| By Estela Ataíde

Mónica Gonçalves

«GRIGI is a baby that wasn’t born from my tummy, but was born from my hands»

PHOTOGRAPHY Nuno André Santos


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Founded in 2013 by fashion designer Mónica Gonçalves, GRIGI is dedicated to the study of and experimentation with natural, local and sustainable materials, while standing out for the pioneering use of knitted cork.
Created through the meeting of values of tradition, ecology and sustainability, the brand also brings to life materials such as burel (traditional Portuguese woollen fabric) and vegetable silk, which are used in pieces of timeless and lasting fashion.
How did the idea come about to make knitted cork, something in which you are a pioneer?
I didn’t appreciate the way in which cork was being used, it was already something very clichéd, which never varied from the same register, and I had never seen a product that allowed cork to be in contact with the skin and which, in some way, enhanced and dignified cork. I felt that you could be more ambitious and thus the idea to make a knitted weave for clothing came about.

Photography by GRIGI

In addition to cork, you work with burel and vegetable silk. Why these local and natural materials?
GRIGI is a very experimental brand and we try to take the capacity of materials to the limit. And many people are unaware that burel, like cork, is a thermal and waterproof material. Just as vegetable silk, which is a material not dissimilar to linen and which can also be interpreted as cotton. These materials are highly versatile, allowing me to please customers and show them that a piece has a story to tell.
Cork is being used more and more in various areas of design. What has generated so much interest in this material?
I think that it is all down to this crisis, without it this new wave of entrepreneurialism and innovation that has been felt in Portugal would not have been created. We all already knew that cork had extraordinary properties, but someone started to use it and from then everyone began to think: «perhaps I can make something with this material».

Photography by GRIGI

Is GRIGI proof that quality and principles are essential for a brand to succeed, even in a climate of crisis?
Without a doubt. I tend to say that if it hadn’t been for knitted cork, GRIGI wouldn’t be where it is today, nine months after having entered the market. Because it opened doors, it seems you just have to say «knitted cork» and a range of opportunities are opened up for GRIGI.
Due to the fact that is such an innovative use of cork?
It is this issue of enabling cork to touch the skin. People see it as something very structured, rigid. And they never imagined that you could get to the point where the material is so subtle.
You say that «the major responsibility of clothing is that of strongly influencing a lifestyle». What is the GRIGI lifestyle?
As a businesswoman, my intention is to sell, of course. But, as a fashion designer and a brand, I want my pieces to last 80 years. I think that it’s enough for us to have one piece that is good, with which we feel good. We don’t need to have a packed wardrobe, this futile exercise of today’s world. And it is this idea that I am looking for with GRIGI. And I am very, very demanding when it comes to the finishes of the pieces, for them to become as durable as possible, because I am promising this to the customer; this has to be guaranteed. Everything is structured down to the millimetre at GRIGI.
Let’s talk about the new collections.
We are now entering the second collection proper. We have the first, Natural Box, which was GRIGI’s ‘boom’, and the new one, for spring-summer 2015, which we presented in Paris and Milan. And then we have a capsule collection of Minde blankets, which has three themes: the classic part, a more trendy part and then it has the commercial part, which has a lot to do with bags, handbags... But, people are still buying the first collection from me today.
This matches the brand’s purpose precisely, to create lasting pieces.
Exactly. And the new collection has the same register, the same colour palette, although in terms of knitted cork it doesn’t feature as many pieces, because I have tried to cut down on the use of the knitwear, so as to stop the knitted cork becoming something banal.
Above all else, you define GRIGI as a laboratory. Is the desire to innovate, discover and experiment what drives you?
Completely. My very DNA is the part of experimenting, of creating, of researching. It is without a doubt my no.1 register.
What feedback have you had for GRIGI?
Extraordinary. I like to say that GRIGI is a baby that wasn’t born from my tummy, but was born from my hands. It is my baby, which I am watching grow, which hasn’t learnt how to talk yet, but is already taking its first steps. I feel like a proud mother. GRIGI entered the market properly in January and what is happening now was what I was envisaging for ten years from now. I have never had any negative feedback. GRIGI is growing and this is the same with jobs; at the moment we are now seven people.
And what else do you dream for a brand that is exceeding every expectation?
That is becomes the GRIGI fashion house, that someone comes along and uses the knitted cork for a range of shoes, I would like someone to use knitted cork for the area of agriculture, because knitted cork has great potential for agriculture...And start like this, developing, and really become a fashion house.