Maria Zélia Damasceno: a visionary of sustainability in footwear

2024-03-04 | By Brazilian Footwear


Maria Zélia Damasceno, CEO of Seringô, stands out in sustainable fashion, uniting the Amazon rainforest with the footwear industry. Partner of extractive communities, its mission is to transform latex into fashion products, empowering rubber tappers and breaking industry barriers. The 100% amazônica footwear brand brings regional brazilianness, values and sustainability to the group of associates of the Brazilian Footwear, export incentive program, carried out by the Brazilian Footwear Industries Association (Abicalçados) in partnership with the Brazilian Export and Investment Promotion Agency (ApexBrasil).

Seringô, based in Castanhal, Pará, bets on a new rubber cycle and on the dream of traditional peoples to generate income and keep the Amazon protected. In partnership with Cooperativa de Produção dos Ecoextrativistas da Amazônia (Coopereco), chaired by Maria Zélia and formed by rubber tappers and artisans who produce rubber in the state of Pará, especially in Marajó and the Santarém region, the brand has a latex product line, which aligns indigenous knowledge with technologies to translate Amazonian biodiversity into comfortable shoes with innovative and sustainable design. 

In addition to organic latex, Seringô incorporates natural materials such as acai seed and annatto. The technology not only creates biodegradable material, but also generates ethical income for 30 communities, empowering local workers as guardians of the forest. Maria Zélia leads innovations, committing to social responsibility, empowering families previously in vulnerable situations. Facing industry challenges, Maria Zélia defends sustainability and the importance of extractive natural rubber. For women in fashion and Business, Maria Zélia encourages boldness in the search for independence, with determination to conquer space in the world. Her leadership highlights the importance of sustainability and inclusion in fashion.

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in fashion and business?

The possibilities of using Amazon rubber for the production of sustainable crafts and footwear are fantastic because, in addition to generating a decent income for producers, it helps to preserve the forest. Today, with the need to maintain the Amazon and the forest, the activity becomes viable, but in the form of remuneration of environmental services for the rubber tappers, who harvest and produce rubber, and at the same time, are watching and caring for the forest.


 2. What do you consider inspirational leadership?

Inspiring leadership is being at the head of a layer of the Amazon population which still lives in the forest and tries to live from it. These are hardworking people who lack opportunities. Inspiring leadership is to enter a totally unassisted layer of society and provide conditions to rescue the identity of this population, turning dreams into reality.


 3. How do you approach inclusion and diversity within your company?

Our focus is to include the forgotten population providing opportunities and income. The consumption dream of a rubber tapper has always been to buy a house, even a modest one, in the nearest town so that his children could go to seek education and work. Today, with the internet and job opportunities in the community itself, many young people stay in their community and, today, many are already taking undergraduate distance learning courses, without having to go continuously to the city. 

Inspiring leadership is to enter a totally unassisted layer of society and provide conditions to rescue the identity of this population, turning dreams into reality."

4. What is the impact of technology and e-commerce in the footwear sector today?

The world is changing and technology and e-commerce are growing, year after year, especially after the pandemic. The footwear industry needs to keep up with technological developments in both production and online sales platforms. 


5. How do you see the intersection between fashion and sustainability, especially in the footwear sector?

The footwear sector needs to evolve a lot and make its contribution, using more sustainable products in its production lines. Natural rubber and especially extractive natural rubber can contribute a lot, as long as the big brands are willing to gradually make this transition.

6. Is there any advice you would like to give to women who are starting their careers in fashion and business?

Women are warriors and do everything with more affection. There is nothing better than women having their own space and not depending on their husbands. Go to the fight, find your spaces and be more independent. This attitude is essential to live better.


7. In your opinion, how does the Brazilian Footwear program contribute to gender equality in the Brazilian footwear sector?

The Brazilian Footwear program, by Abicalçados and APEX, has contributed significantly so that the Brazilian woman, who is an entrepreneur in the footwear area, may have visibility and take her products and brands to the whole world. In this way, women, upon knowing the work of these entrepreneurs, feel encouraged to have their own brands, to insert themselves and be part of the footwear production chain.

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