Whether it’s the increase in micro-trends or plastic-based fabrics, we seem only to hear the “un” ethical sides of the fashion industry. But what about the good side? The side that takes its time, that pays fair wages, the side that thinks about quality, not quantity? Enter Patricia Bonaldi, founder and head designer at PatBO. Her take on creating a fashion brand that is based on transparency and community is the fresh breath of air fashion needs. With her brand employing over 500 women in her hometown of Uberlândia, the Brazilian designer makes it clear that investing in female talent is important to her growth as a creative and business.
Although PatBO started off as a side hustle when Bonaldi was in law school, the fashion seed was planted much earlier, during her childhood. “My mother awoke this inspiration in me; she’s the reason I fell in love with fashion,” she says. “My mother wouldn’t buy clothes at a store, so the process of making a garment was part of my upbringing. We’d head to the store to pick and choose fabric, and then we’d go with my mother’s seamstress, who would then create her vision, eventually making my entire wardrobe,” she explains.
Perhaps this existing knowledge and natural inclination is why the passion project Bonaldi originally envisioned as a young lawyer rapidly became a lucrative business, signaling the end of her law career. However, her drive to help people (which was an impetus behind her first occupation), specifically her community, was still there. She was determined to interlace the success of her business with the talent of her local community. “The community of artisans who knew how to embroider didn’t think their talent was something beautiful or worth sharing,” she shares. “They felt stuck because they couldn’t do another job. My goal was to switch that mindset and remind my community of the beauty within their work.”
And switch she did. Over the years, the PatBO brand has become synonymous with its prints and bold color patterns, signature cut-out dresses, and embellished swimwear. And through its success, Bonaldi has always stayed focused on her early mission: to help the world see Brazil as a hub for artisanal talent.
In fact, Bonaldi started a school 12 years ago dedicated to local artisans in Uberlandia, allowing them to see their craftsmanship as full-time work, and providing them with the tools and confidence needed to succeed. While enrolled, students can learn or solidify new techniques and then ultimately get placed in a job. The option to work for Bonaldi at PatBO is made available, but students are also free to find work at another company of their choosing. “My mission was to help them understand that their work was important for them and our future. If we don’t support artisan work, new generations won’t learn from it, and it will disappear. To think that this kind of work could die makes me feel sad. So I had to do something about it.” Bonaldi explains that although the quality of fabric has changed over the years, the quality of embroidery shown in each garment has stayed the same, making embroidery and her passion for helping her community the true DNA of PatBO.
This passion for community has become embedded in the ethos of PatBO. 99% of her employees are women, and though it’s been years in the making, Bonaldi has been able to employ over 500 women in her community of Uberlandia. “When I founded this company with my husband, I decided not to have investors, or sell the brand to a company. I didn’t want that many people involved in my process because I wanted to protect how I handled the business. This is not a business solely focused on money.” Having more of a say in her brand, without any outside investors, has allowed Bonaldi to prioritize women into joining the workforce. “There’s beautiful energy when women work together. There needs to be more of that. I’m hoping this increases as generations change.” Bonaldi states that keeping women a top priority in her business, along with artisan craftsmanship is vital to her and her brand’s identity.
Bonaldi clarifies that though her brand is ever changing, her passion for Brazilian craftsmanship will always be what makes PatBO unique. Though her early days solely focused on haute couture evening gowns, Bonaldi eventually started to add more variety to her collections. After a high demand for resort wear, especially in U.S. markets, she began to bring designs like swimwear and maxi dresses to the U.S., but made it clear she was going to pivot in her way, at her pace. “I’m very aware of what people want and what people don’t want in a brand,” explains Bonaldi. “When I brought PatBO to the U.S., it was an easier way to get into the market with resort wear first because it resonates with Brazil and what people expect from us. But my goal has always been to have several curated categories. You can have a PatBO embroidered gown or a PatBO colorful swimsuit. That’s the goal.”
With major U.S. department stores seeing Latin America as a market that mainly produces resort wear, she wants to make sure the true identity of her brand isn’t lost. She explains, “I’m super bold. I love colors, prints, all of what we do. But because I started with something as detail-oriented as haute couture, I still want people to recognize the exceptional talent here in Brazil. We’re not just resort wear. Our artisans have amazing capabilities too.”
This statement rang true at the PatBO’s Fall/Winter 2022 show at New York Fashion Week. Bonaldi’s collection was a sea of thoughtfully curated, hand-crafted beadwork. “The look I’m most proud of in this collection is [the first one], with the puffer coat, because it was a pretty big challenge for me,” says Bonaldi. “I told myself I would do something different and new for fall, and I was very happy with the results, especially with the quality of what we could make.” It was a milestone of a look and a new season, one that let her know her brand was evolving.
Thus far, the designer says her biggest accomplishment is to have “conquered” all of the goals she set in PatBO’s early days: “creating a brand, making it internationally recognized — without losing myself and my roots, and doing it the right way.” Another thing she’s especially proud of? Her transparency and story. “I didn’t grow up in a rich family, so I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve been able to go,” she says. “My team in the U.S. also believes in the brand, and is helping me build PatBO without losing my culture and identity [...] I feel proud because I’m sure that I’m building a bridge here. I’m not the first Latin American designer selling in the U.S., but I do think my work is strong because of my ability to tell my story, and my process.”