''We all have to strive to be victorious in something, even if it's making food for the family.'' - Esperança Vitória, Artisan & CEO of Victoria Handmade.
''The name Victoria Handmade brings us to the baskets that have become an object of desire, with which several bloggers parade on social media.
An image that draws consistency from the Portuguese tradition of reed basket weaving and the hard work that never frightened the leader of the 'revolution', Esperança Vitória.
Reed. Reed. Reed. I repeat it over and over, like a child learning a lesson. ''Just the other day there was a news item in which they wrote wicker baskets. These are not wicker baskets. They're made of reeds.'' I won't forget, Esperança Vitória repeats it several times throughout the afternoon, which she says was 'unforgettable'. After all, despite her baskets (of reeds!) being in the mouths of the fashion world, high heels only after being successful in business since she launched Victoria Handmade in 2014. Esperança Vitória transformed the art of basket weaving she learned from her parents in a sustainable business that thrives in Portugal and abroad, with sales split between online store at the www.victoria-handmade.com and at the Studio & Showroom in central Portugal.
On the counter, examples from British Vogue, where the brand made the news several times over the summer, are proof of the international recognition it enjoys not only in Europe but also in countries like the United States, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, a lot thanks to Instagram.
We're in Corredoura, Porto de Mós, in the atelier that represents the most difficult business decision Esperança has ever taken: ''Open the door to the public, bring out a project that began while still inside my grandmother's house, Vitória. A risk, due to the devaluation of the craft trade and the path we wanted to take.''
- The biggest challenge is to continue to have hands to work, to keep up physically.
- I'm a perfectionist, I'm demanding, first with myself, then with others.
- I'm more tolerant with age, I realized that once people give their best, I can't demand more. We can't want others to do exactly what we want, if so, we would all be the same.
- I can delegate, but I have to supervise. There are certain things that we cannot shrug off our responsibilities for.
I'm interrupted by the Hero's paw, which reminds me that the break from the affection is already long. A Portuguese Serra da Estrela dog, rescued from the street a few months ago, is big but Nina, a German Pincher, is the boss, also saved from neglect, attentive but less given to trust. Esperança Vitória speaks enthusiastically about her faithful companions, who are also business partners, since it is the studio/showroom that they call home. Victoria Handmade is also the story of a rescue, an endangered craft, to precariousness and unsustainability. It is Esperança who is now weaving a new chapter of an old family tradition, fueled in part by a rejuvenated national appreciation for craftsmanship and Portugal.
Esperança Vitória was born in Castanheira, a village in the municipality of Alcobaça with a great tradition in basket making - from where is also, as a matter of curiosity, another Toino, other than her father, and this Toino Abel, also known in the business, from a family more linked to trade than to the manufacture of baskets. ''Each house each loom. There was no family that did not know how to make at least one of the processes involved in basket weaving.''
Esperança doesn't remember having actually learned the craft, ''my first memories are of my mother weaving, there was a day when we simply climbed onto a brick to reach the loom and started to work'', but she remembers his aversion to it.
''It wasn't paid to start with, and then it was hard work. We had a childhood of work but today we look back and we can see the added value, we have skills that would not have been acquired in any other way.''
The Unbearable Lightness Of Reed.
Faced with an art incapable of guaranteeing their livelihood, the four sisters would eventually abandon the profession, but in Esperanca's case, the good daughter returned home. Much later. When she made the decision that it was time to...
''... take the idea out of the drawer and revolutionize weaving basketry.''
At the time, she worked with the elderly at the House of Mercy in Porto de Mós. And the age here also played a role.
''I was 38 years old, or I would conform with my life like she was or would take the leap to a project of mine, which would make me feel more fulfilled.''
He returned to the past to give basketry a future, with all the difficulties that resonated. The biggest?
''The devaluation of this art - although it has been improving. Even today there are people of a very advanced age group working on this, as a complement to the reform, because young people cannot make a living from basketry.''
Therefore, it is not surprising that Esperança has no doubts about her greatest victory:
''To ensure that those who work with me have all dignity in terms of the labor market. Until now it was not possible to have a job within this area.''
And it is from the same subject that his biggest failure is also made:
''Feeling that we can't solve all the problems in this world and get all people to have that same dignity.''
Esperança Vitória is more reserved when it comes to talking about herself, she even accuses me, in a good mood, of playing Daniel Oliveira when the subject is more personal. I don't know exactly what his eyes say - I see some sadness at the death of his mother in 2013, and the growing weakness of his father. But her hands (and speech!) leave no doubt, clearly say she is a working woman.
''Don't frighten me,'' she says. I can't get her to tell me is favorite area, but it's in this silence that I hear it's secret to success:
''Commitment and dedication, to have the same ease in any area, whether it's weaving, sweeping or any other task.''
And it's not talk, its versatility echoes in all corners of the business - from manufacturing to management -, even in tasks until now exclusively male. Esperança Vitória believes that she is the only woman in Portugal to put wings in the baskets, these, yes, made of wicker, a raw material more difficult to handle than reeds. Until six years ago it was her father who did it.
''When I saw him getting weaker, I decided to learn so not be dependent on anyone outside. It saddened me a lot to see my father, who place wicker wings with his eyes closed, not being able to do it well, he who was also a perfectionist.''
Success, They Said.
It was like that until very recently: the man devoted themselves to the reed catch, weaving and the placement of wicker wings, the women weaved and sewed. But here everything is under the female domain. If Esperança wasn't the third of four girls.
At the company, she has two more strong women at his side (three, if we count Nina), his older sister, Carla, and his daughter, Daniela, graduated in graphic design and responsible for the image and communication of Victoria Handmade.
Is the 20-year-old woman we met when we returned to the studio/showroom after taking the last photograph abroad. We soon realized the reason for the indignation of Hero and Nina. Daniela attends a family in Lisbon, mother and daughter are visibly happy. This happiness is one of the fuels that drives our interviewee. Complete the sentence ''I hope to…'', I had asked the entrepreneur a few minutes before, like Daniel Oliveira.
''... Continue to work with this commitment and dedication and bring happiness to the lives of the people who receive our pieces.''
Victoria, Victoria, history is over. Or part of it, that the art of Esperança is far from dying.''
When I feel unmotivated and want to give up, I reread the interview from 3 years ago by the wonderful journalist Cíntia Sakellarides, photographed by the spectacular Ricardo Santos, dressed by Rita Vilhena's good taste and embellished by Clementina Costa.
I relive the words that still inspire me to continue and share them with you in the hope of also inspiring you to pursue your dreams, as I did, although there are more cons than pros.
Believe me, there is no greater feeling than that of an accomplished goal, when everyone said it was not possible, and I still got there.
Thank you. Yes, you. For helping me make this possible.