“Design and sustainability go hand in hand. It is inconsistent to think of product design without considering its environmental, social and financial sustainability. We need to consider the manufacturing issues. We need to think about social responsibility in production, and how manufactured goods return to society and the environment. However, consumers usually question the companies by complaining; they don’t question themselves. Answers do not change the world, but the questions we make and the connections we can build and maintain do! That’s why I believe in the power of both raising questions and making new connections.”
After an unexpected change of direction in her career, Ana Caminha, 38 years old, left the corporate life to venture in sustainability and fashion, two of her greatest passions. In April 2018, ten years after the initial idea, the businesswoman set up “Clube da Roupa (the Clothing Club)”, an initiative that uses the principles of circular economy to change the way people deal with clothing. "We do not always buy clothes because we want them, we just want something new," says Ana. "Can we satisfy the urge for something new with no consumption of new clothes and no financial-environmental costs implied when manufacturing this new piece?"
To get to that question – and the answer –, Ana has been through a long journey. She was born in Porto Alegre, but moved to Rio de Janeiro two decades ago, after passing the entrance exam of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), where she graduated as an architect. "I like Porto Alegre and the people there, but I did not feel at home. I moved to Rio with no plans to return," she says.
"When I finished college, I put myself on autopilot. Since I had some money issues, I thought money was something very important", she says. Then, she decided to prioritize growing professionally and focused on becoming a director of a large company.
She worked in the corporate market for nine years, such as shopping center management companies and large retailers to achieve her goal - and she succeeded. However, she was not happy. For three years, between the ages of 30 and 33, she questioned the course she had been following. "It was not what I wanted, so I was sick and feeling a huge void. I didn’t know what to do; all I knew was that I didn’t want that kind of job anymore. I didn’t want to wear a sweater of that little horse brand, or that of the alligator, or that purse with letters. So I resigned," she recalls.
Anxious about the future, Ana then invested time and money as a partner in a Japanese restaurant chain that soon went bankrupt. This forced her to do something she had never considered before: opening an architecture office. "I didn’t know what entrepreneurship was, but it was the only thing I had to do. Then, I started looking for projects in this field," she says.
Even in architecture, Ana still felt incomplete. "For me, architecture is a health issue: it's a space, be it home or work, that brings you good feelings, makes you feel welcomed and well," she explains. However, some issues in the profession were not in line with her expectations. She highlights the fact that architecture is a privilege in an unequal society, such as Brazil, besides the recurrent and abundant waste of materials, which is common to this industry.
A library of clothes
"Clube da Roupa was born from the question: what if I made a library out of clothes?” she says. Before conceiving the idea of the clothing library, Ana had an unhealthy relationship with consumption and fashion. She would fill an entire room with her pieces and says that, often, in malls and stores, she needed help carrying her bags to the car because she no longer had hands to bring what she had bought.
The end of a marriage and the move to a smaller apartment forced her to get rid of most of her clothes. What could be a source of depression became a seed of freedom. Her relationship with clothing and consumption was changing. The year was 2010 and, unhappy with architecture and savoring this new moment, Ana started designing and taking courses in the area.
Still, the idea would take shape only in January 2017, during the innovation program by Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos – Finep (Funding Authority for Studies and Projects), at the Genesis Institute. "I introduced the idea of a clothing library in a dynamic activity. One of the teachers loved it and encouraged me to move on," she says. She thought the idea over during obsessive research sessions and discussions with industry professionals. "I realized that the project was not just a shared closet - there is one important component that is networking. It's a new way of thinking about how you wear clothes: it becomes a means and not an end," says Ana.
Within a few months, Ana partnered with her friend Barbara Vancura, and they started the project. The debut of "Clube da Roupa" ("Clothing Club", in Portuguese) was in April 2018, during Fashion Revolution Brazil, a sustainable fashion event. Ana's goals are not small. In the long term, with the internationalization of the club, Ana envisions possible trips with no need for a suitcase. When arriving at the destination, club members would only go to a "Clube da Roupa", take what they want to wear during the stay and return the clothes before going home.
"I've always been very critical and unhappy with things. The habit of questioning and changing are part of who I am. I create new connections with the questions," she says. And “Clube das Roupas” rose out of these connections.