8 Sept 2015
Brazil's Furniture Makers Vow to Go Global with Bespoke Local Designs
Patented local designs and an increased use of sustainable materials are the two key weapons in the arsenal of the Brazilian furniture industry as it looks to go beyond its traditional markets and target buyers in Europe and Asia.
"In the coming years, Brazilian furniture manufacturers will exhibit at many international fairs including Shanghai," says Michel Otte, President of the Association of the Brazilian High Design Furniture Industry (ABIMAD). As the organiser and promoter of this year's ABIMAD Show, he is in a better position than most to know. Addressing the industry's ambitions, he says: "We are now differentiating our products in order to open up the overseas markets."
For much of the past seven years, the Brazilian furniture market has been growing more rapidly than the overall economy, notching up an impressive 6.5% per annum. Only a fraction of that, however, has been exported.
Explaining the industry's predicament, Otte said: "While Brazil is a major exporter of commodities, for several years our currency has been very strong. We ceased to be price competitive. Now we are focussing on patented Brazilian designs, while also increasing our use of sustainable raw materials in order to to make our products unique.
"We are also taking the first steps to develop furniture sales for the Chinese luxury market. We are counting on Brazilian design to give us an edge."
For Brazilian furniture manufacturers, their strength lies not only in their design capabilities, but also in the amazing natural raw materials they have access to. At present, some 51 producers have teamed together to jointly promote exports through the Brazilian Furniture Project, an initiative that targets the Americas, as well as parts of Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Butzke is one of the principal companies involved in the project and, last year, attended trade events in New York, Dubai and Milan. Commenting on its commitment to the initiative, Rubia Purin, the company's Export Manager, said: "We plan to internationalise our brand. To that end, we are actively seeking greater recognition in the global market, while also looking to develop our understanding of the international sector."
This year's event saw Butzke present its Mucuri collection of outdoor furniture, a range entirely fashioned in cumbaru, a native Brazilian dark brown hardwood. The collection was produced in conjunction with Zanini de Zanine, the Brazilian who was named Designer of the Year for 2015 by Maison & Objet Americas, an influential international design body.
Addressing the company's first tie-up with the designer, Purin said: "Born in Rio de Janeiro, the son of a famous Brazilian designer architect, Zanine also designs for a number of large international furniture brands, notably Tolix in France, Poltrona Frau and Cappellini in Italy and Espasso in the US. He has given us a very special design, with a very strong identity."
According to Purin, Butzke was the first company in Brazil to produce furniture certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). He says: "FSC accreditation is one of the pillars of our company, it is part of our DNA. Internationally, this certification has opened many doors for us and has been crucial for our entry into a number of countries."
A number of exhibitors, including Sao-Paulo-based Green House, are already involved in the Asian market, often as both exporters and importers. Leandro Correa, Commercial Director of Green House, believes that working closely with Chinese partners has proved a real boon to their business.
He says: "We started off in 2007 working primarily with one partner in in Ningbo in northeast China. They are a world leading manufacturer of patio umbrellas and part of the Treasure Garden group."
As a result of the tie-up, Green House became the exclusive dealers for the Treasure Garden range of patio umbrellas in South America. It has, however, since refined its relationship with the company.
Correa says: "This is not a low-cost product and it is the quality that is important. Our customers tend to be wealthy, so we don't normally see a great change in sales volume even when the Brazilian currency falls.
"In 2012, however, the exchange rate fell dramatically. Our response was to rely less on importing and so we set up our own furniture production facilities. We now have the largest aluminium furniture factory in South America, with a floor area of 34,000 square metres.
"As the economy stabilised, we returned to importing from our Chinese partners. Currently, we are both an import and export company."
Leandro sees Green House's partnership with Chinese manufacturers as central to its success, saying: "We have been developing our working relationship since 2007 – that is our key strength. We own a share of their factory and they, in turn, have bought a share of our business."
More resolutely Brazilian is Nova Prata-based P&C ArteMobili, with the company choosing to launch its Kahoy brand of wooden furniture (including bedroom suites and dining tables) at this year's event. Introducing the new range, Designer Josiane Laurindo said: "This is a rustic furniture range for an audience with sophisticated traditional tastes. Each piece has its own identity, each piece is unique. All are made in solid wood and all are finished by hand."
Despite its lack of a truly global presence, the Brazilian furniture industry already exports throughout South America. As a result, this year's ABIMAD event attracted buyers from Colombia, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and Uruguay, with Colombia and Uruguay being the most strongly represented.
Explaining why the show was a regular feature on his calendar, Felipe Peredo, a buyer for Bolivia's Tua Casa group, said: "This is the second time we have come here. We are on the lookout for furniture, carpets and all kinds of accessories. There are a lot of new furniture designs here this week. What impresses me most is the very high standard of the furniture manufactured in Brazil.
"Our customers are interested in many different styles of design – from Asiatic to Modern. One trend we are seeing now is that many of them want to combine and match classic and contemporary pieces."
Brazilian furniture, however, only formed part of the exhibition. The event also played host to a sizeable number of exhibitors from the worlds of fittings and accessories, while at least 20% of the floorspace was dedicated to rugs and carpets, wallpaper, textiles and framed artwork. This element of the show was dominated by products imported from around the world, rather than domestically produced items.
At one end of the hall, Sao Paulo's Vacheron do Brasil was showcasing its vast array of ceramics and glassware products, with the company also trading under the name China Shopping. The company has had a presence in Brazil since 1992 and operates as a Sao Paulo store, while sourcing 80% of its products from China. At the opposite end of the exhibition hall was the Brazilian Trade Centre, another Sao Paulo-based business and one that offered a very similar range of ceramics and glassware.
According to one industry veteran at the event, the majority of the household furnishings and fittings on show originated in Southeast Asia. He said: "We can't compete on price – that is the way the market is. While the design inspirations come from Classical Greece, Renaissance Italy, Fin de Siecle Paris, most of the products are actually made in China."
Overall, there was also a strong focus on outdoor products, including garden seating, plant holders and weather-resistant decorations. Household and garden accessories with similar themes were being promoted by several different exhibitors, notably giant antique-style wall clocks, blue-and-white dragon decorative vases and ceramic Buddha heads. Particularly popular this year were outdoor ceramic stools, often featuring an Asiatic design aesthetic.
Sao Paulo's Ribeiro e Pavani took a slightly different tack to many other exhibitors, displaying household items that went beyond the functional and bordering on the surreal. This saw its stand offering fully operational gramophone players, CD players, and chrome and glass jukeboxes, all in a 1950s style (with CD players or FM/AM radios concealed within); blue rugby balls, giant padlocks, and bundles of feathers in bell jars.
Explaining its eclectic approach, Francisco Ribeiro, a Buyer for the company, said: "We import from all over the world – India, Iran, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Europe. We have been operating in Brazil for 45 years and, while the market was once expanding rapidly, it seems to have slowed in recent years."
Despite any slowdown though, attending trade shows remains a clear priority for many Brazilian companies in the sector. Marco Candi, the Brand Director of Rojemac, a Sao Paulo-based maker and importer of homeware, said: "Our presence at fairs like this accounts for 20% of our annual sales. Although we are well-established in the market, our participation really boosts our image."
The 20th ABIMAD Furniture and Furnishing Show was held at the Expo Center Norte in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from 27-30 July 2015, and featured more than 100 exhibitors from the Brazilian designer furniture and imported furnishing industries.
John Haigh, Special Correspondent, Sao Paulo