela…There’s a destiny of being poor, not being able to go to university, or get a good job, We’re fighting to destroy the mentality that a person from the favela doesn’t have the right to be someone.”

Support Retalhos Cariocas, and your wardrobe, by purchasing exclusively at, a destination for sustainable fashion worldwide and a vehicle to amplify the voices of the mostly afro-brazilian women born into Rio’s slums.

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