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Brazilian style: South American fashion on the world stage

In an ever-expanding fashion world, Brazil has a growing international profile, says Rachel Shields

They gave us samba, quality football and extreme bikini waxing. Now, the Brazilians are showing the world that there is more to South American style than Havaianas flip-flops and barely-there swimsuits.

Emma Elwick, market editor of Vogue magazine, said yesterday that Brazilian design and designers are spearheading a new look that is increasingly taking over in Europe and the US. "The fashion world is getting bigger – everyone is interested in Brazil, and Russia and India. The new markets are very open to innovative ideas, which makes them exciting," she said.

According to AT Kearney's Global Retail Development Index, published in June, the Brazilian clothing market is worth £18.9bn, and is growing at a rate of 7 per cent a year. With 60 per cent of the population under the age of 29, Brazil's shoppers are young and vibrant – qualities that are reflected in the designs coming out of the studios of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

UK consumers are becoming increasingly keen to embrace the country's designers, as leading names such as Daniella Helayel move away from the traditionally flamboyant Latin American look. "I'm a Brazilian person, but I don't consider myself to be a Brazilian designer," said Ms Helayel, who founded the label Issa in 2001.

"I try to study all different cultures and cater for different tastes. However, I can't think about winter; summer is my focus, and my designs are brightly coloured – Brazil is all about bright colours."

Hollywood stars Keira Knightley, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendez are all fans of Issa's striking dresses. Indeed this Brazilian designer has become so mainstream that she has even been adopted by the Sloanes – Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, favours Issa dresses.

Another boost for the nation's fashion industry is the growing number of labels that are spearheading the vogue for ethical and sustainable fashion.

The Brazilian label Melissa has made eco-footwear famous, selling more than 25 million pairs of plastic shoes around the world. High-profile collaborations with the British designer Vivienne Westwood and the architect Zaha Hadid have helped to bring the brand to the attention of the British consumer. Hadid's much-anticipated limited edition range will be launched during London Fashion Week next month. All of Melissa's eye-catching shoes are 100 per cent recyclable, and the company supports environmental and social projects in Brazil.

Other fashion brands with a similar stance include that of Salvador-born Marcia Ganem. The singers Alicia Keys and Janet Jackson are both fans of Ganem's distinctive designs, which are made out of polyamide fibre taken from used car tyres and seat belts. Ganem's gowns are stitched by disadvantaged local women from the designer's hometown, and sold in boutiques throughout the UK.

Similarly, the designer Martha Medeiros's show-stopping lace dresses – which are seen on the queen of the Rio de Janeiro carnival every year and are growing in popularity in Britain – are ethically produced, being hand-stitched by local women for a fair wage.

As Brazil's profile grows on the international fashion stage, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week is burgeoning. With 49 shows and a host of supermodels, last June's was Latin America's biggest fashion event, attracting buyers from all around the world.

"Their fashion week is getting more attention now," said Ms Elwick, "partly due to Brazilian supermodels like Gisele Bündchen making it more showbizzy and pulling in the international crowds."