• Be Brasil
  • Creative Industries

Naturally-Colored Cotton from Brazil Wins Over the World

During Brazil’s colonization under the Portuguese, the northeastern state of Paraíba was the country’s biggest cotton producer. However, that 18th century prosperity failed to carry over into the 20th century.

During the 1980s, local production fell in both quality and quantity, and the region began to import cotton rather than sell it. Many farmers decided to abandon cotton altogether and plant other crops. Now, though, Paraíba has become synonymous to an organic, sustainable chain of production for the world’s finest naturally-colored cotton. And all of that is thanks to intense research conducted by state-run institutions and a businesswoman named Francisca Vieira.

At the turn of the 21st century, Vieira was the owner of a typical clothing factory. When Chinese products flooded the Brazilian market, she was faced with a dilemma: either go out of business, or transform her company. Vieira decided on the latter, which gave rise to Natural Cotton Color (NCC), a company entirely based on local products and employing only local labor. Her production chain is located 100 percent in the state of Paraíba, and her suppliers are small families who run cotton farms. NCC's chain of production directly employs over 800 people. 

NCC uses an innovative type of cotton, which is organic and naturally occurs in different shades of brown. This cotton was developed by the state-owned Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa). “A naturally colored cotton is not a novelty in itself,” says Vieira, “but these fibers were very thin and short, and therefore couldn’t be used to manufacture clothes. After 10 years of research, Embrapa developed a fiber long enough to be used by us.”

This new fiber doesn’t require the addition of chemicals. This cuts water consumption by 87 percent, since there are no toxic products to wash off. It also means that water used to manufacture a shirt can also be reused in the factory – something that can’t occur if the water is filled with chemicals.

The company has a line of over 1,000 products that range from children’s clothes to shoe lines, and also includes handbags and accessories. Every single product is designed and handmade by a local craftsman. The average price for a t-shirt is $10, and a dress costs around $50.

In the thirteen years since starting NCC, Vieira has had remarkable success. NCC already exports to ten countries, and was also the first Brazilian company ever invited to the Maison d’Exceptions, one of the world’s most exclusive events for craftsmanship. In September, Vieira took NCC to Paris once again as a part of the Biennale Émergences Métiers d’Arts et Design. 

NCC is now the supplier of a French luxury company (Vieira has signed a non-disclosure agreement with the brand), and it is in negotiations to have its products sold at Whole Foods, an American chain known for its emphasis on sustainable and organic products.

But NCC’s sustainability values are not limited to the environment. The company’s suppliers are all family-run businesses, and Vieira pays 10 Brazilian Reals (roughly $3) for each kilo of raw cotton. This is twice as much as other companies pay – and the highest rate found in Brazil. “There is no reason to do it otherwise. A good business is when I make money, just like every business partner I have,” explains Vieira. “In my business chain, each link depends on the other to survive.”