The upcycling initiative supporting Brazil's COVID-hit communities
Enlisting a global community of creatives -- including Telfar, Yves Tumor and Vava Dudu -- REIF ACT NON is a demonstration of how fashion can be a force for good.
ESTILERAS for REIF ACT NON
“Brazil is a mirror of the world at its best and worst,” says Marcelo Alcaide, a Portuguese artist, creative director and founder of multidisciplinary creative platform and party series, REIF. Though usually based in Berlin, it’s in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, that he spent his lockdown. “It's an incredibly beautiful country -- the people, the culture, and so much more -- but the current situation there is really terrible.” Since the 2018 election of conservative populist Jair Bolsonaro, South America’s most populous nation has nosedived towards alarmingly right-wing social, economic and environmental politics. “It’s a society that, in 2020, is flirting with fascism so openly. The whole political situation is truly obnoxious -- it enters your house every day.”
Brazil is also, as anyone still paying attention to COVID-related headlines will know, the second worst-affected country by the coronavirus pandemic in the world. Only the USA ‘boasts’ a higher number of confirmed cases and just days ago, the country passed the grisly milestone of 100,000 officially recorded deaths. And still, there’s little in the way of active government intervention regarding the preservation of citizens’ health. Despite “1500 people dying a day, people are still forced to go to work and there are no measures against the virus,” says Marcelo, with those that find themselves on the less fortunate side of Brazil’s ever-widening socio-economic divide hit hardest. São Paulo’s artisanal garment producers are among those that count themselves among this demographic segment. “There were so many couturiers and embroiderers who were still coming to work every day, but had no business or money coming in,” he says.
During his time in Brazil, he regularly volunteered at a local charitable organisation, its primary mission being the preparation and distribution of meals to homeless people in São Paulo’s centre. It also received a windfall of clothing donations -- this might have been a boon back in ‘normal times’, but at the height of a pandemic, it posed something of a logistical conundrum. It was then that inspiration struck: “I asked, and was given permission to take those garments to work on a project with the artisans and a couple of designers and artists I invited,” Marcelo says.
The fruits of their labour have now been revealed as REIF ACT NON, a collection of upcycled clothing featuring contributions from a global community of leading contemporary creatives: Telfar, Yolanda Zobel, Yves Tumor, Vava Dudu... The list goes on. Other than having to execute their designs in line with four basic making principles -- ‘cut’, ‘sew’, ‘embroider’ and ‘silk [screen print]’ -- the eclectic roster of designers, artists, architects and more were free to follow their own intuition; aesthetic, political, or otherwise. “I didn't want it to just be a fashion project, I wanted it to be democratic, inviting people from different fields to give their input,” Marcelo says. “I wanted to see their visions and how they relate to the issues unfolding in Brazil. I think every participant in the project plays an important role in their own community -- but they think beyond them, too.”
Proceeds from the sales of the garments -- which are available to purchase at both the physical and online outlets of São Paulo store Cartel 011 -- are to be diverted into multiple streams. 30% of the funds will go to support the artisans involved in the making process, and a similar chunk going to cover the production and logistical costs entailed in the self-organised project. The remaining 40% will be divided between four aid-distribution organisations working to support particularly hard-hit communities in the Brazilian states of São Paulo and Amazonas: Nós Cuidamos Rio Negro, an NGO supporting Indigenous communities in the Amazon region; Casa Branca de Luz, a spiritual centre in downtown São Paulo; Nós Existimos, an organisation supporting the city’s trans community; and Casa 1, an LGBTQ+ cultural centre and shelter.
Accompanying the collection is a programme of performances and talks by the participating creatives, held in collaboration with São Paulo-based Fort Magazine. Last week, Brazilian collective Estileras created their pieces in a live performance, and yesterday, the baton was passed to Salvador da Bahia-based Vivão Project. “We wanted to open up the discussion to the participants, and also have them also show their practices and processes,” says Marcelo. “Within this whole crisis, we can still create together.”
Eager to learn more about the benevolent fashion venture, we spoke with some of REIF ACT NON’s contributors to hear about the inspirations behind their designs.
“We’ve always had a strong connection to upcycling, and this is the reality for many young people and artists from Brazil who learn about fashion. It’s about creating new relationship formats in a universe full of structural problems, and being part of an innovative global project. It also humanises fashion by focusing on solidarity action, which gives us a very special feeling of identification.
We think that REIF ACT NON is extremely important for fashion, especially at a time when the planet is in peril. We need to strengthen and expand on new formats of sustainable production and humanise the processes of the fashion industry.”
“I actually had the idea of making the piece I contributed a long time ago. I read a story about the Amazon that really touched me, discussing how if everything continues as the pace it’s progressing at now, the whole rainforest will be gone in no time. No matter how quickly or slowly this happens, it remains a huge problem -- not only for the people living there, but for all of us, and for the animals that live in these very delicate ecosystems. Right after that, I read another story about Amazon, the company, and their rise. I thought this relationship between one of the biggest corporations in the world and the biggest rainforest in the world was curious -- how one is rising and the other is falling.”
“With the invite to take part in REIF ACT NON, we received a bag of random clothes and decided to open it only in front of a livestream, where we would each create an outfit. The idea was to improvise with the clothes and tools we had, within an hour. No plan was drawn beforehand, but we knew we wanted to do something more simple and casual.
Our processes have little to do with fashion’s traditional methods of producing clothes: we play a lot with safety pins, looking at how pieces can become many others. We also create using our own bodies as a base, connecting ourselves to the materials we’re using. We always aim to transform action into material. To create our wearable sculptures we stage live performances, which, most of the time are streamed, in which we can improvise with the fashion industry’s residue, reshaping and redefining its purpose. With the restrictions we put in our performances, such as time limits or not knowing what pieces are available to use, we tend to create situations that let reality unfold to reveal an unexpected outcome.
We don’t have much contact with the traditional fashion business, but we know how deceiving and malicious an industry it can be. If we can share everything and connect more and more people, we can create awareness and boost the economy to help those who are undervalued, redistributing wealth and knowledge. This is necessary as fuck.”
“Our ‘vaccine’ embroidered pieces were born of a cooperative bid for levity during lockdown. Inspired by the (problematic) Jeffree Star, who published a makeup tutorial with the line, “one more lash and I AM the vaccine, bitch”, Alessandro and I sent each other a daily antidote to the hell of the news and pandemic. Our ‘vaccine of the day’ was an exchange of soothe, cute or comic and a kind of long-distance lifeline for friendship beyond attempts to analyse the unfolding political trauma. The ‘vaccine’ seemed the most desirable/controversial thing in the world, and the most discussed. Vaccine as cure and reconnection. Vaccine causing conversation.
I work in art as well as mental health and as a craniosacral therapy practitioner. My realm of research is within health discourses and the body politic, crip studies and pluralising therapeutic or ‘healing’ techniques. Vaccination is, of course, an inflamed subject, becoming all the more viscerally immediate as we try to collectively manifest the end of Covid-19.
REIF ACT NON seeks to address wealth disparity and redistribute money to some of the most destitute parts of Brazil, among them the women working as garment producers. I believe deeply in the project of mutual aid and feminist collectivism.”
“My visual for REIF ACT NON was created a while ago in response to the moment when the Trump administration attempted to pass a bill to ban trans-identifying individuals from the US military at the beginning of 2019. I saw these visuals as a way to connect with and amplify the cause of the queer and trans communities of downtown São Paulo.
A key inspiration for our contribution to the collection was Sylvia Rivera’s 1973 ‘Y’all Better Quiet Down’ speech at Christopher Street Liberation Day rally in New York, in which she recounts the mistreatments and injustices she’d experienced.
Trans resistance is a fight for people of all colours and communities. It’s a fight against oppression and fascism, in whichever form it may take. Trans people have long assumed the lead role in a fight that concerns us all. It’s time for us all to match the power and strength of the trans community’s resistance against the societal norm. TRANS POWER!”
Photography Cassia Tabatini
Art & Movement Direction Marcelo Alcaide
Treatment Victor Wagner
Composition Jemima Kos
Special thanks to Casa Branca de Luz, Joe Santos, Fernando Sapuppo & Jaq Canteli