MILAN — It was hard to miss Farm Rio’s takeover of Rinascente here on Wednesday. Flamboyant installations shaped as tropical flowers and fruits topped the department store’s eight arched windows overlooking the iconic Duomo cathedral, while the Brazilian brand’s signature printed dresses stood against colorful crochet backdrops and sculptural props.
Matching the mood-boosting set-up, inside an extensive temporary pop-up marked the brand’s launch in the Italian market, which builds on the international expansion plan the company set in motion in 2019.
Located on Rinascente’s basement floor dedicated to design, the pop-up will run through May 1 and will be flanked by similar outposts of different sizes in all of the retailer’s nine units across Italy, including the two locations in Rome and those in Florence and Turin.
For the window and pop-up concept in Milan, the brand partnered with renowned Brazilian designer and architect Gringo Cardia and Instituto Proeza, a non-governmental organization and social project supporting women with initiatives that enable them to generate income as well as providing psychological support. More than 200 women were involved and worked for four months to reinterpret the brand’s trademark prints through artisanal and crafty installations.
Objects encompassing vases, beaded accessories and arty fans manufactured by Brazilian artisans and local communities flanked the Farm Rio ready-to-wear and footwear collection displayed at the pop-up with the goal to further enhance the country’s craftsmanship and bring the “Carioca” vibrant spirit to Italy.
Founded by Katia Barros and Marcello Bastos in 1997 as a small booth at indie fashion flea market Babilonia Feira Hype in Rio de Janeiro, the fashion brand has grown into a household name in its native Brazil and gained ground abroad for its bold and feel-good prints splashed on tops, frocks, cardigans, jumpsuits, shorts and bomber jackets, among others.
“We think that there is an audience that has been underserved everywhere, including in Italy…that is looking for ways to express themselves other than the main black, white and gray colors,” said Fabio Barreto, chief executive officer of the brand’s international operation branch Farm Rio Global, when asked why Farm Rio could resonate with Italian customers.
“And that’s a year-round thing, not only in summery styles but also in winter,” he added pointing to the ski collection the brand launched last year, for one. “So that slogan ‘Dress in Happiness’ is what the brand is all about: expressing yourself, being comfortable and confident….Every time we get in touch with our customers, we want to bring that uplifting feeling. And we think there is a place for that everywhere, especially after the rough years we went through in the last three years,” Barreto said.
This approach and the brand’s flamboyant, Instagram-friendly designs helped Farm Rio to thrive also during the pandemic, when the company accelerated its online growth as well as international rollout.
“We always has in mind that we have a good audience outside of Brazil but we were very focused on the expansion there. Then in 2018 we decided we were ready for it,” said Barreto, recalling the moment the brand decided to set foot in the U.S. “There were a few things already going on over there,” he said, mentioning a successful tie-up with Adidas — started in 2014 as a one-off and now a permanent collection — as well as a partnership with Anthropologie.
As reported, the brand launched a U.S. e-commerce site in 2019, followed by the opening of its first U.S. brick-and-mortar store in Manhattan’s SoHo a month later. Summer pop-ups were next, as well as two additional stores in the Aventura Mall in Miami and Venice in Los Angeles. Another unit on Melrose Avenue in L.A. is slated to open in the second half of 2023, as well as shop-in-shop stores at Bloomingdale’s. The brand is also available at department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, to name a few.
The expansion Stateside enabled the brand to unlock other overseas markets. “Three years later, we started getting attention from the retailers outside of the U.S. In 2021, we were invited by Le Bon Marché in Paris, and [thought] that was a good starting point for our European expansion,” said Barreto, underscoring that the plan for the next couple of years is to strengthen the presence in the fashion capitals in the Old Continent.
In Paris, the pop-up at Le Bon Marché turned into a concession store. Another one was unveiled at Printemps last week, while Barreto is plotting the opening of the first flagship store in the French market by the end of the year.
The partnership with Rinascente in Milan and with Liberty in London builds on the same strategy of leveraging the collaboration with key retailers to build communities locally and enhancing wholesale distribution before ultimately opening directly operated locations in each city.
Product-wise, to further merge with local cultures, the intention is to forge ties with local brands, as Barreto teased, referring to a collaboration with “a very well-known French brand [operating] in the lifestyle [category]” to be unveiled next month. The operation is set to mirror the partnership Farm Rio launched last year with Starbucks, while a similar move for the Italian market has not been studied yet. “There are so many classics in Italy,” said Barreto when asked about a dream collaboration. “Gucci would be nice. You never know…,” he added with a smile.
While the partnership with Adidas will continue, in the past Farm Rio also tied up with brands including Havaianas, JanSport and Lee jeans.
As for the main Farm Rio line, Barreto underscored that the company looks “at international markets from scratch” from a design perspective.
“We’re in Brazil, in different seasonality, so that creates a whole different environment to work with. Everything that we take to the U.S. and Europe is designed for these markets. We have a whole design team working for the international markets thinking about the Northern Hemisphere, its lifestyle and seasonality,” he said.
This aspect also impacts the product assortment available abroad, as Barreto noted that in Brazil the brand counts around 1,800 styles per collection, versus the roughly 400 styles available per collection in the international markets. “There are a few different lines that we haven’t expanded outside of Brazil yet and that’s because we’re telling the story slowly, we don’t want to throw everything out at once because it’s hard to pick up,” explained the executive, mentioning the men’s and kids’ categories as well as sportswear. Conversely, the brand is focusing on upping its fashion game in outerwear and knitwear for the international channels.
Overall, Farm Rio is available at more than 400 wholesale doors internationally, across the U.S. and Europe — where retailers include KaDeWe in Berlin, El Corte Inglés in Madrid and Jelmoli in Zurich — as well as the Middle East, Australia and Hong Kong.
In 2022, the company’s international operation leg Farm Rio Global reached revenues of 490.9 million Brazilian reals, or more than $95 million, soaring 80.7 percent compared to 2021.
Revenues generated by the Brazilian operation of the brand grew 32.5 percent to 1.2 billion Brazilian reals, or more than $230 million, in 2022. The brand has around 90 directly operated brick-and-mortar stores in the country and is planning to open between 15 to 20 new locations in 2023.
“It’s already the biggest brand in Brazil, and it’s still growing 30 percent per year,” marveled Barreto, stressing the further growth potential in the market, as the 25-year-old label has more than doubled its size in the last four years and surpassed 820,000 active customers.
“We’re in the best moment in Brazil and two weeks ago, we [gathered] in a house all the team and leaders to think about the next 10 years on the brand: so rethinking the future while we’re in our best moment, knowing that it will pass if we don’t understand what’s going on and how we’re going to bring newness to the market, because we always need to be ahead,” Barreto said.
Asked about the biggest lesson learned so far, the executive cited the words of cofounder Bastos. “When I first joined Farm ten years ago he told me: ‘Fabio, whatever happens, the creative team has the final say. The brand is our boss.’ Whatever is right for the long-term and the creative team is thinking is right, we just follow it. And I believe that’s why the brand has been successful for so long,” the executive said.
Farm Rio is among the jewels in the crown of parent company Grupo Soma, Brazil’s biggest fashion group. Listed on the São Paolo Stock Exchange, the group’s portfolio also includes Animale, Cris Barros, Foxton, Maria Filò and NV, among others labels. Last year, Grupo Soma reported revenues of 5.6 billion Brazilian reals, or more than $1 billion.