Brazilian Design for New Urban, Middle-Class World

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013


Countries across the global South are experiencing rapid urbanization as people move to cities for better economic opportunities — and this massive social change is creating new business opportunities. Those who recognize how fundamentally people’s lifestyles are changing will be those who will benefit from this big shift in populations.

Finding ways to live well in urban areas will be critical to determining whether this move repeats past urban failures — from the favelas of Brazil to the slums of India — or introduces a new way of living that is exciting and colorful. Design and designers will be critical to this change.

One young design company in Brazil, Sao Paulo-based furniture studio NUUN  (, is attempting to resolve a dilemma common across the rapidly urbanizing global South: How to create a design aesthetic that fits with the new way of living and being?

The company consists of designer and founder João Eulálio Kaarah and architects Renato Périgo and Carolina Sverner.

Périgo specializes in furniture and interior design, while Carolina Sverner worked with respected Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban (, who is well known for designing buildings and houses made from paper and for creating easy-to-build homes for people after a disaster has struck (

A collaboration among upcoming artists, designers and architects, NUUN tries to infuse its designs with a sense of “brazilianness”. Brazilianness is a modern aesthetic, made for modern lifestyles in the new urban landscape, that draws on aspects of Brazil’s culture and environment.

The young studio’s first collection of furniture offers simplicity. Called Eos, it tries to blend urban cosmopolitanism with raw nature. Brazil is known for its jam-packed urban cities as well as its vast expanse of Amazon rainforest. In practice, NUUN’s look is a mix of contrasts redolent of what used to be called brutalism: concrete mixed with glass, steel, wood and semi-precious gems. NUUN takes inspiration from NASA’s Earth Observation System (EOS): the collection vibes off of space satellites, antennae and the dry soil of the backwoods. NUUN says that “despite its Martian features, [the collection] is as Brazilian as it comes”. There is the modular Panorama sofa ( in five colors, capable of being re-shaped to fit a variety of living arrangements. A glass-topped coffee table with a concrete base and a side table with a carbon steel metallic structure to complement the sofa.

Elsewhere in the world of Brazilian design, footwear brand Grendene S.A. ( has become one of the world’s largest producers of footwear and made one of its founders a billionaire. And Grendene has boosted its international success by turning to another Brazilian success: supermodel Gisele Bündchen (giselebü

Grendene began in 1971 and owns various successful shoe brands, including Melissa (, Grendha, Ilhabela, Zaxy, Cartago, Ipanema, Pega Forte, Grendene Kids and Grendene Baby.

It has six industrial zones with 13 footwear factories and can produce 240 million pairs of shoes a year. It undertakes all areas of production— from making its own moulds for the shoes to creating PVC (polyvinyl chloride) ( – and handles its own distribution.

While Grendene is already a well-known shoe brand in Brazil, it wanted to expand its presence overseas to increase profits. Named after the two brothers who founded the company, Alexandre Grendene Bartelle and Pedro Grendene Bartelle, Grendene started working with supermodel Gisele Bündchen in 2002 to help her launch her own line of affordable flip-flops, iPanema ( The brightly colored sandals with elaborate patterns became an instant success.

But do celebrity endorsements really work? In the case of Bündchen and Grendene, the answer is yes. According to Forbes, 25 million pairs of the flip-flops and sandals are sold every year, accounting for 60 per cent of Grendene’s annual exports of about US $250 million.

Brazil was able to produce 864 million pairs of shoes in 2012, up 5.5 per cent from 2011.

Of these, 113 million pairs were exported to the United States, Argentina and France.

Brazil, like many other countries, has had to work out how it could compete with cheaper shoe imports from China. The strategy it chose was to target the growing number of middle-class people both in Brazil and elsewhere, as well as the high end of the market.

In 1979, Grendene created the Melissa brand, which has now become a coveted style leader. It collaborates with top design names such as Karl Lagerfeld and architect Zaha Hadid.

Making a partnership with Bündchen is part of the company’s strategy to reach higher-income buyers.

And it is working: Grendene increased its export revenue by 50 per cent in 2013.

Co-founder Alexandre Grendene Bartelle became a billionaire according to Forbes World’s Billionaires list and is worth US $1.4 billion. He owns 41 per cent of Grendene S.A. and close to 40 per cent of the Dell Anno brand.

This is a critical lesson for manufacturers in the global South. Grendene had achieved strong market dominance at home, and was already benefiting from growing wealth among Brazil’s middle classes. But it was the overseas market that had the potential to clinch even more profits for the company.

Bündchen’s high brand profile has enabled the company to compete head-to-head with the well-known Brazilian flip-flop brand, Havaianas (

Another modern design leader owned by Grendene, Dell Anno (, is a maker of modernist cabinets and furniture.

Dell Anno only use wood from renewable forest sources, to protect and preserve the Amazon and other native forests. Dell Anno tries to recycle as much as possible: up to 80 per cent of the water used in manufacturing is recycled, and byproducts from the production process such as a sawdust, wood, plastic and cardboard are also reused.

Dell Anno makes a full range of furniture for kitchens, bedrooms, closets, home theatres, home offices, service areas, restrooms and commercial environments. Dell Anno uses research and development to study trends and advise customers on the best options. The brand offers its staff training to help standardize customer service, and also has an excellent blog covering developments in modern design around the world (


1) The newest members of Forbes’ World’s Richest List From Brazil. Website:

2) Retail Design Institute: Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Retail Design Institute works with colleges and universities to develop retail design programs. Website:

3) Made in Brazil Blog: Features the latest on fashion, entertainment, tourism and all things about Brazil. Website:

4) About Brazil: The Sao Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) is the biggest event in Brazilian fashion. After those of Paris, Milan, New York and London, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week is the fifth largest fashion week event in the world. Website:

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