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Couro Ecológico was founded in 1997 by residents of the tiny community of Maguary located in the Tapajós National Forest in Brazil. The enterprise functions as an association owned by the workers and has grown to employ over 15 men and women in an area with extremely few employment and economic options.

CEN recognizes the potential and importance of Couro Ecológico and has sold a limited number of products over the past few years to generate additional sales for the worker-owner association. These efforts have been thwarted by a lack of a clearly defined product line and an ineffective process for retailers to communicate their preferences.

Our initial goals to identify a product line for the US market and develop a standardized system for identifying each model within the product line have been accomplished. CEN is now focusing on:

  • Finalizing a brochure and website for the US market for Couro Ecológico
  • Facilitating a limited number of orders from US-based retailers
  • Updating our online store to reflect these changes
  • Adding the availability of complementary products, such as sandals and another line of purses from the workshop Arimar Feitosa started when he left Couro Ecológico

Project History

Couro Ecológico was founded in 1997 by residents of the tiny community of Maguary located in the Tapajós National Forest in Brazil. It has now grown to employ over 15 workers — men and women — in an area with extremely few employment and economic options. The company provides vital income to these residents, making them less dependent on foreign and government aid. Couro Ecológico functions as an association owned by the workers. The member artisans do not earn wages, but instead share the proceeds from each item sold. Enterprises such as Couro Ecológico serve as successful models for other community members and neighboring communities to follow.

CEN began working with Arimar Feitosa, one of the association's founders and a key visionary, as part of our Amazon Prototype Project starting in early 2005. We recognized Arimar's vision and drive to be a unique asset for the community, and our goal was to support his work so that he could become an entrepreneurial role model for the entire region. During the prototype project, we primarily focused our efforts on advising him on US market dynamics, how to reach more customers through the Internet and on marketing efforts in general. In August 2008 we organized a visit by a group of MBA students from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to travel to the community of Maguary, where Couro Ecológico is located, to evaluate the association and provide feedback on how to improve its business. Beginning in September 2008, we also began mentoring Edileuza da Silva and Nei Feitosa, two intended participants in our cCLEAR project, and members of Couro Ecológico, with their efforts to reinvigorate the association and its leadership.

Problem

CEN has sold a limited number of Couro Ecológico products over the past few years in an effort to generate additional sales for the worker-owner association. We've sold products online and at events, in addition to approaching established retailers in the US and Australia, all in an attempt to increase sales volume and production. These efforts have been thwarted by a lack of a clearly defined product line and an ineffective process for retailers to communicate their preferences.

Although the association has made strides in recent years to improve the design of its products, the sheer range of different styles is bewildering — especially when it's not clear what models the association is still manufacturing. To further complicate matters, Couro Ecológico doesn't have a system in place to refer to specific models or colors. Buyers must feel confident that they will receive what they intend to order, or they will be very unlikely to reorder products in the future.

Project Goals

The goals of our immediate work with Couro Ecológico are to help the organization:

  • Identify a product line for the US market
  • Develop a standardized system for identifying each model within the product line

As of March 2011, this has largely been accomplished, so CEN will now focus on:

  • Finalizing a brochure and website for the US market for Couro Ecológico
  • Facilitating a limited number of orders from US-based retailers
  • Updating our online store to reflect these changes
  • Adding the availability of complementary products, such as sandals and another line of purses from the workshop Arimar Feitosa started when he left Couro Ecológico

Project History

Status

As of March 2011, we have accomplished our goals of strengthening product identity and the ability to fill orders. We are currently selling our inventory of purses through our online store, and as mentioned earlier, we're contacting retailers primarily in the Seattle and Bellingham, WA areas to carry the purses. We must walk a fine line between expanding markets without over-committing the factory to sales it might not be able to deliver in a timely fashion due to an unproven production capacity, logistics and other issues.

Future Plans

Once we have achieved the limited goals identified above, and have established a level of confidence and trust with the association, CEN hopes to expand the scope of our involvement through an in-country partner. Future objectives will likely include:

  • Creating a strong foundation for self-reliance by strengthening basic skills and habits of key members of Couro Ecológico
  • Building project participants' entrepreneurial, management and vocational skills
  • Improving quality control and production processes to stabilize production levels in Couro Ecológico
  • Increasing sales levels
  • Beginning the process of helping entrepreneurs in the region to overcome key external obstacles to building sustainable enterprises 
  • Strengthening the community where the project is located by providing viable economic alternatives to ecotourism and developing the participants to become change agents for the community

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Related articles

Couro Ecológico Entrepreneurship Saves Tradition
Arimar Feitosa, Couro Ecológico / Flona Tapajós Verde Cooperative

For more information

Couro Ecológico overview
CEN's online Couro Ecológico store
Couro Ecológico brochure (English) (596KB PDF) 
Couro Ecológico brochure (Portuguese) (604KB PDF) 
Couro Ecológico catalog (Portuguese) (90KB PDF)
Video: CEN and Couro Ecológico; Preserving a Way of Life in the Amazon