Amelia’s Magazine | The Amazon: Can Fashion Save the Rainforest? A talk with Bia Saldanha

Illustration by Charlotte Hoyle

“We are consumers, capsule addicted. We need to ask ourselves – this t-shirt, this where did it come from? A devastated place with devastated people?” – Bia Saldanha, health 28 July 2011??

Through Bia’s hesitant English – impressively peppered with the vocabulary of her respective fields – there was a message, a mantra, that seemed to resonate from her core with every sentence she spoke. The message? That as people, as a united force of humanity, we must end the selfishness, stop the excuses and start acting on the fact that our Earth cannot bear the brunt of our reckless lifestyle choices much longer. ??I was sitting at the far back of the still, woody space of The Hub, King’s Cross, looking on at Bia, eco journalist Lucy Siegle and novelist Ed Siegle’s discussion unraveling.

If there’s one thing I learnt on that warm Thursday evening, it’s that when a lady like Bia Saldanha gives out such a message from across the room, you sit up straight, strain your ears and listen. Living in the heart of the Amazon rainforest for 20 years definitely grants you a credible opinion on our Earth’s complex ecosystem and how it can be saved. And it only takes a minute or two of hearing Bia speak on the subject to get a sense of just how special she really is. A Brazilian woman who’s dedicated her years to both supporting the indigenous rubber farmers of Amazonia and aiding the battle against deforestation, Bia traded in a life running a stylish clothing boutique in Rio de Janeiro to live in the rainforest with her family and help the Seringueiros (the native rubber tappers) overcome their defeat by mainstream industrial production.

Illustration by Michelle Urvall Nyrén

But why should we care? Why should we listen? We all know of the damage upon the rainforest through mass deforestation and, for example, that Brazil lost nearly 150,000 square kilometers of forest—an area larger than Greece – between 2000 and 2006 alone. But the basis of why we should think again before discarding these past few lines as just another statistic lies in the words of Lucy Siegle; that we are in “the last chance saloon” when it comes to saving the rainforest. And, to further quote the fabulous Bia,

“You can’t imagine how strong, powerful and important the rainforest is if you haven’t been there”.

Illustration by Claire Kearns

With a background in the fashion industry, Bia began her pioneering work after a trip into the Amazon to search for new materials for her clothing line. She described how she found the indigenous rubber tappers storing their goods in traditional waterproof sacks. She then relayed her excitement of noticing how the sack material looked remarkably like leather when it was, in fact, cotton canvas covered in the extracted rubber from the trees. Bia took the idea for wild rubber “leather” handbags and had hundreds made, all of which completely sold out in the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Brazil. And so her crusade against the mass producers began. ?

The Amazon is, in fact, the only place in the world where rubber trees grow in the wild. When ecological and fair-trade brand Veja began their essential collaboration with Bia in 2007, they were already buying wild rubber from the rubber tappers. Veja are a French brand known for their ultra-cool sneakers and luxe accessories, whose products are sourced and produced solely in Brazil. They now work with Bia and use her independent, direct means of extracting wild rubber to produce their bags and footwear.


In what can only be seen as a triumph in the fight for sustainable fashion, Bia Saldanha has also worked with Hermès, using her ‘vegan leather’ made of wild rubber to collaborate on an accessories collection for the luxury French fashion house.

Despite the dedication and ground-breaking work that’s been recognized the world over, however, Bia hasn’t received the support she justly deserves. In the discussion, she spelt out the level of sheer power and influence that Brazil’s central bank has over what is and isn’t permitted to function in the country. After struggling against many financial disagreements, Bia even faced being shut down completely, despite the continuous funding to unsustainable companies and projects, including the vast amount of cattle ranches that make up 60-70% of deforestation in the Amazon today.?

“I’ve now devoted 16 years to this,” said Bia. “It’s more than a business; it’s a cult.”

Illustration by Charlotte Hoyle

It’s not that she aims to trade with the giant companies, however. “There’s not enough wild rubber to supply the big companies. We don’t want to trade with anyone in particular but we do want to ask those companies, where does your rubber come from? These companies are just looking for marketing, they don’t care.”

Ed Siegle, author of new book Invisibles which is partially set in Brazil, contributed stating “With a lot of these issues, we’re all aware of them but we don’t do anything about it.” Lucy intervened – “That’s because we don’t know what the options are.”

To me, Lucy Siegle made an invaluable contribution to the event. She spoke of writing her latest book ‘To Die For” (Harper Collins; 2010) which she described as “engaging with the producer’s story”, and how she felt about the “contrast between her and the mainstream industry”, recounting fashion as a “vacuum that we know nothing about”. “We are now so distant from the producer,” she said “that the degradation of the consumer, the producer and the place is now inevitable.”

Photographs courtesy of Veja

She went onto ask the frustrating question, something I’d never put my mind to, of “Who are these people telling us what to wear? Telling us to buy this fast, discount fashion?” She feels that we are “told to shop for the economy”. Her answer to this has been to find a few brands that she can “rely on”.

The discussion moved on to the debate of ‘design and production – which should come first?’. Lucy Siegle, naturally, spoke in favour of production, upholding it as the healthier method in place of paper designs being sent across the world for the fastest and cheapest production possible. She believes instead that we need to be taking inspiration from the methods of Bia, who at the outset went into the forest – to the source – in search of materials, from which she then created her designs. This, she says, is a solution.

Photographs courtesy of Veja

Bia declares that her long-standing mission is to “protect the rainforest through economic alternatives”. And I say we need more ground-breaking fashion entrepreneurs like her. In the constant clash between nature and human demands, the more Bias we have in the world today, the brighter our future will be.

And with this mantra that seemed to beam from Bia’s every sentence; she most certainly wasn’t aiming it at the big logger companies or sweat shops or factories, definitely not. It’s US she meant. All of us. It’s you who sits right there wearing clothes that you really know nothing about. Someone’s hands, somewhere in the world, grew that cotton and dyed that fabric and stitched that pocket and, thus far, to you in your life it has made no difference. We’re all perpetrators and I’m most certainly one too. But after last Thursday, I’ll definitely be doing two things – reading Lucy Siegle’s book “To Die For” and taking a long, hard look at me and my wardrobe. And may I suggest you do the same.

Categories ,Amazon, ,Amazonia, ,Bia Saldanha, ,brazil, ,Ed Siegle, ,environment, ,ethical, ,fashion, ,Invisibles, ,Lucy Siegle, ,rainforest, ,review, ,Sustainable Fashion, ,Talk, ,The Hub, ,To Die For, ,Veja

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Amelia’s Magazine | Ken dumps Barbie: Greenpeace’s Indonesia Deforestation Campaign

Barbie and Ken by Claire Byrne
Barbie and Ken by Claire Byrne

Ken dumped Barbie. Over trees and endangered tigers. Seriously. You probably already know this, web since the Greenpeace campaign that first revealed this earth-shattering piece of news has been all over the Internet in the last two weeks.

Barbie Crying by Claire Kearns
Barbie Crying by Claire Kearns.

But it’s time to wipe those tears off your keyboard. Not only has this traumatic event turned Ken into quite the eco-warrior and provided some great moments of Twitter comedy, seek but Amelia’s Magazine illustrators have responded, buy information pills providing the greatest collection of illustrations of a chainsaw-wielding Barbie you might ever see in one place.

Barbie with chainsaw by Claire Byrne
Barbie with chainsaw by Claire Byrne

Barbie was dumped by Ken after Greenpeace discovered that her maker, Mattel (and other toy companies like Disney), use packaging produced by a company called Asia Pulp and Paper, part of a huge conglomerate called Sinar Mas, accused of major deforestation in Indonesia. This deforestation is pushing critically endangered species like the Sumatran tiger ever further towards extinction.

Barbie Deforrestation by Anna Blachut
Barbie Deforrestation by Anna Blachut.

This particular Barbie campaign actually only scratches the surface of an investigation into how global toy manufacturers are complicit in Indonesia’s deforestation problem. Watch this brilliant graphicy animation video for an explanation of Greenpeace’s findings:

Toying With Deforestation
YouTube Preview Image

It was a wise move to link the broad issue of deforestation in toy packaging and manufacture to the most famous toy (read ‘most mass produced gender-conditioning piece of plastic’) in the world. It even topped Creative Review’s ‘Nice Work’ list for advertising on the 10th of June. It’s a shame Ken hasn’t embraced his inner rebel enough to more openly blame Mattel rather than his ex over this, but I suppose that’s the job of Greenpeace. Ken is still finding his voice, as his heart wrenching twitter updates show, and I have a feeling he’s gradually unleashing the hitherto dormant revolutionary within. Equally shameful is the fact that the feminist within me finds images of Barbie wielding a tool instead of a handbag strangely satisfying. Let’s just hope that Barbie sees the light, joins Ken and decides to become an eco feminist or something asap.

barbie by karla-perez
Barbie by Karla Perez.

The fact that we live on a planet where rainforest destruction and species extinction is contributed to in even the smallest way by the packaging for a plastic toy is, quite frankly, weird. How did it come to this? Despite a huge movement to increase our awareness of the environmental impact of fashion and food, toys haven’t been touched upon with the same momentum. And yet toys are associated with our most formative years, so an awareness of what goes into their production is essential.

Barbie by Liz Rowland
Barbie by Liz Rowland.

One of my all-time favourite books is Mythologies by Roland Barthes. It was included in the Guardian’s recent 100 Greatest Non Fiction Books list last week, one of only three chosen for the culture category. It investigates the hidden political, economic and cultural ideologies behind everyday aspects of mass culture – from washing powder, to the burlesque dancer, to cars, wine, cheese and plastic.

Barbie logging truck by Claire Byrne
Barbie logging truck by Claire Byrne.

My favourite essay is the one on Toys, where Barthes explores our increasing obsession with plastic toys, as opposed to simple constructions and tools made of natural materials.

Barbie by Novemto Komo
Barbie by Novemto Komo.

The way I understand it, right from childhood we are taken further and further away from the process of making and creating. From day one we’re encouraged to be mindless consumers of complex finished products, emotionally and physically removed from how they were made, who made them and where the materials came from.

Barbie by Zofia Walczak
Barbie by Zofia Walczak.

This is something we could easily continue into adulthood, through the dreamy lifestyle mythologies in fashion and technology advertising. To me this Barbie campaign is an attention-grabbing antidote to this broader cultural issue, as well as a solid evidence-based environmental campaign.

You can check the Greenpeace UK blog for various ways to get involved, the latest of which involves rating and reviewing Barbie’s ‘dirty deforestation habits’ on Amazon (brilliant, do it!).

Categories ,Anna Blachut, ,Asia Pulp and Paper, ,Barbie, ,Claire Byrne, ,Claire Kearns, ,Creative Review, ,deforestation, ,Disney, ,Greenpeace, ,Guardian, ,Illegal, ,Indonesia, ,Karla Perez, ,Ken, ,Liz Rowland, ,Mattel, ,Mythologies, ,Novemto Komo, ,Plastic, ,rainforest, ,Roland Barthes, ,SInar Mas, ,Sumatran Tiger, ,Toys

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Amelia’s Magazine | Art listings Sept 28 – Oct 4 – Big shows roll into town

gustav metzgerGustav Mertzger at The Serpentine

From tomorrow

Gustav Metzger’s “auto-creative” and “auto-destructive” art  involved antics like spraying acid on nylon and building objects only to tear them down, dosage each shape the materials made on their way down forming new works. A bit theoretical, although interesting, but he also engaged in art activism, displaying work to do with the Vietnam war. His work is even said to have influenced the guitar-smashing meme in rock music, started by The Who. This retrospective covers almost a lifetime of work.

kate merrington

Now You See It at the Cafe Gallery

This lovely little gallery tucked away in the middle of Southwark Park is squeezing lots of new artists into its show “Now You See It”. Works from Cecilia, Bonilla, Jemima, Brown, Lucy Clout, Timo Kube and Katy Merrington among others explore the tricks a camera can play on you and quite what can be considered real.


Focus on the Rainforest at Kew Gardens

From Wednesday

Award-winning photographer Daniel Beltrá is exhibiting his stunning photographs of the rainforest in the fitting surroundings of Kew Gardens, starting Wednesday September 30. It seems like our generation has been trying to save the rainforests our whole lives and yet the counter on the homepage of the Prince’s Rainforests Project shows how quickly it’s still being destroyed. The exhibition is designed to raise awareness and is also extremely easy on the eye. Rainforests are actually quite frightening and full of spiders, and getting there pollutes the atmosphere, so this is the best way to appreciate their special beauty.

You must also check out Vivienne Westwood’s contribution to the project:

A_View_from_afar_Main Image

Once Viewed From Afar at Gallery 27

There was a time in the arts when work on the British countryside was the main source of inspiration for artists and writers. It has since become viewed as either twee or been used mainly as a counterpoint to urban environments. Artists Sarah Crew and Chris Holman are returning to the appreciative mold of artist, revelling in the idyllic, the beautiful, the nostalgic about the countryside. Using paint and photography, they create characters – think an updated Animals of Farthing Wood. There’s a story being told here, by the most familiar creatures inhabiting the country we live in.

Damien Hirst spots

Pop Life: Art in the Material World, Tate Modern

From Saturday

The artists on display in Tate Modern’s “Pop Life: Art in a Material World” exhibition are so influential on the world of advertising and prevalent in any satire on art, that sometimes works by artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin can seem a bit over-familiar. This exhibition acknowledges the way our recent art has wormed its way into popular culture and happily taken its place there, with bright, bold images that are easy to co-opt into the material world it contends that we live in.

anish kapoor royal academy

Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy

All week

This mega-artist’s new exhibition works with the actual fabric of the building to create mind-bending works like his “Svayambh”, shown above in France, a long path made of wax. There are lots of new works for dedicated fans and the grand scale makes this a brilliant way to introduce yourself if you are a recent convert.


ShowStudio: Fashion Revolution, at Somerset House

Fashion Week is over but this stellar exhibition, also located in Somerset House, scampers on. Garnering rave reviews, especially from our own fashion section, this mix of video, mannequins and allsorts celebrating nine years of the website. Some of its content has appeared online before, but much is new and everything is fashion inspiration incarnate.

Categories ,Anish Kapoor, ,Cafe Gallery, ,Chris Holman, ,Damien Hirst, ,fashion, ,Kew Gardens, ,Prince’s Rainforest Project, ,rainforest, ,Royal Academy, ,Sarah Crew, ,Showstudio, ,Tate Modern, ,Tracey Emin, ,video, ,Vivienne Westood

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