Participant Profile: Arimar Feitosa
Project: Couro Ecológico/ Flona Tapajós Verde Cooperative
Like any successful entrepreneur, Arimar Feitosa won’t take no for an answer.
One day, after a four hour bus ride from his home town, Arimar came to the owner of a souvenir shop in Alter d'Chão. When Arimar approached him about the possibility of selling his purses in the shop, the owner told Arimar he didn’t want to sell handbags because they would sit on the shelves and take up space. While most artisans in the area would have walked away at this point, Arimar instead suggested a creative business negotiation: Arimar would leave the purses with the shop owner, then come back in a few weeks. If none of the purses sold, the shop owner would not have to pay for them. After displaying the purses himself, Arimar left for home. He then returned to the souvenir shop one month later. His hunch had paid off - the shop owner ran out to meet him, telling him, “Every bag sold! I want to buy more of your bags!”
Born and raised in Maguary, Brazil, Arimar recognized an economic opportunity around one of the area’s natural resources: rubber. Like most communities surrounding the Flona Tapajós Verde (Tapajós National Forest) in Brazil, Maguary was settled over 100 years ago by settlers who made a living by extracting latex to make rubber. However, with the rise of rubber plantations in Malaysia in the late 1800s, the market for Brazilian latex essentially dried up.
“I believe the production of (ecological) leather can have many great results. It can increase the family income of the seringueiros (local rubber extractors). It gives our youth the incentive to remain in the community to study and workout having to go to cities to find better living conditions. It is also a form of generating income without degrading the environment.”
Curious about expanding the use of locally harvested rubber, Arimar learned about a process to vulcanize natural latex from engineer Osvaldo Rodrigues. Arimar founded the artisan’s cooperative Couro Ecológico in 1997, selling products derived from sustainably harvested rubber and cotton, also known as vegan leather. “I believe the production of (ecological) leather can have many great results,” Arimar told CEN’s Robert Bortner. “It can increase the family income of the seringueiros (local rubber extractors). It gives our youth the incentive to remain in the community to study and work without having to go to the cities to find better living conditions. It is also a form of generating income without degrading the environment.”
Arimar took his product to numerous shop owners and resorts, like in the true story above. In the beginning days of his cooperative, he struggled to sell his product to weary shop owners who had not seen Arimar’s purse designs before. Yet the determination Arimar has to make his business thrive, and the creativity he employs to continue growth, set him apart from other entrepreneurs and business owners in the Brazilian Amazon, where timely follow-through and long-term, goal-oriented hard work are difficult skills to come by.
Today, Arimar has taken a step back from being the leader of Couro Ecológico, but he still plays an active role handling the majority of its marketing and sales. He also serves as a strong role model and motivator for Couro Ecológico artisans, who sometimes struggle with follow-through and dedication. For instance, when electricity came to Maguary, artisans left to build hotels and inns for the potential boom in tourism. This left a labor shortage within the cooperative, making it difficult to fulfill orders. Arimar and the remaining artisans focused on slow, sustained growth and stabilizing production methods to see Couro Ecológico through this difficult time. His ability to keep those last artisans motivated and productive, despite the draw of what some deemed obvious economic opportunity, is a profound ability, and a masterful skill that CEN and Arimar hope to spread across the Brazilian Amazon.
Arimar spends most of his time dedicated to his own personal business, developing new product lines and experimenting with other ways to produce rubber, while continuing to develop better business techniques and vocational skills. Arimar and CEN are currently working to develop standardized production methods to make Couro Ecológico products more desirable for shop owners. One simple way Arimar and CEN have accomplished this is by standardizing product models and colors so shop owners and consumers know what to expect from the product line.
CEN and Arimar are also working on developing a reliable process for orders from the United States. In the past, an order that came from abroad might not have arrived exactly as buyers expected since the artisans would pretty much send whichever styles or colors they produced. By standardizing colors and offering a catalog of styles, buyers can now be assured that the products they order match what they intended to order, without sacrificing the one-of-a-kind character that is a big part of the allure of the product.
With his inexhaustible energy and drive, Arimar also captains the commercialization efforts for the Flona Tapajós Verde Cooperative. Like Couro Ecológico, Flona Tapajós Verde Cooperative is an artisan's co-op recently started to promote the production and sale of products manufactured by communities in the Flona Nacional de Tapajós. CEN has also approached Arimar to visit the Eixo Forte (Juá) region - as a steward and role-model of local business and entrepreneurship and to assist and advise in this region’s economic growth. No matter what Arimar’s daily activity may be, he is constantly involved in creating sustainable ways to improve the community and build upon skills that harbor long-run economic prosperity.
As you approach Arimar’s family home, very much like every other house in his village, the one unique feature you may see is a radio antennae sticking out of his house. Its practical purpose is to allow him to stay connected with customers in nearby Santarém. But it is also a beacon of technological advancement and entrepreneurial success in a community where such little social support exists to promote such development. He also owns a motorcycle instead of using the bus, for quicker access to the market and customers, not to mention raw materials. Still, it is quite obvious that Mr. Feitosa lives humbly despite his economic success.
Today, 10 years after Arimar first walked into the souvenir shop, Couro Ecológico handbags are being sold in the USA, Italy, Germany, and Belgium, as well as in São Paulo. With the help of CEN, a wholesale website has been created to sell Couro Ecológico goods, and distributors are being sought for the US market. CEN also sells Couro Ecológico purses through our website and at CEN-sponsored events. The end goal for both Arimar and CEN is to develop and sustain markets domestically, but particularly abroad.
Though barriers such as exchange rates (which force purses to be priced higher than similar products from many other countries), production standardization, and labor motivation remain as challenges to both Arimar and CEN, one thing is certain: that Arimar’s desire for socio-economic prosperity for his community and family has driven his business and continues to steer his passions. CEN looks forward to a strong future of working with Arimar to spread his knowledge and his unrelenting drive to create sustainable development in the Brazilian Amazon.