Some brands are disruptive in their DNA. They pursue singularity in every detail, always searching for deeper meaning, and looking to translate dreams and passions into a lifestyle. Brands that have something to say and convey integrity regardless of where they are based or how large they are should be celebrated. UMA, designed by Raquel Davidowicz, from São Paulo, Brazil, is one of them.
With shops all over the country, in New York, US, and worldwide luxury e-commerce such as Farfetch, the brand created by the couple Raquel and Roberto Davidowicz became famous for its strong DNA: versatile, minimalist garments with an impeccable finish, long term durability and a constant dialogue with the arts and social causes.
After 8 years at Roberto's family business, in 1996 the couple decided to create a brand with their own signature, UMA. The name means "one", the female indefinite article in Portuguese -- invoking the brand's ethos of uniqueness. "I think clothes have to make people feel good about themselves," Raquel told us. "UMA was never about garments to keep up with trends or make everyone dress the same. On the contrary: I have clients who have 20-year-old UMA pieces".
UMA's store in Vila Madalena, an artsy neighborhood in São Paulo, Brazil. The brand keeps a close relationship with the art world, and many clients became close friends and collaborators.
Their first capsule collection sold in an art gallery -- and from then on the dialogue with the arts (one of Raquel's passions) would always be part of the brand's DNA, collaborating with the São Paulo Dance Company since 2008, for example, or with the Lygia Clark Cultural Association.
Accessories made in partnership with the Lygia Clark Cultural Association for the spring-summer 2013/2014 collection. They are based on Lygia's "Bichos" (Animals) series, first exhibited in 1965 [pictured on the right].
Doing Things First
"It's great to have this super durable outfit which has an extra nice fabric handle, that has a proper design -- it's not a dated design. I think it is a path that we traced, nowadays we see how people were far behind that, larger sizes in clothes for example... It has always been a very democratic brand. This has been a very personal matter of mine since the beginning of my work," she completes.
UMA has also been ahead of its time with the UMA Refeitório ("Cafeteria", in English), a shop and a restaurant with a large communal table. Around the same time, in the early 2000s, she noticed that the unisex cut of her pieces was also being bought by men -- a hint of the genderless collections we see today.
"Here's an interesting fact," she says, telling us how all of UMA's flies (front) and shirt's buttons are always on the male side. "It's a genderless brand, and it has always been. This thing of having a 'right' side to close (female and male) - comes from the times when [noble] women were dressed by people. In fact, no one else is dressed by anyone. It's such an old-fashioned thing that no one ever questioned. And from the beginning, we noticed that our consumers never questioned it. It’s one of the ways we express the brand’s contemporaneity".
Raquel Davidowicz's mood board: the UMA woman has a lot of personality. "She has an intense cultural life, an artistic side, a more elaborate psychological side,'' she explains.
Fabric Journey And Sustainable Approaches at UMA
The brand is known for its quality and sophisticated dialogue between shapes and fabrics, and we asked Raquel to tell us a bit more about her fabric journey throughout its 25 years of existence. "Initially, the focus was very large on technological fabrics. At that time, textile technology came in with easy-care fabrics, it was the polyester microfibers that were super innovative, mainly in the Brazilian market. As time went on, I persisted on high tech polyamides, usually seen a lot in sportswear, and I was using them in tailoring," she says, mentioning nylon that some people call taffeta, but it's actually a polyamide with a more interesting finish.
On a second moment, the focus shifted from synthetic fibers to artificial ones. "Nowadays demand and acceptance are very high for viscose fibers, both Lyocell, Tencel, and the high twist viscose, sometimes crepon" she explains. "Tailoring in acetate too… But there are still difficulties here [in Brazil] to use this [type of fabric] because of the fiber shrinkage".
What about the current moment of UMA's fabric journey? "We are going now to a phase back to natural fabrics and sustainable fabrics. It's funny, right?" says Raquel, mentioning recycled PET. "That's nothing more than polyester, there's not much of questioning how far this is not a return to the past. It has high durability, and it came back with a sustainable appeal. The new flag is sustainability, the preservation of the planet, initiatives such as denim without water waste, organic cotton -- which was not as soft at first, expensive, and now it’s being made with a better handle, at better costs," she concludes, because of the technological development of fibers and processes.
Constant research for new materials -- and innovative uses for them. Above, the perfectionist fashion designer gives the finishing touches. "I always enjoy working with comfortable and fluid fabrics that have a pleasant handle," she says.
Another thing Raquel finds that weighs a lot is the price. "Sustainability is still a cost factor for fashion brands. I'm doing research on a lot of materials-- even with you at Digifair -- but in Brazil, we still have products that are inaccessible. Now we are going through a very different moment, a readaptation, focusing on research, sourcing new materials. And UMA has this value". A fashion brand not only committed to innovation but reflection as well.
Raquel thinks people should talk more about a brand's social responsibility, promoting the work and the causes they believe in, building genuine long-lasting relationships. Issues like immigration have also inspired the fashion designer. "With the global refugee crisis, we reached out to an NGO called Abraço Cultural [Cultural Hug, in English], collaborating with them on a product and promoting local markets at our Vila Madalena shop, where the refugees from this NGO could sell typical products from their country. We also had a fashion show at the Immigration Museum, which few people know about and it's a wonderful place here in São Paulo. I think these social causes are important," Raquel completes.
UMA's fashion show at the Immigration Museum, in 2018, displaying versatile pieces that could be worn in several ways. [Insert image] The show also had a T-shirt with the writing "Origin" in collaboration with Abraço Cultural (Cultural Hug, in English) NGO, which qualifies immigrants to be Foreign Language teachers.
Currently, the brand has an on-going project with an association that supports women and children, APAF. The NGO qualifies women through technical courses, such as sewing, for better work opportunities while giving extra school care for their children. There, women are making eco-bags from UMA's textile waste. "It's not just about giving, you can also help people by enabling their professional qualifications. I think the important thing is that you're willing to make a difference".
The genuine care and integrity of UMA's collaborations are not a marketing move but a deep responsibility (an action) towards collective well-being. "I think it's our responsibility as a brand. If we have an expression within the market, we have the duty to help to make it better in some way," she concludes.
Timeless And Seasonless Collections
UMA's latest collection is called Taurus, the second one after her decision of ending seasonal collections. Raquel explains why: "We have a store in New York, we have a store here [in Brazil], we sell online around the world. It's been a thought of ours for a long time. We now make one collection per semester and each semester this collection has a name, has a meaning. The first was Genesis because it was a rebirth of a new work proposal".
Models Michelli Provensi and Bruna Erhardt show the Taurus collection, an ode to the fashion designer's star sign and the strength symbology behind it.
The fashion designer thinks fashion should no longer be defined by seasons imposed by the market. "It is a way for us to globalize a collection," she explains. Taurus, the second collection to follow this new concept, really has to do with the astrological meaning. “I am a Taurus, I know that we are very persistent, very tough. We decided to call it Taurus to give this strength and show that we are maintaining this persistence [towards a new concept]. In October we are about to launch another collection called Eclipse. We are giving a sequence of names that we feel have to do with the process," she says, leaving us curious about the newest seasonless collection.
Pioneer, as always. Raquel Davidowicz is disrupting the way Brazilian fashion is made by not settling for the market's impositions, inspiring younger and older generations of fashion designers to embrace change.
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All images courtesy of UMA by Raquel Davidowicz.