Silk, one of the noblest fabrics of haute couture, can also become artistic products and generate jobs and income. That is what happened in the city of Maringá, in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, a region of great concentration of silk moths.
In 1988, zootechnician and, at the time, university professor Gustavo Rocha decided to establish a small company for artistic threading, ‘O Casulo Feliz’ (The Happy Cocoon), after noticing that silk could also be produced manually, making use of the cocoons that were discarded by the industries in the region.
With the silk, products like carpets, curtains, fabrics, cushions, towels and tablemats are made. The enterprise, born with just one wooden distaff and producing six kilograms of thread a month, currently produces around 2,000 kilograms a month, employs 140 people and exports to Europe and South America.
Among the collaborators of Casulo, 70 are officially employed by the company and 70 are third party service suppliers, all residents of Santa Felicidade, one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city of Maringá.
“At a time in which social responsibility was not yet fashion or marketing, I planned the company with three objectives: teaching a new trade to poor people, working with an economically viable product and only using organic products, like natural pigments that do not affect man or the environment,” explained Rocha.
“My idea was always to use the weaving grounds as a school. Teaching weaving and dying so that family mothers who worked as maids and garbage collectors could start working at home and taking care of their children,” explained the businessman.
For the last ten years he has been dedicating himself exclusively to the company, which is administered together with his wife, Fátima, his daughter, Glicínia, an interior designer, and his son, Aluísio, who studies business administration.
The first foreign sale by Casulo Feliz took place in 1998, soon after participation in a handicraft fair in Spain. Since then, finished threads and products have been exported to the Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians and Argentineans.
With his eye on new opportunities on the foreign market, the owner recently travelled to Morocco, where he made around 15 contacts with businessmen in the hotel sector.
“At the time of the visit to Brazil by the Moroccan king (in December 2004), I heard that there was a plan for investment in the Moroccan hotel industry so as to increase the number of tourists visiting the country from the current 2 million to 10 million by the year 2010,” he explained.
According to him, this information together with good Internet research showed him that there was going to be a meeting with businessmen in the hotel sector in the city of Fez, at the end of January.
“It was then that I decided to present our curtains and carpets at the meeting. I made around 15 contacts and left some samples,” he explained.
“Our products are not very different from those they know, and the prices are very competitive. Imagine the difference between a Persian carpet and one made out of natural fibre, like ours,” he compared.
The businessman returned to the Arab country last week and is optimistic with regard to the possibility of closing deals with the Moroccans. “I believe that all the seeds we sow have the potential to grow,” he bets.
The fabrics and products made by Casulo Feliz, among them blankets, shawls and scarves, have already attracted the attention of famous Brazilian stylists like Alexandre Herchcovitch and Mário Queiroz.
Queiroz has already used material made by Casulo Feliz in his collections and Herchcovitch incorporated a silk shawl to its winter 2005 collection.
According to Rocha, since 2003 the company has been present in important fashion events like São Paulo Fashion Week and Fashion Rio, two large events in southeastern Brazil.
Brazilian sericulture, the breeding of the silk moth, is concentrated in the state of Paraná (82%) and in the southeastern state of São Paulo (13%). The silk moth feeds exclusively on the leaves of black mulberries and lays between 400 and 500 small eggs from which larvae that are approximately 1 mm long hatch.
When the larvae reach a size of between 70 and 80 mm in length, in approximately 30 days, they start producing chrysalises. Within the cocoon, the larvae mutate and, some 10 to 12 days later, they are reborn as moths.
The chrysalis is a ball of thread that measures between 700 and 1200 meters in length. So as to unthread it, hot water is used to dissolve the glue, which is called sericin.
The thread then comes loose, making it possible for the tip to be found. The tip of the thread is then connected to a machine or to a manual loom, where the skein (loose loop of silk) is made.
Translated by Mark Ament
ANBA ”“ Brazil-Arab News Agency