T-Shirt Line Turned Empowerment Empire In 5 Weeks

In 2015, we visited Brazil to find out how creative entrepreneurs are driving positive social impact at a grassroots level. We had the pleasure of providing consultancy to an inspirational young designer, Maria Chantal. We spent 5 weeks getting to know each other and working on her business to achieve many goals including:

  • Diversifying the portfolio of products and services Loja Maria Chantal offers
  • Enhancing the financial sustainability of the business.
  • Carrying out market research and testing demand for new offerings
  • Developing new ways to reach new partners and collaborators.

Although UK based, Cultural Agency Collective is always interested to discover and celebrate examples of artistry and social impact in action across the globe. Indeed learning how others invoke social change, often without the resources we are afforded in the UK is inspiring and motivating.

We discovered a diverse range creative entrepreneurs driving change in their communities in Rio de Janeiro. We were struck by the incredible ingenuity, energy of individuals mobilizing grassroots movements through creative endeavour.

Introducing Loja Maria Chantal.  

It was an everyday event that sparked a change in mindset. Maria Chantal, originally from Angola but raised in Rio de Janeiro, was riding the bus from her home to Rio’s city centre just like any other day back in 2010.
The only difference was, that day she had changed her hairstyle. Rather than wearing her hair in braids as she had always done, 18-year-old Maria Chantal had decided to discard her extensions and ‘go natural’.

To go natural, (for women of African descent this means; to wear their hair in its most natural state without extensions or chemical styling treatment. The trademark afro hairstyle was symbolic during the 1960s and 70s African-American civil rights movement. Black people in America chose to wear their hair this way in protest against historical convention of hairstyles that mimicked the predominantly white society in which they lived), is a decision a black woman will make for a variety of reasons; sometimes personal, sometimes political, but invariably without confronting opinions from those around her, be it family or strangers.

The reception Maria Chantal received that day proved she was ahead of the times, at least for Brazil.

Nowadays, there is a palpable air of positivity around the growing natural hair movement within the afro-Brazilian community. Just look at the proud and beautiful images from the first natural hair movement march in Salvador de Bahia November 2015. Furthermore, awareness is growing around the irrefutable evidence linking the chemical treatment of afro hair to severe health issues like fibroids.

Five years ago, back on that bus, there was nothing but tension in the air.  Maria Chantal experienced stares from fellow passengers, apprehension, and nervousness about her intentions. You see, before the positive empowerment message that is spreading today, for a woman of African descent to wear her hair in a ‘natural state’ inspired stereotypes and assumptions about her income or lack thereof, character, social background and level of education.

As the passenger she was sat down alongside slowly but deliberately held her bag close, Maria Chantal realized there was something very wrong about a society which enacts these judgments and micro-aggressions on any segment based on a choice of hairstyle. It sparked questions about how to navigate issues of self-esteem, empowerment, defining natural beauty for Afro-Brazilians, media representation, education about traditional cultural heritage and more.

Maria Chantal’s creative endeavours had always proved popular with her peers at college. She had started out customizing and restyling old clothes for friends. Her need to express herself through art intersected with a desire to inspire awareness and positive change within the Afro-Brazilian community. ‘Loja Maria Chantal’ was born.

Loja Maria Chantal produces custom designed silk-screen printed t-shirts aimed at young Afro-Brazilian men and women. The aim is to combat racism, instill self-esteem and raise awareness of cultural Afro-Brazilian heritage.  The t-shirts boast empowering quotes like: “My hair didn’t ask for your opinion” and “Kinky hair doesn’t need to have perfect curls.”. She has amassed a loyal and engaged social media community providing support and motivational inspiration to her audience as well, as continually informing and educating about issues relevant to Afro-Brazilians.

Despite being a formidable force of productivity, like with many other solo creative entrepreneurs, Maria Chantal faced the challenging task of keeping several plates spinning.
Solely responsible for all production design, sales and marketing, she wanted perspective on:

  • If the business model and marketing tactics in place were the right fit and guidance on how to improve them if necessary.
  • How to evaluate the profitability of her existing business activities.
  • How to build stronger and more meaningful connections with her audience through events or other channels.

Overcoming Challenges
We used a variety of approaches to overcome these challenges including:

  • A financial reporting assessment to evaluate profitability which involved a tailored workshop on cash flow, costing, pricing strategy & profit and forecasting.
  • Income generation evaluation. We spent time learning about the full range of Maria Chantal’s skills uncovering new ways to share value with different audiences.
  • Devising and applying an efficient system for growing and retaining customers.
  • Reviewing the most effective marketing channels available and creating a strategy to exploit their full potential.

Maria Chantal started to see the impact of the work we had done together immediately through:

  • Enhanced financial reporting to help accurately forecast 2016 targets and ensure financial sustainability.
  • Gathering tangible quantitative and qualitative market research data through focus groups and surveys to and test demand for new offerings.
  • A range of new solutions, including events and workshops and creative consultancy services to diversify the brand portfolio offering and expand revenue streams.
  • Practical and systematic methods for successfully implementing marketing tactics for the Loja Maria Chantal audience.
  • The creation of a business development strategy including a proposal template for new partners and sponsorship opportunities.

The 5 weeks we spent working intensively with Maria Chantal provided expert and practical support, empowering her to fulfil and exceed the goals she has set for her social impact journey.

Want to see the beautiful t-shirts and headwraps Maria Chantal has on offer? Visit her website.

Ready to find out more about the 5-week intensive programme with one to one support from a dedicated business consultant? Find out more here.

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