MEET THE MAKER SERIES: MARTA
“I’ve always felt like I had to fight for my survival. It has not been an easy life.”
This week I sat down with one of our most treasured sewers, Marta. Usually, Marta’s persona is bubbly. She has a permanent smile, and her infectious energy is only enhanced by her captivating accent. Today, we both learnt that pain and hope are universal languages.
Can you tell us about your childhood in Portugal?
I started sewing when I was 11 years old. We grew up in the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar and he didn’t want people learning. Only wealthy people were allowed to go to high school. Growing up, we never had enough money for food. I was a very small child. I was asthmatic and had trouble breathing. I always felt like I had to fight for my survival.
What about your family?
My mum died when I was four years old. She had asked my Aunty to take care of us – my brothers, my sister, me, my dad and my grandfather. But my Aunty was always angry and shouting. She resented looking after us. I missed the warmth and hugs that my Mother gave me.
When did you leave home?
At age 17, I left to work in a shoe shop. In my 20s, I started to make costumes and danced in the Carnivale parades, like the parades you see in Brazil. I finally found my freedom from my Aunty and made lots of friends. I worked for an interior design company, making curtains and cushions. Then I worked for myself for ten years, sewing from home. It was very successful, I made suits and coats – people dress differently in Portugal, tailor-made clothing is not unusual.
Why did you move to Australia?
I came for a holiday to Sydney 17 years ago and fell in love with a Portuguese man, so I stayed and married him. I sold all my sewing machines in Portugal, I sold everything because I had faith that I would have a good life in Australia. I trusted him because he was very quiet and peaceful, but then I discovered he was a terrible man. After 3 years, I left him.
What happened after you left him?
I stayed in Sydney, then I met Antonio, my now husband. For me, I still find English very difficult and so, finding work here is difficult. It hasn’t been an easy life. But I have stayed for Antonio. The things you do for love!
Where were you working during this time?
I spent five months sewing for a very well-known, high-end fashion company but the company was very bad. The machines were old, the chairs were old dining chairs, the people were very rude to me.
I moved on to a bridal company, and they were so good to me. We did all the patterns and samples in Sydney and the dresses were made in France. But they have a very sad story. My boss became ill with cancer and she passed away. She was a very good designer, it was such a sad time for all of us.
After this, I worked at another bridal couture label. I bought my first industrial sewing machine and worked from home. But they never paid me in full and their patterns were always wrong, so it was very difficult to sew. The patterns have to be perfect, they should sew together like a neat puzzle.
I moved on to work for another Bridal couturier. I learnt so much there. She showed me many beautiful techniques by hand. I sewed tiny hand-rolled hems on metres and metres of tulle.
Have you returned to Portugal to visit your family?
Eleven years ago I lost the best person in my life to cancer, my younger brother. I still cry all the time as it feels like yesterday. I remember him so well. I flew back to visit him when he was sick and the doctor told me, “It’s the worst kind of cancer. We can’t save him.” I spent four weeks by his side. He was the only one who really understood me, as we were close in age. He passed away just before turning 50.
I’m so sorry Marta, I had no idea. I can empathise, as I lost my brother too. (We sit here quietly crying and holding hands for some time.)
Why did you move to the Gold Coast?
Antonio and I left Sydney, because he was offered a job transfer however, after we moved, there was no work for him. I was lucky to find work at The Love of. At the moment, my husband is living in Capalaba so I only see him on weekends and I miss him. We are very social people and we love that there is always something happening on the Gold Coast. We hope to move here together permanently – we can have a better life here.
What do you love about Antonio?
He has a good heart, and is very honest. I trust him 100%. And he is so much fun. He looks after me and is my best friend.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Handwork and shaping appliqués on the mannequin. I have very specific techniques for everything. I take my time, I never rush anything. I want it to be perfect. My background is all couture so I don’t even know the quick methods.
What do you love most about working at The Love of?
I love the environment here, the people are so nice. The first time I met my boss, she went into my heart. I’m lucky to work for kind people. The factory is perfect for me, it’s clean, it’s white, everything is in its place. These are the best conditions I’ve ever worked in. I am so happy I found this job.
ABOUT THE “MEET THE MAKERS” SERIES
“Who Made My Clothes?” is a question we have all been asking since the devastating Rana Plaza incident in 2013. We now know the dangers of industrial chemicals on the environment, and the severely unsafe working conditions behind the mainstream fashion system. It’s an arduous process to shift a billion people into realising the impact that the industrial revolution is having on the planet and our people, but we’ve shifted our thinking before and we can do it again.
Click here to meet our other makers, who pattern-make, cut and sew each garment right here in Burleigh, Queensland. Their stories are hilarious, ridiculous, beautiful, heart-felt, honest. We are asking them ALL the questions.
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To learn more about the heart-breaking reality of mass production, watch this video.