In conversation with Fair Bazaar

As we begin a new year, we see everyone making resolutions, both new and revised. With the rising importance of sustainability and eco-friendliness, it is encouraging to see the new methods that businesses and individuals are using in order to secure a greener future. 

Co-founded by Patrícia Imbarus and Joana Cunha, Fair Bazaar is an online marketplace for sustainable fashion, beauty and home-ware products in Europe. The duo aim to empower and educate about ethical shopping, as well as assist in putting an end to some of the practices we are seeing across the globe like child-labour, slavery and global warming, 

After sitting down for a chat with Patrícia to find out more about Fair Bazaar, her love for the environment and her passion for change was clear, and I was eager to learn more about what personally propelled her towards sustainability.

“It’s not just about making a pair of vegan shoes because that’s what´s trendy and what the market is demanding right now. There needs to be passion; it is a movement above all else.”

– Patrícia Imbarus, 2018.

So going straight in, when did you know you wanted to be a driver of change in society?

Well I’m originally from a small town in Romania, and when I was 16, I entered a competition to create a photo-journalistic essay based on a social issue or problem in our community. I came across what appeared to be an abandoned hospital, but actually turned out to be a functioning non-governmental maternity ward.

There wasn’t a single nurse in sight when I entered; water was dripping from the ceiling and there were babies screaming all around. It felt like a horrible scene from the movies, you know? No one there could not afford to go to a proper hospital. Many of the mothers came, gave birth, and then left, so there was an entire floor upstairs filled with abandoned babies. They were no funds at all, and all the nurses working there were simply volunteering.

After focussing on this issue for my project, I ended up winning the competition — which helped the case, as it was a national competition so it got a lot of publicity on the news. After that, I got together about 60 people to gather funds and supplies in order to renovate the hospital. In the end, we collected around 50,00 EUR worth of materials, as well as help and support from loads of people and by the time we were finished, the place looked incredible and we had enough money to buy supplies for a whole year.

This was the moment that I realised, whatever you want to do, you can do it.

Goodness, that´s an incredibly moving story. Very impressive. So since then, you’ve moved to e-commerce? 

Yes, most of my work has always been related to start-ups, growth, development and marketing, within fashion and e-commerce. I completed my Bachelor’s in Economics and Finance in Milan, before starting a company with three of my classmates, manufacturing luxury silk products in Como, Italy – historically the place to manufacture silk in Europe.

Lovely, and how did you end up here in Lisbon?

Well were interested in starting a company in Lisbon as there seemed to be a lot of support for start-ups here. We did a crowd-funding campaign to raise the funds and in the end, I moved without my classmates and got everything up and running by myself. After a year however, the project didn’t flourish in the direction we wanted, so I quit the project but decided to stay in Lisbon.

What made you move towards more sustainable fashion?

Sustainability has always been a part of my life, however the importance really hit hard for my business partner Joana and I last year. After we had already been working together for three years in a fashion start-up, we saw a documentary called The True Cost Movie, which reveals what happens in the fashion industry behind the curtains. It shows the environmental impact, crazy stories about cotton farmers in India, human trafficking, child labour and slavery with no human rights being respected.

It´s awful. How did this affect you in your day-to-day life?

Well, as soon as we saw this documentary, we couldn´t forget it. We stopped buying from high street stores – never stepped foot again in Zara and the like. As consumers, we started looking for alternatives, but googling for ages trying to find brands that are ethical, sustainable and transparent about how and where they produce turned out to be very difficult and time-consuming.

So, I presume this is how Fair Bazaar came about?

Exactly — after months of work, we ended up with this huge list of hundreds of brands from all over Europe that share the same values and make outstanding products. But they’re not all in one place, and people are lazy, so if it’s not quick, easy and accessible, they’re going to give up. If we have a marketplace with great products and great service all in one place, this will help people to start making more conscious decisions.

That´s great! What is your process for choosing which brands to represent?

We carefully curate all the products, looking specifically for exceptional design and high-quality products, as well brands that have a positive social and environmental impact. Sustainability is a very fluffy word so we broke it down into different criteria, which make up the categories we will have available on the website: recycled, organic, artisanal, local, fair-trade, zero-waste, eco-friendly and vegan. Each brand should meet at least two of these criteria to be able to work with us, as well as a hold a powerful story and message behind the brand, in order to entice change. It’s not just about making a pair of vegan shoes because that’s what´s trendy and what the market is demanding right now. There needs to be passion; it is a movement above all else.

Absolutely! So how many brands do you have on board so far?

We´ve found 800 brands that meet our criteria, and have spoken with 61 of them so far. Only one has declined the opportunity but everyone else is really excited. We have both Portuguese and international brands, and here at the shop we have around 20 brands, simply because there´s no space for more.

Talk me through some of the brands you represent in your store, and why you believe they hold value.

One of the brands that really blew my mind is a Portuguese brand called Nae Vegan Shoes. They started some years ago and are incredibly innovative and committed to sustainability. They manufacture everything in Portugal, using a special texture called Piñatex® — a new sustainable fibre made from pineapple leaves harvested in the Philippines within a Fairtrade project, altogether produced by London-based company Ananas Anam Ltd. It´s fantastic! Nae Vegan Shoes also use recycled airbags from cars and recycled rubber for the soles of the shoes. In addition, they have a sneaker collection made out of recycled bottles. They are very high-quality shoes that look and feel great, and they last forever!

Another brand I really like is Sober and Naked, who manufacture bikinis using a fabric called Econyl, which is made from waste such as recovered plastic from the ocean, including ghost-fishing nets. The founders, Joana and Joao had a wake-up call when on a surfing trip in Bali, where they had the horrible experience of being approached by waves filled with plastic. They realised what a terrible impact we have on the world and began to think what they could do about it, which lead them to launch their sustainable line. Sober and Naked design their own prints using the Econyl fabric and manufacture here on a small-scale in Lisbon, and the bikinis look fabulous!

Wow both of these brands sound amazing!

My final question for you is this: There are so many people still unaware of their individual impact on the environment — from usage of non-degradable items, to excessive shopping for cheap clothing made unethically. How do you think we can make more people aware of these issues?

That’s a winning question! I think it’s like a grassroots movement – you start with the people already aware and then it will spread like wildfire. When we start refusing plastic straws in clubs, reusing bags for shopping and checking the methods and source of the products we purchase, we become advocates for the movement and our friends will start to think more about these things too. I think it’s important for those who already have some consciousness to actively talk about it and simply lead by example.

The Fair Bazaar marketplace is a perfect example of the kind of the ideas we should be promoting this year, and in future years to come.

You can find the Fair Bazaar store in the beautiful 19th century Arabian palace-turned shopping gallery Embaixada in Principe Real, Lisbon, and the online platform will be launched this Spring 2018.

© Emily D’Silva

2 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s