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Sitting down with Charlotte and Maria - Founders of From Belo

Feeding Goodness Into the World.

Never has a motto resonated truer. Created in 2018 by two best friends (Charlotte and Maria), From Belo creates beautiful and versatile bags from recycled seatbelts that were once destined for landfill - a perfect example of circular economy. Four of these bags have been nominated for awards, with one of them winning Best Green Bag of 2019!

And to make things even greater, every bag sold donates meals to the homeless of Belo in Brazil, through their partner charity Casa de Maria - helping break the cycle of poverty. 
It's truly an inspiring story of spreading positivity and goodness into the world, and showing us that we have the power to help change lives with every purchase we make. 

We sat down with Charlotte Bingham - Wallis and Maria Costa, the founders of From Belo, to find out all about the story behind the brand and what lays ahead for the future!

Maria and Charlotte

1) What inspired you to set-up From Belo?
We met when we were 16 years old when Maria chose to come to the UK to study English for a year to satisfy her love of Hogwarts and Harry Potter. We met at my school and became the best of friends bonding over our love of art and fashion (especially handbags!). We never imagined that over 10 years later, we would be running an award-winning accessories brand together.
In 2016, we both worked with some of the most impoverished communities in South America which gave us the motivation to use our friendship of over 10 years and passion for handbags as a recipe to help these communities break the circle of poverty. We decided to create an accessory that not only was kind to the planet and provided work to incredible artisans but also, with its sales donated food to the most vulnerable.

2) Take us through the sustainability and ethical side of your brand. What makes you different?
Kindness is in every stitch of our accessories - from using repurposed materials to minimising our negative impact on the environment to practising fair trade and giving back to the community of our artisans.
Have you ever stopped and thought where things come from? That was the most mind-blowing thing we went through when creating From Belo. On our quest to search for the perfect materials, we found out how the supply chain and the process of manufacturing in the fashion industry are polluting and needs a tremendous amount of energy, water and also how these pollutants have such devastating effects in impoverished communities as well as the nature around the world.  We felt empowered and motivated to turn From Belo into a company that could help change the status quo of the fashion industry! And for that, there was no other option than using materials that already existed, that were destined for a life in landfill and giving them a second life.

The challenge with upcycling and recycling stimulates our imagination and creativity. And let me tell you something, one of the most rewarding things in our company is to see all these materials that others consider rubbish and repurpose them into something beautiful and useful once again. So far, we have saved from landfill 2575 metres of seat belts, 4127 plastic bottles and 575 kg of fabric.

We don’t believe in just offering jobs we believe in building a community. We have developed such a special bond with our team, which goes beyond a professional relationship; we became a family that supports and works together to create life-changing accessories that re-invests back into our community of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. We partnered with the incredible charity Casa de Maria who literates, feeds and provides a safe place to wash to those who are homeless and in need. Every From Belo accessory is a powerful purchase that donates meals via this incredible charity which had previously supported some of our team during their most vulnerable times when they didn’t have the opportunity to work. To date, we are so thankful for the powerful purchases that have been made and allowed us to have donated 2578 meals. This is just the beginning we aim to double this in the next year. 

                         
1st photo: Dona Nilza (Casa de Maria founder), Maria and Charlotte, Cida (Casa de Maria volunteer) / 2nd photo: Dona Nilza with the Nilza Tote / 3rd photo: Casa de Maria volunteers

3) You have an amazing story, we love your ethos of “Feeding Goodness into the World” as it focuses on positivity and helping others. Obviously you are already doing so much good, especially in Belo. What do you view as the next steps for your brand?
Thank you, it truly warms our heart for you to say this about our brand! We are so excited about the future. We have many plans, but one of our big first steps would be to help Dona Nilza, the Founder of our partner charity Casa de Maria. She runs the charity solely on donations with no government support. She started the charity by serving food from her kitchen, and now, she runs two centres for vulnerable adults and a day care for vulnerable children. Those places provide a safe space for them to eat, cleanse and also allows them to learn to read and write; it is incredible what she has achieved! Her dream is to be able to develop further and provide bedrooms as stepping stones from sleeping on the street while they search for work and a better life. We would love to be able to help support her dream. We believe everyone deserves opportunities to make their life better. 

4) Four of your bags have been nominated for awards, with the Leka Tote winning The Best Green Bag of 2019. That’s so exciting! How did you feel when you found out about the nominations, and of course when you won?
Being finalists for 4 awards at Handbag Design Awards, New York is an absolute honour for our team and us. It gives not only ourselves but our artisans the recognition of all the hard work we are putting into making beautiful products and into empowering the community of Belo Horizonte in Brazil. It keeps us all even more motivated to carry on our path of creating positive impact as we grow.

Winning The Best Green Handbag 2019 with our Leka Tote was insane! We were both shaking with excitement and shock when it happened. We had lots of celebrations in New York but also with our team! This award helped put From Belo on the map and has lead to so many exciting developments since, including being part of the incredible Lilly and Main (Thanks for having us ladies!)

  

5) What we also love about From Belo is that you have been friends for so long! How do you find working with your best friend? Any advice you can give friends that are looking to set-up a business together?
We laugh and joke that we are like a married couple sometimes. I think we see and chat to each other more than anyone else. To be honest, I could not imagine doing this with anyone else; being best friends enhances our relationship. We understand each other and what each other needs. Creating a business is a life-changing rollercoaster of emotions, it’s not easy but having someone you 100% trust by your side, that you can problem-solve with and of course, have a laugh with makes that ride so much smoother and a lot of fun.

 I guess our most significant advice is communication, honesty and kindness are vital – you aren’t going to agree on everything all the time, so you have to be able to discuss openly every aspect of the business. If you can’t agree, get each of you to pitch their idea and if that doesn’t work, strike a deal with each other, try things out , A/B test – there are so many options to make it work for both of you! I think the other bit of advice would be to make sure you still make time for the fun things as well, the business can feel like a never-ending ride, so you need to make sure you both have time for your friendship outside the business too.

6) Who would you say are your biggest inspirations? People or businesses you look up to?
We get inspired by the people around us, our fusion of cultures and, of course, trash. Nothing excites us more than rubbish. One brand we look up to is Freitag. They began upcycling over a decade ago, proving that rethinking waste can be successful and that the linear business model needs to be reviewed, ripped down and replaced with circular model, which not only makes more economic sense – it makes environmental sense.
Key figures that have inspired us are leaders in sustainability: Ellen McCarthur is a huge inspiration in terms of re-thinking business and how collaboration is essential to help create a better path for fashion. Other leaders such as Livia Firth, Claire Press and Mary Fellows who are helping enlighten the masses on sustainability, they are creating the powerful conversations and challenging the status quo of the fashion industry to do better. We aspire that our conversations will sit beside theirs - we want to be part of this transition!

Char: My father is also a massive inspiration to me. He has taught me how you can create a successful business, that is kind and creates opportunities for people. Next year is his 40th year of running a small agricultural company that has the most beautiful atmosphere when you walk in the door; the team are like a family – which is what we both aim to create with From Belo.

Maria: My role models are my parents. My dad came from an impoverished family of 12 children. He had to work from the age of 5, polishing shoes in the streets. And even though all odds were against him, he succeeded in life. He taught me at a very young age that anything is possible - but you need to work hard and believe in yourself.
Anyone who knows my mom knows she's one of the most generous people in the world. My mother is always happy to lend a hand or help someone out if she can. My passion for helping others and using my experiences to better the world is completely inspired by her. 
My parents are my pillars of strength, my guide and give me the courage to battle all obstacles in life. 

                                        

7) We are strong believers that inspiration and imagination comes from reading. And with imagination comes openness and acceptance. So we have one last question we like to ask everybody: Any favourite book(s) to recommend
Reading is one of the most important things that you can do. It inspire us, educate us and help us lead more intuitive lives.
Char: My personal favourites are books about real life stories and adventures, I believe you can learn so much from other people’s journeys that can help inspire your own. One of my favourite books is a trilogy by Jason Lewis called the “Seed Beneath” – it’s all about the first man who circumnavigated the world by man power. Another book which I am reading at the moment in the light of Black Lives Matter is “Me and My White Privilege” by Layla Saad – I am still at the beginning but it has been a book that has taken me on a journey of reflective practice, which I always think is a great learning experience. 
Maria: I recently joined a book club and I am loving it! My favourite books at the moment are "All the light we cannot see" by Anthony Doerr - it is one of the most profound books I have ever read - and "Prisoners of Geography" by Tim Mashall - it blew my mind to see how geography and ideology collide.

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