In operation for over 40 years, with 312 companies in nine cities and generating 7,000 direct jobs, the furniture hub of Ubá, in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, is one of the most traditional in the country.
For a long time, however, businessmen bet on production without paying much attention to design. Since 2002, thanks to a partnership with the local branch of the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae), around 200 companies of the hub have been benefiting from the design nucleus, a center that helps in the search for more elaborate prototypes.
"During the 1980s and 1990s, the hub only produced popular furniture, always copied from abroad. In this decade, however, we changed this, with each businessman seeking his own identity, and started supplying to the middle class," stated Eliane Rosignoli, a technician at Sebrae for the Ubá region.
The valuable assistance came not only in the training of carpenters and technicians but also through courses provided by the National Service of Industrial Education (Senai) and by a famous designer.
With consultancy from designer Dijon de Moraes, who got a doctorate in design in Milan, the Sebrae established, in 2004, a collection of stylized furniture. "It was through this collection that we managed to lose our bad fame, that Ubá only made low-quality furniture," explained the technician.
A good example of this change of face is company Parma Móveis – one of the oldest in the region. Previously, the furniture was designed at the company factory, after research in foreign fairs.
"But we had no individual identity," recalled Silber da Silva Silveira, the company marketing director.
Parma has two factories, 196 employees and produces 1,600 items a month. "Today, apart from research of tendencies, there is investment in design to provide an identity, innovate and to have our own exclusive products."
The gamble paid off so well that Parma won an award for armchair Dimitra at the Femur Design Salon, a furniture fair in Minas Gerais. Apart from that, the company gained energy to export.
Nowadays the company is participating in a group of nine furniture companies that joined forces in 2005 to increase sales to other countries.
Parma already exports to Latin America. According to Eliane Rosignoli, there is a more ancient group, established in 2000, that already exports to the Arab countries and has a permanent showroom in Dubai.
In Ubá, 95% of the companies produce with wood from afforestation like MDF and chipboard. Few use solid wood. The companies, however, paid high operation fees to the State Environment Foundation (Feam). Between 2004 and 2005, an agreement was made: the Feam would reduce fees charged if companies complied with the environmental demands it established.
One of the results of the negotiation was a license for the use of new kinds of wood. On the other hand, the companies joined forces and built a liquid waster treatment plant in Ubá. That is, one plant treats all the liquid waste of a group of companies. And still this year, the construction of a mill for treatment of industrial residues is scheduled. The Ubá city hall has donated a piece of land and the work has already begun.
"The Federal University of Viçosa analyzed the quality of the solid residues generated by the hub. The volume is approximately 15 tons a month. It is a very large volume," stated Eliane, from the Sebrae. "With the mill, we will be able to recycle the material producing briquette, paints and even use bits of MDF for handicraft."
The businessmen also seek local solutions. At Parma Móveis, apart from afforestation wood, the furniture is made out of natural fiber like rattan, bamboo and plates made out of coconut husk and water based varnish. "They are materials that add artistic and environmental beauty to the furniture," summed up Silveira.
Sebrae in Ubá
(+55 32) 3531-5166
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