The love and passion of Oficina Poeta Azul
BY Vaughan Willmore
Vaughan Willmore tells of how a shared love of Portugal’s heritage and a passion for elegant design and locally sourced materials, led to marriage, three children, and Oficina Poeta Azul.
When Sofia Correia joined Christopher Whitelaw and his friends in New York City as their new room-mate, she could never have known it would lead to marriage, three children, a 5,500km relocation to Loulé, and the establishment of wonderful business focussed on protecting Portugal’s rural heritage and utilising its wonderful natural resources.
It’s a 50-minute drive from Lagos to Loulé, the home of Colectivo 28, a lovely store which houses an array of fabulous locally produced items, including those of Oficina Poeta Azul.
Situated on the western side of the main market, Sofia and her husband Chris offer their customers a warm welcome and beautiful handmade products at affordable prices.
As Sofia explained, “Five years ago we launched Oficina Poeta Azul and two years later we opened Colectivo 28 in partnership with three other small businesses who offer similar products, made locally and sustainably.”
Sofia was born in Portugal and lived here for 26 years before heading to New York City to study for a master’s degree, while Chris was born in the United States. As Sofia explained, “When I became a room-mate, I feared my passion for recycling would alienate my new friends but instead, I found a soul mate and future husband in Chris, who was also passionate about recycling.”
As their relationship developed, every summer they’d return to Portugal to visit Sofia’s family. Sofia explained, “Our time back in the Algarve helped nourish our relationship with the countryside and identify cultural and gastronomic references to take back to the States.”
By 2013, the, now married, couple had tired of living in Manhattan and decided on a lifestyle change by emigrating to Loulé where they set about creating a way of life which allowed them more time with their two (now three) children, and to make the most of their skills and passion.
Sofia explained that, “In creating our products, we look for authentic local stories to guide us. We often incorporate our shared love of long-standing Portuguese sayings such as saudinha e sorte (a little health and good luck), something which was often said by my grandmother when bidding someone farewell.”
The product range includes handmade bookmarks, coasters, cards, notebooks, and much more. As Chris said, “Every gift we create has a useful purpose, so they are not solely beautiful pieces but practical items.”
The materials used are diverse, and include Burel wool from the Bordaleira sheep; the red clay used in the manufacturing of traditional Alentejo dishes; recycled paper; and cork, due to its longstanding connection to Portugal and adaptability.
All the products are well priced and tactile. Simply holding them gives a sense of the love that has gone into their production.
I asked Chris what advice he would offer someone keen to support local businesses and protect Portugal’s heritage and he advised, “Be a conscientious consumer. Ask from where the materials are sourced and how they’re made.”
As for the future, Sofia and Chris will be incorporating more of Sofia’s poetry into their gift range and expanding their customer reach outside of the Algarve, something which is helped by their new website, from which all products can be purchased. Their other intention is to invest in technology, so an even more impressive product range can be developed.
The Colectivo 28 store felt a safe and welcoming environment. Both my wife and I made several purchases which we will cherish, knowing as we do, the love and care that has gone into their production.
We wish Sofia and Chris success with their business and saudinha e sorte.
Colectivo 28, Rua José Fernandes Guerreiro, nº 28, R/C Esquerdo, Loulé. 8100-598