In the fashion industry, entrepreneurship helps black women to earn social respect and in the labor market, says stylist

Afro Brazilian women
Marah Silva of  Ateliê Cretismo in Rio de Janeiro

By Thais Leitão of Agência Brasil

Brasília – Entrepreneurship is a key that frees the black woman to conquest social respect and also in the labor market. This is how the baiana designer and fashion consultant Marah Silva, 40, describes the activity in which dove into nearly a decade ago. Owner of Ateliê Cretismo, located in downtown Rio de Janeiro, she uses art that she embeds in her creations to enhance Afro-Brazilian culture. According to the classification of the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) the população negra (black population) consists of persons who identify themselves as preto (black) and pardo (brown).

Marah Silva
“It was with entrepreneurship that I won autonomy, visibility and social respect. A black woman has a double fight, facing prejudices because of gender and race. If I were not in this business, I’d probably be working for someone who would pay higher wages for white women and men, yet who performed the same function as me.”

Even inserted in a specific niche, producing artistic costumes and everyday clothing inspired by elements of religions of African origin, Marah says that “every now and then” she comes across prejudice on the part of the clientele.

“Some people talk to me by phone and by e-mail and when we set up a meeting [and they see me], they ask where is the owner of the workshop,” said the entrepreneur, who, although having a wide range of customers, independent of color or race, makes a question of keeping a black model in her fashion catalog.

“Unfortunately, when people see a black model they think that the fashion that she promotes is only for black people,” she added, who is the daughter of a baiana of acarajé, as are called the women of Bahia engaged in the sale of this and other delicacies of baiano (1) cuisine.


The coordinator of the NGO Criola, Jurema Werneck, which works to promote the rights of black women, emphasized that, although without this nomenclature, entrepreneurship is part of the history of blacks in the country. She recalled that even before abolition, masters forced the slaves to produce typical items of their culture, such as acarajé, and market them.

Jurema Werneck of Criola

“Most of the income was for the masters, but slaves had already undertaken (this) though under very negative conditions. From where they came from, in African markets, who worked were the women and coming here they also did it during and after slavery,” she said.

Ana Lúcia Valente
Anthropologist Ana Lúcia Valente, a researcher at the University of Brasília, said that with abolition, many free blacks became entrepreneurs as a way to fight for social inclusion. Without many alternatives to guarantee the support of themselves and their families, former slaves offered services such as cooking, sewing and washing clothes.

“It was actually a strategy for survival, a fight in order for them to manage their social integration. Thus it is proven that female entrepreneurship is not new in Brazil, but it only began to be valued by society more recently.” She emphasized that entrepreneurial activity, helping black women to generate income, contributes to the strengthening of a positive identity and autonomy of that segment of the population, especially when they are heads of households.

Sociologist Sirlei Márcia de Oliveira, vice director of the Escola Dieese de Ciências do Trabalho (Dieese School of Labor Science), also stressed the importance of income from entrepreneurial activities in support of families headed by women, especially in the lower income strata.

She cited data from the Anuário das Mulheres Brasileiras 2011 (Brazilian Women’s Yearbook 2011), published by the Departamento Intersindical de Estatística e Estudos Socioeconômicos (Intersyndical Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies or Dieese) in partnership with the Secretaria de Políticas para as Mulheres (Secretariat of Policies for Women), which show that almost 50% of household heads are also the only ones responsible for the survival of the family nucleus.

“These are homes in which only women are responsible for the sustenance of themselves and their children. And as we know that in the (social) strata of low income the proportion of black women is higher, the growth of entrepreneurship among them can mean access to better pay through their own business,” she said.

According Sirlei, dedicating herself to a promising venture that is profitable, the woman ensures a higher income than she would have if she occupied a place in sectors that concentrate the largest number of black women, such as domestic employment.

Girleine Neves, 37, of Lauro de Freitas, Bahia

The only one responsible for the sustenance of her two sons, one 19 and another 11, to increase the family income, the baiana Girleine Neves, 37, a resident of Lauro de Freitas (Bahia), makes pano da costa (wrapper), a wardrobe piece of African origin that is part of baiana attire. She, that has already made acarajé for events and orders, sees in entrepreneurship the only alternative for raising children.

Baiana serving acarajé wearing a pano da costa

“I had to turn to (this) because as I am alone with them it was necessary to do an activity that depended on me, on my effort,” she said, one of the members of Mauanda network, which brings together artisans and the religious of the terreiros (2) of Candomblé (3) from Bahia’s capital city, Salvador and its metropolitan region. The group produces pieces related to African art, fashion and culture.

1. The term baiana can refer to a woman one sees in the streets of cities like Salvador, Bahia, selling acarajé, the famous fried fritters stuffed with shrimp and vatapá sauce or simply a woman from the northeastern state of Bahia. Baiano or baiana also refers to anything relating to Bahia while baiano refers to a man from the state of Bahia.

2. Temples where the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé is practiced. Also known as casas or houses.

3. Candomblé is a religion of African origin practiced in Brazil but also in other countries. Although similar, it should not be confused with Umbanda, Macumba and/or Omoloko or African origin religions in the Americas such as Haitian Voundoun, Cuban Santeria or Obeah in Trinidade e Tobago

Source: Agência Brasil

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. Great article! Entrepreneurship is definitely the key to women's progress. I wish all of these women the Best of Success!

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