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How These Brazilian Entrepreneurs Combine Social Action And Profit

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/11/2015 Sara Elkamel

Brazil is a country of entrepreneurs. A Data Popular survey reveals that 3 in 10 Brazilians are attracted by the idea of becoming their own boss.

It’s not that Brazilians have a natural flair for entrepreneurship, or that they think starting their own business may somehow benefit society: The trend arose due to the economic crisis, rising unemployment and wage stagnation. 

In the survey conducted between April and May of 2015, in 140 cities around the country, more than 42 percent of Brazilians cited earning more income and professional growth as motives for entrepreneurship. 

There are entrepreneurs, though, that don't consider money to be their top priority. For four women interviewed by HuffPost Brazil, helping people who have always been marginalized, or people who don’t fall in line with society’s beauty standards, is more valuable than profit.


Myriam Sanchez's Lingerie Shop

Myriam Sanchez opened a lingerie shop in São Paulo for women who had undergone mastectomies. She called the shop: Mama Amiga (Friendly Chest).

Sanchez started the business in 1985, immediately after her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy.

"We failed to find lingerie in several Brazilian states. So, we decided to manufacture our own products. That’s when we opened Mama Amiga,” Sanchez said.

Although breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among Brazilian women, according to The National Cancer Institute, the country's lingerie shops failed to supply mastectomy products.

Today, Sanchez's store offers bras, t-shirts, swimsuits, panties and nightgowns for every budget. It also sells locally produced and imported breast implants.

Sanchez explains that the products are adaptable. "The difference is that the products sold by other companies don't feature this support for breast implants, and when they do, many of them end up damaging the silicone implants."

What sets Mama Amiga products apart is that they’re fashionable, with modern colors and laces, among other product customization options. Sanchez has both mass produced items and other exclusive, handmade products.

While the store doesn’t give Sanchez a fixed monthly income, Mama Amiga is her most prized achievement.

At 66, she believes that her mission has always been helping others. She says that after studying social work, “here, I renew my mission every day.”

Sanchez has also developed close personal relationships with some of her clients. “We have long-standing customers who are considered friends,” she says.

Seeing how her customers’ self-esteems are bolstered by her products is a key source of satisfaction for Sanchez. "Many women come to the store feeling depressed. Sometimes they even cry when they look in the mirror,” she says. “Here at Mama Amiga something changes. They try several products and realize that there is a place where they can come to terms with their femininity, finding special, and even sexy products. They leave the store with their head held high, and a smile on their face."


Carolina Ignarra's Consulting Firm 

Carolina Ignarra launched a specialized consulting firm called Talento Incluir (Include Talent), which focuses on the inclusion of physically or intellectually disabled people in the labor market.

Her personal experience motivated her to create the consulting firm in 2008, in São Paulo. Seven years earlier, Ignarra was in a motorbike accident, and had to use a wheelchair because of her injuries. "Three months after the accident, when I thought I was useless, my manager invited me to go back to work."

Ignarra, who had recently graduated with a degree in physical education, gradually went back to teaching gymnastics, and the demand for her services started to grow -- but not in the way she would have liked. "Companies wanted to hire me but they made me proposals that didn't match my skill-set," she says. "I realized that the companies, pressured by the Quota Law, wanted to hire people with disabilities, and not professionals."

It was then that she realized she could invest in a business that would integrate the skills of professionals with disabilities, and the actual needs of the companies seeking to comply with the Quota Law.

Today, her consulting firm develops relationships between companies and talent.

The greatest difficulty, Ignarra says, is to change the image of people with disabilities. "Many disabled people were insecure, and felt too pressured by the competitive labor market,” she says. “We try to develop people's behavior so they can function with more equality in society."

Ignarra estimates that more than 1,000 professionals with disabilities have already passed through her company. One of them left a particularly strong impression on her: "We included a man with intellectual disabilities, who was gay. This may have been the most outstanding case, because, in part, his disability, would pose challenges to discreetly discussing his sexuality. Thus, we had to prepare his team in order to prevent exclusion and prejudice for both reasons. And his interpersonal relationships at work were a complete success. It was very gratifying."

In seven years, Talento Incluir has already served more than 300 companies in Brazil, such as Itaú, Santander, Carrefour, Grupo Pão de Açúcar, Duratex and Gol Linhas Aéreas.

And there’s room for growth. The Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics estimates that Brazil has 45.6 million people with some type of disability -- and few companies offer the type of service that Talento Incluir does.

"It has been a great year for us, with revenues even higher than we expected. For the next year, we will innovate to meet the demands of the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games," Ignarra says.


Andrea Vasques' Lingerie Shop

Targeting an audience that most garment companies don't prioritize led to professional success for Andrea Vasques, the owner of Andrea Vasques Moda Plus Size. She was motivated to start the business because she couldn't find sexy lingerie for herself.

"I was overweight and I couldn't find good lingerie. I ended up buying basic colors, mainly beige. I  started asking around and realized that there was only one distributor selling basic lingerie [for plus size women].  That's when I got the idea," Vasques says.

She searched some more, and eventually found a distributor that offers more options. In 2010, the businesswoman started selling the sexy lingerie at neighborhood fairs in Brasília, where she lives. "I bought lacy lingerie in various colors and gorgeous prints, and we realized that overweight women are not used to having these options. Many asked: 'Is that for me? You have that in my size?!'" she recalls.

Then, Vasques expanded her offerings to include underwear for daily use and other items. Two and a half years later, she opened her own store, with affordable products ranging in price from $19 to $56.

The products are not only fashionable, but they also come with specific characteristics for plus-size women. The bras, for instance, have wider, reinforced straps.

Vasques says that her store seeks to boost women’s self-esteem. "There are clients that look for a product that they can’t find. But there are clients that think that they can only wear lingerie when they lose weight. One of our goals is to show them that anyone can wear whatever they want and feel pretty."

It often takes time to convince clients to try on the lingerie, Vasques says. "Little by little they allow themselves to try the products."

Her future plan is to launch an online store, so that she can serve clients all over the country.


Dariene Rodrigues' Clothing Store

Being fashionable is the least of your worries when you can't even find clothes that suit your physical condition. This is the main reason physiotherapist Dariene Rodrigues decided to create Lado B Moda Inclusiva, a virtual store that makes clothes exclusively for people with physical disabilities.

When she was still working as a physiotherapist, Rodrigues felt the need for clothing items that offered her patients more flexibility

"I have been working with people with some kind of physical disability, such as wheelchair users, people with [prosthetics], and amputees, for 15 years. They always complained about their clothes. With the lack of options, they wore sweat suits and had to make their own adaptations."

In 2012, before she considered opening her own business -- one of the few of its kind in Brazil -- Rodrigues sketched a pair of pants that she thought would be useful for her patients. She looked for a designer to recreate the flexible pair of pants, which has a Velcro opening to facilitate catheterization procedures. It would be the first item in her line, Lado B Moda Inclusiva.

The pants pleased the patients, which got her thinking about other products. "We made Bermuda shorts and other items that cater to people with a range of disabilities," she says. Her store officially opened in 2013.

The items became increasingly tailored to the clients' needs.

"We made pants and bermuda shorts with elastic waistbands for people who wear diapers, besides the Velcro front and side openings, so that people can put the pants on and off as they lie in bed."

Rodrigues says that the main difficulty has been combining comfort with textiles technology. Many products, for instance, imitate jeans, but use better fabrics. "We try to ally functionality and comfort, in order to make the clients' lives easier."

The company has its headquarters in Sorocaba, São Paulo. Its products range in price from  $37 to $45. She hopes to expand her business to the whole country. The online store will be launched later this year, with micro-franchising options for entrepreneurs in other states.

"We will give preference to disabled entrepreneurs, who want to take the brand to other regions," she explains. "This will lower the cost of operation and encourage entrepreneurship among people that actually understand the preferences of our prospective clients." 

This story originally appeared on HuffPost Brazil. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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