It would be hard to pin down Oficina Itsu’s core product. The up-and-coming studio does everything from wooden furniture to skateboards, from rucksacks to t-shirts, produced in small, carefully crafted runs for a young, urban audience. This came easy, as most of their business took place online and they weren’t shackled by any retail display limitations. That changed once they decided to get physical and open their first stores.
The duo found a spot in Barra Shopping, one of the most popular malls in carioca territory. That popularity, though, came at a price: Itsu had 90 days to revamp, outfit and open the space, or they’d have to pay a daily fine for each day they went over the agreed opening date. They ran into a wall that many beginners are faced with: How could they honour the creative spirit of their fledgling company when time was not on their side?
Given these limitations, the designers started searching for a like-minded partner. ‘We were looking for studios with a similar profile: someone with a strong aesthetic identity who valued the creative process, the architectural space, with no ready-made formulas but instead willing to walk down a unique path,’ explained Daniel Olej, one of Itsu’s co-founders.
And in Brazil, few architecture studios feed on subverting expectations as much as Terra e Tuma, the São Paulo-based studio that, in 2015, famously provided architectural dignity to a maid’s house. Coincidentally, they also needed to be speedy with that project, as the client’s original house was on the verge of collapse. With Oficina Itsu’s Barra location, the architectural firm saw an opportunity to leave their mark. ‘For us, the Terra e Tuma design signature is an innovative solution with a good use of resources and materials, and that fit perfectly with Itsu’s beliefs,’ stated Bárbara Fernandes and Danilo Terra, part of the architecture team.
Olej and co-founder Eduardo Moura were looking for a team that valued the architectural space, and Terra e Tuma did so quite literally: they designed the store based on the way they found it on their first visit. They sensibly chose to leave the structure of the building apparent by using the existing materials – the concrete breeze block – to design a modular exhibition wall. Beyond that, the grey palette and the pale pink in the hydraulic tiles serve to highlight the wooden objects produced by the duo. ‘In the end, we feel that the store has a conversation with the consumer by displaying Itsu’s beliefs: the appreciation of the design process, a conscious consumption and smart solutions,’ explained Terra e Tuma’s Juliana Terra and Pedro Tuma.
The store opened on time, and the customer feedback has been quite positive. ‘We got what we were looking for: people are impressed and attracted by the store’s unique aesthetic,’ said Moura.
This is particularly interesting given the speedy shift the Brazilian market has seen in the past decade. ‘In local shopping malls, it’s very common to see works with more scenographic rather than architectural features,’ added Olej. ‘That’s because it’s a new and emerging market, and the thinking behind design or architecture is still accessed by a few… but it’s a movement that has grown, and we believe it’s irreversible.’