Summer dressing, when done right, should embody the carefree, toes-in-the-sand spirit of a sunny Saturday — think liberating silhouettes and vibrant colors and prints that match your mood after finishing a second glass of rosé. Frocks have to facilitate dancing and sleeves, if present, must be bold. Farm Rio, a Brazilian-based brand, knows how to do just that.
Launched in 1997 by Kátia Barros, an accountant with no formal design training, Farm Rio excels in creating playfully-patterned warm-weather wares that are primed for vacation. This is perhaps why when I asked Barros over the phone about the challenges she faced when starting a fashion label from scratch, she didn't seem to have many. "It was a success from day one," she says of her very first collection of colorful garments, which was sold at a small booth at a marketplace in Rio de Janeiro. "I felt like they wanted something that they didn't know they wanted because we didn't have it."
Despite working retail in college, Barros was so far removed from the world of fashion as an auditor; but maybe it was her outsider status that allowed her to see what the apparel market was lacking.
"I noticed that the fashion that we used to have here wasn't representing what Rio de Janeiro really is," Barros explains. So she, along with her friend Marcello Bastos, set out to start a label that would reflect the creative spirit of her hometown. Barros also enlisted the help of a few acquaintances who worked in the industry, but admits she was clueless about making the initial pieces. Shortly after, she went to back to school to study fashion design and has served as the company's creative director ever since.
Each collection, which is packed with more than 400 prints, gives a joyful nod to the eclectic culture, vivid colors and striking nature found in Brazil. With everything from banana to punchy polka dot prints, the brand has a special design team that strategically pairs each garment with the perfect pattern — apparently an Amazon rainforest-inspired palm print works better with a long sleeve wrap dress than on a jumpsuit with cut-outs.
The label is also heavy on traditional feminine details, like puff sleeves, lace trims and ruffles, as well as rainbow-hued crochet and samba-friendly silhouettes. In other words, it's aesthetic appears perfect for someone who has no bad days, like... ever. And it's this very happy aesthetic that made Farm Rio an immediate hit.
Once Farm Rio established a solid following among Ipanema beach-goers, it expanded to more Brazilian cities, like São Paulo. "Now we have 72 of our own shops and more than 1,000 sales points in Brazil," Barros notes, before adding that the goal is to become a global brand with stores all over the world.
Barros is confident in her ability to do so, granted the tiny two-man show that once consisted of her selling cheery skirts at a market has turned into a giant operation with a staff of 2,000 people, 80% of whom are women.
Farm Rio has been quietly expanding into North America for a few years now, but it made a big splash this spring with the launch of its U.S. e-commerce site in March and the opening of a brick-and-mortar store in New York this April. The decision to move stateside came from the success of the brand's ongoing partnership with Adidas and the enthusiastic feedback it received from its past two years in Anthropologie and its new wholesale partner Shopbop.
"Adidas was kind of a crazy idea that I had," says Barros, who approached the sportswear giant around six years ago about a collaboration. She was initially rejected until she took matters into her own hands. "We got some products from their collection, and we made them colorful and very vibrant like ours for a campaign in Rio. We also made printed surfboards, skateboards, bikes and roller skates to give it that Rio-like style, and we sent it to them. They fell in love."
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The two companies have been working together ever since. "The sales are very good," Barrios says. "It's very different, but people love it."
Similarly, she says sales are already off to a good start since landing in the U.S. and on Shopbop. The few-weeks-old store in New York, notes Barros, is also doing well so far. The shop's interior, designed in partnership with Brazilian designer Marcelo Rosenbaum, features a sand-lined wooden deck, a functioning in-store flower and plant shop and large fitting room pods decorated with colorful cotton crochet, stones and crystals.
In addition to selling the label's signature collections, the retail post offers a curated selection of jewelry, home accessories and skin-care products created by various Brazilian vendors to give American customers a real taste of Copacabana.
"When you have the experience, you understand the brand a lot better," Barros says of conceptualizing the store design and product assortment. "We love nature, we love colors, we love beaches, and we love our culture. We want people to understand the brand and understand why we do what we do."
Over the past 22 years, Farm Rio has earned the reputation as Brazil's most beloved lifestyle brand, and now it's ready to take the rest of the world on vacation.
"People from Brazil are so happy, and we have this amazing culture," Barros says. "I would love to show the world our culture through this brand. Maybe in five years we can have stores all over the world. That would be amazing. But we have to make it in the U.S. first."