“My business means everything to me and my family – everything.”

Lea de Almeida Rocha Serra lives with her family in City of God, a notorious favela in Rio de Janeiro with a reputation for violence and drugs. Though the community has seen improvements in recent years, there is still much work to be done. Many residents and guests in Rio are not able to walk the streets safely, and it is not easy to find steady employment, making it quite difficult to provide a home, education and nutritious food for a family.

Lea and her husband were doing their best to raise their family, but even with the help of a nearby family network, life’s increasing difficulties caused Lea to fall into a deep depression. In 2006 Lea found a way to overcome her depression – she began to found a new pastime -- making handicrafts. She quickly saw an entrepreneurial business opportunity to take her hobby a step further – by selling her crafts to earn income for her family.

Initially working from her living room, Lea created bags and purses out of plastic PET bottles – stripped, cut and woven together – using an innovative technique she invented that she calls “trancado.” As the popularity of her products grew, so did her business. With the help of her family, Lea converted her open-air rooftop into a workshop that enabled her to increase her productivity. 

As Lea’s business grew, she realized she needed additional support to continue to grow and expand. She applied to The Coca-Cola Company’s 5by20 initiative for skills training in Brazil, called Coletivo. As a result of training, Lea strengthened her design skills and learned how to keep better business bookkeeping records, build a business plan and other business management skills to help her run her business more effectively. In addition to training, Coletivo helped Lea expand her business by providing access to new online and offline outlets to sell her products.

Today, Lea’s business continues to thrive from her rooftop workshop. Her bags are so popular, she has a difficult time keeping stock on hand. In addition, she prides herself on being able to help other women in the community, and actively manages an artisan group of ten local women.  Building her craft business from the ground up provided the meaning and direction that Lea needed and has given her confidence and self-worth. When she reflects back on her past and her changed life she says, “My business means everything to me and my family – everything.”