“Welcome to Salamansa! » After a twenty-minute drive from Mindelo, the country’s second city, Debora Roberto’s car stops in the middle of this small village, dressed in colorful houses. An endless beach of fine sand borders the houses of this fishing community. “Come over there, we’ll show you our workshop. In 2019, Debora Roberto and Helena Moscoso launched the Simili project. An initiative that aims to recover waste on the beaches to transform them into fashion items.
Plastic is a plague for Cape Verde, whose coasts are littered with fishing nets, bottles, packaging and rubbish of all kinds. The small archipelago is paradoxically not the main cause of this pollution. Located more than 600 kilometers from the Senegalese coast, the 10 islands of Cape Verde are subject to the prevailing marine currents, such as the North Atlantic gyre or the Canary current, which relentlessly bring waste from South Africa. West, Asia, Europe and America. The situation on this site reflects the state of health of our oceans.
“We wanted to take concrete action against this pollution,” says Helena Moscoso, co-founder of Simili, who left Portugal in 2013 to s’installer definitely in Mindelo. “In Cape Verde, all waste is systematically burned since there is no treatment or recycling solution,” she continues, walking towards the small workshop.
A 100% local production chain
After walking along the municipal football field, the two women enter a small red building. In the basement, a pile of neon green, orange and blue fishing nets sits in the middle of the room. “Bom dia tud’drett?” (“Hello, are you all right?”) says Debora Roberto to the two seamstresses present on site, Flavia and Jocelene. The creation of Simili enabled the two women, originally from Salamansa, to benefit from seamstress training and land a job in the workshop. “There are not many women who have a job and who earn money in Salamansa, underlines Flavia David, in charge of the workshop; I too, before working here, I stayed at home to take care of the children and my husband. »
Burkina Faso – Trend: fantastic plastic!
On one of the workshop tables, small wallets and clutches are superimposed. The bright colors of the fishing nets are easily recognizable, and Simili’s logo, a small fish, is stitched onto the fabric. Debora Roberto, co-founder of the brand, sports a tote bag with, again, recycled nylon wrapped in scraps of denim fabric. Three looms and a few sewing machines are used to create these pieces. The nylon entangled in the fishing nets is first untangled by hand, before reusing these plastic threads and creating patterns for bags or pouches. “We regularly collaborate with local creators for our products, reveals the co-founder, we try to bring this ecosystem to life by reusing waste that we find on our beaches and by promoting local know-how”, continues the one who has always lived in Mindelo.
This city of 72,000 inhabitants is the cultural capital of the country. A true international crossroads, the city is home to influences from all over the world, which give it a unique cultural identity. Whether for music or fashion, Mindelo has always enjoyed this reputation. However, Helena Moscoso and Debora Roberto have chosen to set up their workshop in Salamansa, a “forgotten and despised” village in the words of the famous singer Cesária Évora, a native of Mindelo. “It’s an underdeveloped community compared to Mindelo, there is little work, confirms Debora, we try to offer an alternative to some women. We also want to do awareness work by getting fishermen to collaborate. Since their installation, the national media are more interested in this small community. The Cape Verdean Prime Minister, Ulisses Correia e Silva even went there to discover the workshop and the company. “The inhabitants told us that it was the first time that a prime minister moved to Salamansa, it is a source of pride”, slips Helena Moscoso.
Cap-Vert : à Mindelo, sur les pas de Cesária Évora
Simili is developing slowly. With three salaried seamstresses, the production is limited but not the ambitions. “It’s still a prototype, but I’ve been wearing our latest creation for a few days, sandals that we made with nylon from fishing nets and other recycled materials,” reveals Debora, pointing to this new piece. . “We also want to create decorative furniture, such as lampshades or chairs,” she continues.
Simili’s products are marketed in Mindelo, at the tourism and solidarity economy center and in a few other shops in the city, between 10 and 50 euros. These prices allow the young brand to target tourists looking for ethical souvenirs, but also certain middle-class Cape Verdeans.
A raw material at hand
To obtain the raw material, nylon from abandoned fishing nets, the two entrepreneurs only have to travel a few kilometers from Salamansa to get to Norte Baia beach. It is one of the most polluted areas of the island of São Vicente. “We regularly participate in clean-up campaigns organized by the Cape Verdean NGO Biosfera to collect waste on this beach. Even with a group of 15 people, it’s sometimes impossible to pick everything up because the beach is so covered with rubbish,” says Helena.
“We find fishing nets of all sizes and all colors for our creations, but it’s sad. We know that a few days after our visit we will find the same amount of waste on this beach,” adds Debora Roberto. This trend should even increase since, according to its latest report, the OECD estimates that the amount of plastic dumped each year into the oceans should triple by 2040 to reach 29 million tonnes per year. “We really have to change our habits, advocates Debora, tourism is developing everywhere in Cape Verde and we still do not have the means to manage waste. We have to slow down, question our consumption and, why not, return to a more sober way of life, as before, where there weren’t all these supermarkets and all ce plastic. »