How Maria João Gomes is maintaining an ancient tradition and providing her clients with beautiful bespoke products, sourced and created here in the Algarve.
WORDS Vaughan Willmore
One of the most wonderful aspects of living in Portugal is how the past never seems too far away. You can trek pathways unchanged for centuries and lose yourself exploring villages that have barely changed in decades. And thanks to people like Maria João Gomes, you can see tradespeople employing traditional working methods that make the most of local resources.
Maria João Gomes created her business, Palmas Douradas, in 2016. Based in São Brás de Alportel, it’s a business dedicated to the braiding of palm leaves. She creates clothing, accessories, and household decorations that are as unique and eco-friendly as any products you’re likely to see anywhere in the world.
Maria explained, “I am proud to carry and respect all the tradition behind the Algarve palm business and share it with the world. All my works are produced from scratch. That is, I go to the mountains, collecting the leaves myself. After that, I deal with the whole process of drying and preparation. Only then can I start plaiting and form a piece.”
Maria loved her childhood spent here in the Algarve. As a young girl, she would go walking in the mountains with her grandparents, listening to their tales and collecting fruit, firewood, and palm leaves. Maria told me, “They were happy months spent in the middle of the palms, hearing stories about my great-grandparents, who also worked with this raw material. Back then the palm industry was huge in the Algarve. I do not know how this knowledge came to be lost. It’s a precious asset. I like to think my work has come to value it.”
Maria has exhibited her goods in Lisbon, Paris, and elsewhere. She has held workshops at local schools to teach children how to weave, with the aim of preserving this beautiful way of working.
© Matt & Lena Photography
Such is the circle of life; she is now teaching her own grandchildren about this beautiful tradition. As for the future of her business, she sees an opportunity to extend her range of household decorations in addition to clothing and accessories.
It is only through the work of Maria and others like her that we are able to maintain the connection with the past. Maria has a studio at the Museu do Traje (Costume Museum) in São Brás de Alportel, where you can see the range of items available and watch her at work.