Women at work: Charlotte Bingham-Wallis and Maria Costa

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When founders Charlotte Bingham-Wallis and Maria Costa (two friends from across the world) united their undeniable creativity and shared their experiences of giving back to communities in Brazil—BELO was born. Since 2017, this British-Brazilian accessories brand has not only been kinder to people and the planet, but it’s poised to make everyone’s summer wardrobe a little greener. VF sat down with Charlotte to discuss their plans for the future, and why seatbelts (yes, seatbelts) are very likely going to be the hottest trend we’ve seen to date.

VF: What led you to create BELO and encourage people to give back?

When we created BELO, we wanted to tackle waste, sustainable community development and challenge the perception of what luxury is and what it can be. We started working within our community in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and worked to address these issues by using the power of design to prevent industrial waste from being disposed of incorrectly and by reusing these materials not only to make wearable products, but also beautiful ones.

Maria Costa, co-founder of BELO, volunteered within her community in Belo Horizonte from an early age and in 2016 Charlotte volunteered in South America and worked in some of the poorest communities. Together, they decided they could use the same principle to not only fight hunger, but to bring about permanent change in Maria’s community and in the lives of the people they worked with. They set out to create a bag that you can really wear the kindness with. Every bag sold would create a living wage and be reinvested in the community by donating meals to the homeless, Casa de Maria which feeds over 700 people in need every day.

Although we are first and foremost a design-driven brand, our goal is to ensure that our customers feel they don’t have to compromise by choosing to wear a conscious, community brand. Although our materials are not traditional luxury materials, the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail required to transform existing materials into high-level products is astonishing. We want to show that luxury can take many different forms and can be looked at with a different lens.

Our impact to date:
7,032 meals were donated, 6,451 seat belts, 6,316 plastic bottles and 818 kg of fabric scraps were all saved from the landfill.

VF: What is your favorite bag and why?

Charlotte: “I love the Green Large Ju Bucket. This shade of green, in my opinion, is the new black. It goes with just about anything and pops subtly with any outfit, but isn’t too overbearing so you can dress it up and down.”

Maria: “The biggest Ju bucket bag with all its pockets, makes it so practical to carry everything. Especially with its ability to turn into a backpack!

VF: What are your big plans for the future?

One of our biggest goals is to become a fully circular business. We have already started the process of experimenting with our materials on how to extend their life cycle. Although we are a new brand, we have implemented an initiative when our customers have run out of time with their product and are able to earn credit by returning their bag to us. Each bag will either be restored for resale or broken down and reworked into future products. All materials that cannot be reused will be tested to ensure that no material is discarded and all are reused.

We also want to scale our supply chain model first in Belo Horizonte and then replicate in other marginalized communities, both in Brazil and around the world. We found a way to build a truly purpose-driven accessories business, with philanthropy and empowerment considered across the value chain and deeply embedded in its DNA, alongside a long-term growth strategy but durable. Our empathy and passion for helping others permeate our vision and filter into all operations. Through these experiences, we have developed skills to break down barriers in the community, resulting in successful long-term partnerships that have enabled us to master our supply chain and create meaningful impact. Our 15+ year friendship is the fuel that drives us over the hurdles of turning materials destined for landfill into treasure and running an ethical business on 2 continents.

VF: What’s next for Casa de Maria?

Casa de Maria founder Dona Nilza dreams of building stepping stones for those who are vulnerable to reclaim their lives as productive members of the community. Along with their meal donation and tutoring program that teaches adults to read and write for better work opportunities, she wants to build units so homeless people have a safe place to sleep and clean up.

For us at BELO, we’ve built this goal into our business so that we can not only support it to make it happen for the Cafezal community, but as we grow, so that we learn to replicate it in more other poor communities around the world.

VF: What is your best advice?

Surround yourself with people and passion. Innovative change cannot happen alone. We are so lucky to have collaborated with our incredible team, including our amazing mentor Mary Fellowes (Luxury Sustainable Fashion Expert, Celebrity Stylist and Fashion Editor) and Lainey Sheridan-Young (Strategic Brand Consultant), who share all of our passion for design-driven products. and positive change. Thanks to their support, we were able to launch SelfridgesLondon, something we once thought could only be a dream.

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