In 2010, newcomers to Manteigas, Isabel Costa and João Tomás were faced with an alarming scenario in terms of unemployment and investment attraction affecting the area. In order to help the community, they identified projects and products that, with the right investment, could boost the local economy. One of those that would end up was the Burel Factory, which sought to explore the potential of burel and its different uses. Since 2010, the brand has grown visibly: after architecture and interior projects (used for the production of panels, coatings and as an acoustic solution) and the decorative area (used in the manufacture of blankets, cushions and household items), it follows so far the fashion industry.
When, in 2010, she decided to launch Burel Factory, in the former Wool Factory Império, and recover one of her star products, burel, Isabel Costa reveals that a fashion collection was never part of her plans for this project . As he explains to SAPO Lifestyle, this was something that happened gradually as Burel Factory grew and expanded its horizons. “When we started the project, we went to a lot of schools and designers from different sectors, fashion and industry, where we said, ‘Take pieces and paint them yourself,’ and a lot of things were designed in the field of accessories,” says head of the brand and founder for the first years of the brand’s life. “Last year, with the need to clarify concepts and recover the other factory that went bankrupt [A Transformadora – Fábrica do Pisão Novo, Lda]who does the finishing and painting [de tecidos de lã cardada]we had to have more volume, that is, in the finishing of fabrics, and to go to exhibitions.”
And it was based on this need that the brand decided to risk a new project and take its first steps in the world of fashion using burel: a characteristic fabric from Serra da Estrela made with wool from Bordaleira sheep, one of the 19 breeds that exist in Portuguese territory from the textile industry. With this, Burel Factory wants to be seen as a brand capable of appreciating, preserving and modernizing the best of its territory and showing it to the world. “We, as industrialists, have an obligation and a responsibility to use and promote them.”
Wooclopedia: a tribute to the mountains and the factory
On the first day they entered the Burel factory, Filipa Homem and Mafalda Fialho’s eyes lit up when they saw the more than 80 shades of burel yarn on display throughout the former Lanifícios Império factory. “We came across the factory’s archive, which is a wool encyclopedia,” says Philippa of the collection, which has been named Woolclopedia as a way of honoring the factory itself and its relationship with wool.
From that moment, it was clear to this creative director and fashion designer that the first Burel Factory fashion line had to pay homage to the multiplicity of tones that existed in this industrial space, choosing the plaid as one of the central motifs of this collection. “When we went to the factory, we started throwing some patterns. Then we realized it was the classic 1:1 checkerboard, which was already used on the pastor’s cover, but it was very small squares. Filipa and I got to the computer and started playing with scales,” says Mafalda of the design process, who also sought out other wool patterns from the brand’s archive.
Within six months, they had the Woolclopedia collection – consisting of 25 pieces of clothing numbered from XXS to XXL and a wide range of accessories – almost ready, which they decided to split into two parts: the first release focused on pieces inspired by Serra da Estrela color palette, where orange, off-white and green stand out, while the latter pays homage to the vibrant tones found in the factory, such as hot pink, yellow and petrol blue.
For the creative duo, one of the big challenges of this collection was to understand how they could work with and reduce the letter of Burel 800, known for its density and insulating and waterproofing properties, to create a thinner, more comfortable and easier to use. pieces for everyday use and which you can now buy at number 17, Rua Serpa Pinto, in the heart of Lisbon.
Hooded jackets, dresses, culottes, mini skirts and coats are some of the clothes that make up this genderless collection that from day one has tried to stand out for its freshness and modernity. “We didn’t want to make a collection other than what was expected of burel,” explains the creative director who wanted to move away from the traditional shepherd’s capes, one of burel’s icons, to create something that could appeal to the different generations that visit the store, regardless of personal style. “We made something that people can use and we were able to show that the product is easy to use for everyone, for all genders and for all ages.”
Although Woolclopedia launched this month, the truth is that the design duo already has news. The brand’s next two collections will be launched throughout the year and aim to be used in addition to what is already available.
A sustainable fashion collection, limited and consciously produced
Aware of the impact that textiles have on the environment, Burel Factory wanted to launch a range of clothing that was made in a conscious and ecological way. Unlike the big brands, Woolclopedia fits its concept slow fashion since it is a limited collection, consisting of very small units, made with natural fibers, with a less polluting dyeing process and which concentrates all its production in Portugal.
“At Burel, we try to use only the Bordaleira breed, but sometimes some shepherds and farmers add another breed to the herd, but in the felting process, you can immediately see if it is Bordal or Merino. You can feel it anyway, but it’s softer, it’s softer. For some pieces of 800 grams it is important that [o tecido] to be rougher and denser’, as is the case with the shoes and bags that make up the accessories range, as it gives shape and greater durability to the products.
The timelessness of his designs and the quality of the raw material used – 100% embroidery sheep wool along with other fabrics – allow these clothes and accessories to stand the test of time and be passed down from generation to generation. Or maybe this is the desire of the brand that reveals it, thanks to its philosophy zero waste, found a way to reduce her textile waste: all unsold pieces are returned to the factory to get a second life. “We have the whole recycling process: we have sewing machines, which turn the wool into fiber again, which goes back to the card and becomes thread again. We have burel and other fabrics that are 100% recycled internally and this process also guarantees that we have achieved a balance here,” explained Isabel Costa during the presentation.
A curious fact relates to the popularity of burel that, with the exception of two historical moments, it was not always considered by manufacturers as a fabric premium and prestige. The first was with Queen Santa Isabel, responsible for popularizing black funeral shrouds, and the other was during wartime, a time when military uniforms and overcoats were made in burel. “Furthermore, it was a fabric made for the work clothes of farmers, shepherds, folkloric randos. It was something the ancients valued, but factories didn’t value as a fashion product,” says the brand’s founder about burel compared to so-called fine fabrics.
But over the years his situation changed. And if 12 years ago it was considered a fabric on the verge of extinction, today there are more and more companies that appreciate burel and know how to work with it in an innovative way. Something made possible thanks to the transfer of knowledge from the craftsmen of the Burel factory, who dedicated a large part of their lives to this art, to the younger generations. Currently, the factory has a team of 40 people, including retired employees who are responsible for training most of the new apprentices who enter there, a process that, depending on the operation to be performed, can take a few years.
“Right now, there are already a lot of studios and a lot of people using it, so I don’t think it’s in danger of disappearing in the next decade, quite the opposite,” he concludes.