We recently heard from the owners of Estudio Do Oc in Evora, Portugal, that they had started a new business – or, rather, resurrected an ancient business. The Reguengos de Monsaraz region of Portugal is known for its beautiful woven blankets (once used by local shepherds to protect themselves from the cold), and when Renato Correia and Margarida Adónis had the chance to purchase a 105-year-old factory, they jumped at it. Fábrica Alentejana de Lanifícios, known locally as “Mizette” after its former owner Mizette Nielsen, produces high-quality woolen rugs and blankets from ecologically-colored merino wool, that echo the colors of their surroundings in rich oranges, yellows, browns and reds. We asked Margarida how it all came about, and this is what she told us.
“Last August we moved from Lisbon to the middle of nowhere, here in Alentejo. We wanted a grounded life for our kids, in contact with nature, in a safe environment. Reguengos de Monsaraz is the 8,000-inhabitant small town where our kids go to school, and we ended up being papa and mama Ubers because we needed to drive 21km each away.
“Mama was doing the morning shift, Papa the afternoon. Before coming home, I would do my gym or my horse-riding classes, or visit the factory to speak with the incredible Mizette Nielsen, its owner for the last 45 years.
“Over the course of our conversations, I understood that she wanted to retire and sell the factory. But she did not want to sell the factory to foreigners. She wanted to sell it to a local. So my husband and I gave it a second thought.
“The idea just matched what we wanted from life. I love interior design and can’t live without color. I love to combine colors at home. So we invited two more friends with different backgrounds, and the four of us agreed to buy the factory as long as we could keep our own professions. I’m a production service producer and have run a film production service company based in Lisbon for 20 years. Renato is an adventure tour leader, and now chief maintenance officer at the workshop. Antonio Carreteiro is an amazing makeup artist who studied fashion design. Luis Peixe is a hi-tech manager and engineer who manages all the numbers.
“We launched the business two months ago. But the business is 105 years old, and it is such an important factory in the Alentejo region. We bought not only an area-rug or bed-blanket factory – we bought a museum with heritage!
“We still use the original looms. We have 11 manual looms that are also 105 years old. They are run down, but we treat them with care and maintain them every day. They are like antiques! We had no experience at all and are still learning every day with our amazing artisans: Carmen, Fatima, Anabela, Marilia. They are the masters of the looms! We create the patterns and color combinations, but if we make mistakes, they let us know!
“We have a lot of fun, and all the ladies move from loom to loom depending on the orders, patterns, sizes, etc… People ask us for a catalogue, but the combinations are infinite. They have, as a base, the loom on which they are made. Not all the looms make all the designs. We have the Lozango design and the Espiga design, two different kinds of pattern, and then the color combinations and patterns within the loom style are infinite.
“We make between 50 to 80 pieces a month and sell them all over the world. There are international clients that come from Lisbon just to visit us at the shop in Monsaraz, which is a medieval village on top of a mountain. It’s a two-hour drive each way.”