In Our Resource Library: Flavia Amadeu’s Wild Amazonian Rubber

Flavia Amadeu is a Brazilian designer and social entrepreneur whose wild rubber samples you can find in our sustainable textile resource library.

Holding a PhD in Design and Sustainability from the London College of Fashion, where she was part of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and an MA supervisor, Amadeu has been researching and designing with the colored wild rubber from the Amazon rainforest since 2004. She has also worked in partnership with the Chemistry Laboratory LATEQ at the University of Brasília, with top model Lily Cole and UN Women, among many others.

The focus of her work relies on supporting local communities, especially communities full of entrepreneurial women, through collaboration on handcrafts and on the production of sustainable materials. We caught up with her to talk more about her inspiration, conservation and designing with wild rubber. Here’s what she had to say:

Do you think that objects can create an awareness by being designed beautifully or is the sustainability story first? 

I think design as a holistic process that goes from the origin of the materials to the formal aspects of the product. Objects beautifully designed are fundamental to engage people in a new awareness of consumerism. A beautiful, good, original design is what adds value to the materials and the story behind them.

People want to feel good, fashionable and to also have their needs satisfied. Their awareness goes together with the possibilities available. If they are able to choose fashion and design products with social and environmental values, then they have real choices and can advocate for that.

Flavia Amadeu

How did you discover wild rubber and why the inspiration to create with it? Is the material itself inspiring to work with?

I began to research and develop projects with wild rubber in 2004 during my MA in Arts at the University of Brasilia when I was invited to collaborate on a project of art and science. That was when I met the team of the laboratory LATEQ at the University of Brasilia, who, at the time, had just developed the colored wild rubber. They were very interested in further developing this material as well as seeing it applied. That was when we began our partnership that endures until today.

At the time, I was looking for new materials, I was already a designer interested in developing projects of both social and environmental impact, so all came together. I suddenly had full access to the lab and as I researched the material and learnt about it, the more in love I became with it and the whole purpose of its existence. I worked every day during the period of six months, just testing the material and preparing materials for an exhibition in the Itaú Cultural of São Paulo.

Although being a new material, there were many characteristics to improve, there were many challenges along the way, never easy, all new, to learn, to teach and to test. I had to develop my own understanding of this material, ways to work with it, to produce… A long, but fascinating journey.

More than the novelty, what really inspired me was that the wild rubber was indeed developed to be a social innovation, to transform lives in the Amazon rainforest while preserving the natural resources. I remember predicting that I would be the person specialized in this material, and would teach local women in the Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon rainforest has long been a pain point for environmentalists working to protect it. Why is wild rubber important to the Amazon rainforest?

Only in the Amazon rainforest do rubber trees grow wildly. The trees can be productive for more than fifty years without dying after that period. When local people can make a living from the rainforest products, they are enabled to continue the sustainable activities related to their livelihood and culture and therefore conserving large green areas. A concept that translates that is of the “productive conservation” of Anthony Hall, in which economic use of natural resources is meant to preserve the environment.

New kinds of wild rubber, such as the colored rubber FSA, are social innovations which promote social changes with environmental preservation. For some communities, rubber is the most important economic resource which had lost its value. Nowadays, there is the possibility of generating a better income using new methods of production, to promote social inclusion of women and young adults in the rubber chain and develop new markets.

The rubber production is indeed related to environmentalists and I have been partnered with NGOs and activists in order to develop meaningful projects. Some examples are WWF, SOS Amazonia, Sky Rainforest Rescue, actress Lily Cole, among others.

Talk about your work with communities in the Amazon and how you are helping build up the regional economy.

Working with local communities in the Amazon rainforest is challenging to begin with, due to the long distances, limited communication, different mentality and costs. I have built a network of partners along these years and returned to the same communities over and over again, besides teaching new communities. Nurturing these relationships is fundamental.

During my PhD with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in the London College of Fashion, I have developed a methodology of design practice with local communities. I have applied my methodology in workshops with producers to improve production and production management and that has made a great difference.

I have worked with indigenous and non-indigenous communities, with different cooperatives and partners. I want to see much more communities getting involved in the productive conservancy of wild rubber and other materials. My work has already some impact, but there is much more potential and also need for social innovation in the rainforest. Building up a regional economy is mostly interdependent of a global community. It is where I situate myself, interconnecting different realities through design, art and handcrafts.

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