In the Summer of 2013, while lying on a beach in the breathtaking south-western Portuguese coast, we looked around and noticed that none of the windshields that were to be seen were made of an attractive fabric. This led us to wonder about Portuguese fabrics and what if we created our own brand …. straight away, we knew we wanted windshields made out of chita (a type of cotton) – a fabric so linked to our own History and the time of the Portuguese Discoveries.
When we came back to Lisbon, the city where we met and currently live, we kept on daydreaming over the idea. This led us to look for fabric manufacturers and seamstresses. Within weeks we had a prototype! We also wanted the name to express cheerfulness, sunshine, something that would remind one of the beach and of these very unique fabrics … the name clicked straight away: it had to be Conchita (con chita = with chita)!
Then, we designed the logo, printed the labels, bought the fabrics and ordered the articles that we are now bringing to you straight from the hands of highly skilled Portuguese artisans…
Conchita Cotton Canvas Collection
Chita rhymes with conchita… which rhymes with bonita (pretty)…. which also rhymes with many other words ending in ita …. because in Portuguese, and also in Spanish, the suffix “ita” denotes small, funny, pretty, pleasant, fun, lively …. And are these not good adjectives to describe chita, the patterned and light cotton which the Portuguese brought to Europe from India at the end of the 15th century? Chita is a “happy”, exuberant and colourful fabric, which reminds one of sun and Summer, and may be used in clothing and in household decoration. Hence its huge success in Portugal between the 17th and mid-20th century, when it started to go out of fashion.
But “Conchita” is proud of its Portuguese roots, history and tradition and also of having launched itself into this fashion adventure with a distinguished Portuguese identity: the use of chita in creations of light and contemporary design with a touch of sophistication.
Long gone are the years when most poor Portuguese households lived surrounded by “splashes” of chita, a little bit everywhere, in the form of bedcovers, curtains, towels, pillows, dresses, handkerchiefs and small totes (such as the famous “talegos” – the typical lunch bag taken by rural workers to the fields in 19th century Portugal). In the 21st century, consumers are much more demanding and sophisticated. They look for design, quality and uniqueness.
That is what “Conchita” tries to capture in its creations: simplicity, innovation and a touch of sophistication, by linking the old and the modern, the traditional and the contemporary, the East and the West.
Some facts about chita
(from the sanskrit “chitra” which means distinguished, brightly-coloured and spotted - and is applied to printed cottons )
Apparently this humble, gay and popular type of cotton, sold in the sun-drenched and noisy markets of southern India, must have lured the Portuguese merchants with its simple weave, colourful tones, strongly outlined drawings and floral and natural themes.
This fascination resulted in its importation to Europe, namely to Portugal, where chita started to be manufactured, in tones and themes modified to suit local tastes.
Chitas became famous for the use of very colourful patterns of Indo-European influence, which are repeated along wide stripes decorated with birds, flowers, human figures, amphoras, fountains, nests and fruits. We now know that this pattern technique was created manually by applying paints in dies or straight into the fabric. The chief printer’s mastery was revealed in the flawless application of dies and in the perfection when fixing the colours.
Traditionally there are various types of chitas. The one from Alcobaça (a village not far from Lisbon) is known for its wide stripes and is probably the most famous (and the one we prefer). The Pombalina and the Belmonte ones are more stereotyped variations of a fabric that was once so popular. Unfortunately, nowadays chita is not easily found.
A little bit of history
There are accounts of the early manufacture of cotton in Portugal. Testimonies, from 1530, attest to the existence of several domestic weaving industries. Gil Vicente, Portugal’s greatest playwright and poet of the 15th-16th century, even refers to the Alcobaça fabrics in his 1527 play “A Farsa do Almocreve” (Não tendo as terras do Papa / Nem os tratos de Guiné / Antes vossa renda encurta / Com ós panos d’Alcobaça). ( “The Mule Drivers’ Farce” (Not having the Pope’s lands / Nor Guinea’s trade / Your revenues shrink / Like Alcobaça cloth.)
Not until 1690 do we find official records about the first printing on cotton manufacture in Portugal, and this was the result of a partnership between a Dutchman and an Englishman. But in 1774, 84 years later, is officially founded the first Portuguese factory of Alcobaça fabrics, which 5 years later came under the management of the Royal Factories Board (the so-called Juntas das Fábricas do Reino).
This was the golden age of the textile industry in pre-20th century Portugal. Every Portuguese household included some sort of chita article and there was massive exportation to Brazil (then a Portuguese colony). So much industry resulted in improvements in the printing technique and, therefore, in the high quality of the printed material. The Real Fábrica de Lençaria e Fazendas Brancas de Alcobaça (Royal Alcobaça Factory for Linens And White Cloths) , one of several factories to spring up in the region, employed at its height 500 workers, a quite considerable feat in a pre-industrial era. In 1875 the Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos (Textiles and Fabrics) de Alcobaça was founded, remaining in production until the mid-20th century.
Since then, chitas have fallen out of fashion. Nowadays, only local handicraftsmen have been keeping alive the use of these colourful fabrics for the tourist trade. However, because the chita tradition is still strong in the collective Portuguese memory, one still finds the famous “bailes de chita” (“chita” ball dances) taking place in a few Portuguese villages every Summer.
Notably also, the highest representation of chita, the so-called “Colchas de Alcobaça” (Alcobaça bedcovers) have featured in exhibitions in Portugal and Brazil, and are now part of several private and public collections (the Victoria & Albert Museum in London has about 30). They are pieces which, on their own merit, now belong to the category of Portuguese Popular Art.