Empowered Women Empower Women: Eduarda Abbondanza, ModaLisboa
In this edition of Love Happens’ Empowered Women Empower Women series, Janet Morais, founder and CEO of KOKET and Lh, poses a series of inspiration-inducing questions to Eduarda Abbondanza, President of the ModaLisboa Association, professor, and consultant. Be empowered!
Janet Morais: You are a woman with an extraordinary passion for fashion and everything it involves. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and empowering with us!
The tagline for KOKET, my home furnishing brand, is “love happens”. I am a firm believer that you cannot achieve any level of success without love. When did your love affair with fashion begin? And how did it make you feel?
Eduarda Abbondanza: When I finished high school, and in the Portuguese context at the time—the late 70s—, the country was very stagnant and there were no great opportunities to develop my studies. Initially, I thought about studying architecture, but the Faculty of Architecture in Lisbon was closed. I still made some inroads in the video area, but the conditions we had were not exciting at all. For personal reasons, I left for Milan in the beginning of the ’80s, where I lived for eight years. After 15 days in Milan, I knew that I wanted to study Fashion. It made me feel a huge emotion. For the first time in my life, I knew that this was the subject that would always interest me, forever.
Janet: We are living in a time where fashion content is available at the tip of your fingers; so much that we are never left with a longing for more. Tell us how you felt every morning walking into the kiosk in Milan and seeing 100’s of international publications filled with images from the greatest creators, something you did not have access to in Portugal.
Eduarda: I felt very moved. It made me realize that this was “my” subject. I started buying fashion magazines daily. Three months after arriving in Milan, I knew all the fashion stores, design objects, interior design—even the cork stoppers, all. My mother-in-law’s friends called me to find out where to go. I frequented museums, art galleries, the city, and its movement, watched a lot of television, and read a lot. I was very thirsty for information at all levels.
Janet: Only a decisive and determined woman would set out to create ModaLisboa in a country recognized for raw material and craftsmanship. Describe your thoughts as you drafted ModaLisboa’s mission statement, “to promote the development of Portuguese Fashion national and internationally.”
Eduarda: During the visits I made to Lisbon while in Milan, I realized a mini-movement in one part of the city—Bairro Alto. I became interested in my city again. When I returned, I was working in Porto, with the fashion industry, in an old structure, Portex, for two and a half years. I created my own clothing brand.
One day, out of nowhere, an invitation came up to develop a Fashion moment at the Lisbon festivities, by the hand of the then councilman of tourism of the City Council. When that invitation came, it was out of the international fashion calendars, and it was a Fashion event in the middle of a broader set of events. This made me think of how good it was to develop a Fashion event for Portugal from Lisbon. I agreed to hold this event with the counterpart of being able to develop a project, without the commitment to be accepted—just read and analyzed. They accepted, and that’s how ModaLisboa began.
It motivated me to think that it was a democratic act for the country to offer its citizens the same knowledge that other countries did. Not knowing it was impossible, I went there and just did it. I never thought that the impossibilities of doing anything had to do with being a woman. Now, looking back, maybe some of them were. I didn’t know that my place was supposed to be different.
Janet: Do you feel young women today have the necessary drive to change the way the fashion industry works in Portugal?
Eduarda: Yes, I do. It depends on the nature of people—motivation is not a generational feeling. New entrepreneurs, new generations, have greater horizons, more knowledge, and know-how to change what needs to be changed. Nowadays, we also see many women in top positions in our industry, something that didn’t happen in other generations.
Janet: You have taken ModaLisboa to incredible heights with an official fashion week, Sangue Novo, Check Point, FastTalks, Wonder Room, and Workstation. Check Point is the one that really catches my attention. Tell us more about it and do you have plans of going virtual?
Eduarda: Digital illiteracy has diminished with the pandemic: it is undeniable that now we all navigate all digital tools much better than we did a year ago. In addition, we also started looking at digital. Not as a second choice, but as a valid and legitimate vehicle for interaction. Check Point has always been about interaction: experts from the Fashion industry share their stories, talk, debate, and try to find solutions to challenges they all have in common. In this latest edition of ModaLisboa, almost all of these conversations were digital. The program was designed in a transversal way. The themes multiplied between sustainability and more intimate dialogues so that the audience never felt that they were watching a lesser content than face-to-face conferences. The format was a success.
Janet: I am an avid follower and consumer of anything “Made in Portugal”. Yet still, I find it difficult to find Portuguese fashion brands to buy, even while in Portugal. How would someone like myself living outside of Portugal find Portuguese fashion?
Eduarda: Nowadays, almost all of our designers have online stores, shipping worldwide. This is the most direct and quick way to buy Portuguese fashion. There are also several concept stores with online stores that have a great selection of designers, such as The Feeting Room or Les Filles. ModaLisboa has been organizing a seasonal pop-up store for its designers for several years, but this year, due to the constraints of the pandemic, we had to change our strategy. We created a special edition of the Wonder Room for Christmas—an extension of the model we made in the last season of Lisboa Fashion Week—and which I explain in the answer below.
Janet: Do you have any plans of turning Wonder Room into an e-commerce space?
Eduarda: In the latest ModaLisboa, we built a Wonder Room in two formats: physical and digital. The virtual Wonder Room, which we have recreated now (is online until December 24) is not exactly an e-commerce space, although it can be seen as a test for a future project. At this moment, it works as a showcase for products selected by ModaLisboa, which directs to each brand’s online store. It was designed in this way to generate traffic and purchase directly from our designers and partner brands. Every week, we have new drops of products, so that this display of Portuguese’s design excellence is always dynamic. You can see it here.
Janet: The fashion and furniture industry pre-COVID were unrealistic and filled with unsustainable expectations. It was impossible to maintain excellence in execution and designers were on the verge of creative burnout. The last couple of months for me were a time of reflection and resolution. What changes have you made in your organization and personally?
Eduarda: A pandemic is and will always be a period of transition. The epicenter of the digital revolution is happening now. Many fashion industries and businesses will disappear in this period of transition, just as many other things are being born.
It’s difficult to understand these changes without perspective, but a new way of functioning and managing is now seeing the light of day. We don’t go backward, even though we can get things from the past. Personal interactional—brick and mortar stores, assistance to fashion shows—is something that digital doesn’t quite solve, and, as soon as possible, will happen again, probably not in the same way. We can imagine that many actions that we get used to doing digitally will continue, because we realize its usefulness—meetings, for example, reducing unnecessary trips. This means that, from an ecological, sustainable, and resource point of view, there is an economy.
This period also made us resume contact with small things around us: the house, the pantry, the storage room, and this produced a relationship between each one of us with this saving of things that are useless. We realize that space at home is precious and that it can be used in other ways. We all found ourselves with books, records, clothes that we did not remember existed, and with which we re-established emotional ties. A large group of people will increasingly value a minimalist side of things and life, from the emotional side of what we keep.
Mutual assistance, collaboration, and empathy have increased—not wanting to generalize. We are not all sailing in the same boat, but all in the same ocean. Some shipwrecked, others crossed, and this created very large disparities. For my part, I am fully aware that when we manage to regain some normality in our existence, the world will be harmed by the clashes, and by this abrupt change that deepened these disparities.
Only with great capacity for collaboration, notion of collective, networking and assistance, will we be able to turn things around. Without being able to point out, I am aware of many new projects that are emerging in local networks that will later become global.
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Janet: In your words, what does Portuguese fashion say about Portugal?
Eduarda: That Portugal is a country of quality and excellence, of ethical, sustainable, and fair production. That Portugal is a country of creatives.
Janet: What do you want the world to know about Portuguese fashion?
Eduarda: That, although we don’t know how to communicate ourselves yet, we have a great resilience and a capacity to overcome difficulties: it’s in our DNA. This side, which was criticized for many years, is now an advantage over everyone. We have a capacity for multiple actions, we are versatile and adaptable. Our ability to excel is infinite: and this says a lot about our fashion creatives.
Janet: What Portuguese woman living or non, fully embodies Portuguese fashion?
Eduarda: The first name that came to mind is Joana Barrios. Joana has a deep knowledge of Fashion, has an instinctive aesthetic sense, doesn’t take herself too seriously, has fun when she dresses up and when she dresses down—and encourages other women to do so. This is essential. She is extremely eclectic, she recognizes magic and identity in the garments. She wears both Portuguese and international designers, she wears the newest drops and vintage, and she never bores us. This is what fashion and style should be.
Janet: What empowers you?
Eduarda: Ideas, projects, actions, always in a collective version: that empower me and grow not only me, but other people. The country’s advance. The well-being of the planet.
Janet: How do you empower other women?
Eduarda: Calling them to participate, developing their self-confidence, creating platforms and environments in which they feel free and safe, creating work methodologies in which error is not a problem, but a consequence of wanting to go further.
Janet: Who is Eduarda Abbondanza the Woman?
Eduarda: I’m a mother. Sometimes I have boyfriends, sometimes I don’t. I have friends. I am not accusatory, but I am tough, I am demanding: and as I am with myself, I imagine that I should be with others too. I have plans, travel projects. I need to live in an environment of harmony. I need fun, I need to laugh—if I don’t laugh, I get sick. I even make nonsense just to laugh, I laugh a lot at myself. At the same time, I need to be alone, it’s part of my nature. To find a balance in everything.
Janet: Who is Eduarda Abbondanza the President of ModaLisboa?
Eduarda: The same, but at the office. I need to laugh with my team, and I need quiet moments of reflection.
Janet: What can we expect at the next Lisboa fashion week?
Eduarda: A project designed for the time when it will occur, safely, extraordinary. I still can’t reveal any more details. It is being built.
Janet: How can we get tickets to the next fashion week?
Eduarda: ModaLisboa, as a face-to-face event, aims at guests and professional audiences, such as journalists, buyers, or industry experts. In this sense, the best way to attend a show is to receive an invitation from a designer, and the best way to have a designer invite you is to buy one item (or several!) and become a client. But we have been working, every season, so that ModaLisboa not only has a fraction of its event open to the entire public but also invests in immersive digital content—live stream of all shows, exclusive interviews, talks. We want anyone who cannot travel to Lisboa Fashion Week to have an equally rich experience through our digital channels—social media, website, and app.
Interview by Janet Morais