In 2007 former journalist Catarina Portas opened a shop in Lisbon that focused solely on traditional, Portuguese brands.

A Vida Portuguesa was born. In her enterprise, Portas highlights the quality of locally manufactured products. She believes that it these traditional, local products reveal the story of a people’s identity.

Besides bringing Portuguese manufacturing back on the popular market, Portas also cooperates with the manufactures to produce new and exclusive products for A Vida Portuguesa. For example, with traditional Portuguese pencil manufactures Viarco, she has developed a special range of fragranced pencils, which are scented like traditional Portuguese flowers.  People can enjoy the aroma of flowers such as Figueira, Orange blossom and Jasmine while they write or draw.

A Vida Portuguesa was named in 2010 was named by Time Out Magazine as one of the most original shops in Lisbon by Time Out Magazine, and since Portas has opened a second store in the Portuguese capital. She explains the popularity of her shops by stating that these products ‘evoke the everyday life of another time and reveal the soul of a country’.

How did you get the idea for this project?
In 2004 I started thinking about writing a book about everyday life in Portugal during the twentieth century. While doing research for this book the thought occurred to me that it would make sense to tell this story through Portuguese products. Twelve years earlier, I had done research on traditional Portuguese manufacturing for an article for ‘Marie Claire’ magazine. I now noticed that many of these products that I had found and photographed then were by now disappearing from the markets. In most cases, that was such a shame. These products were interesting and well designed, and I thought that the modern market would appreciate this type of product design history.
How did you start up your project?
A week later I was talking in the factories to meet the people who made these products, to witness the production process and to understand their background story.

How was this project funded?
I never went to a bank for funding, nor have I ever asked for subsidies from the government. I just never needed it. But I do think that the government has an obligation to do projects such as mine. I am preserving this country’s history, its identity. More so, we are talking here about preserving companies that are all still viable.

Have you saved any products from disappearing?
Most of these products were produced by Portuguese grocery stores and pharmacies, but there are increasingly less of them. These small enterprises only produce on a small scale. And large modern supermarkets rarely sell these old products. The large retailers are killing home production in Portugal. In this sense, my project puts a spotlight on the old Portuguese products that still exist.

Who are your customers?
I have a very mixed clientele. The customers in my shops are wealthy, poor, old, young, Portuguese or foreign… I have students from the College of Fine Arts who come to buy ArtGraf, a watercolor graphite Viarco product, but also wealthy people that buy big Bordallo Pinheiro ceramics, or elderly ladies who can no longer find their perfume brands in the modern drugstores on the street.

Has tradition become fashionable?
People are becoming more aware of old, traditional products. All over the country retro shops appear that are selling the old brands. This is good, as my initial purpose was that these brands would reach a wider market, which would guarantee the manufactures’ continuity.

What are your plans for the future?
Maybe I will open more shops in Portugal. I am even considering opening shops abroad.
Let’s see what the future brings. But I will always be working with the concept of old brands.

Interested in Catarina Portas and her project A Vida Portugueasa?
Visit her website: www.avidaportuguesa.com