Being a regular at the Loulé vegetable market on Saturday mornings I’ve always seen out of the corner of my eye, a lady who I have long suspected would have a very interesting story.
At her intriguing stall, she sells all kinds of local herbs that she’s picked or grown herself. There are herbs for tea, smudging, aromatherapy and even herb filled ‘Dream Pillows’ to help you drift off to sleep.
She’s always got her hands full at this increasingly bustling market and I never quite got around to talking to her - but I took one of her cards and when I visited her website I was surprised to find, not herbs (although, as we will see, the natural world is still very much involved), but the most wonderful range of children's clothing from birth up to seven years old.
Palácio Gama Lobo
Her name is Marta Lourenço and she very kindly agreed to meet me one day when she had more time to talk.
She suggested we meet at the beautifully restored Palácio Gama Lobo - the headquarters of the Loulé Criativo project. Marta, it turns out, is one of the resident artists/designers of the Loulé Design Lab housed there.
She showed me ‘the store’ where the designers showcase some of their creations and then took me upstairs to her workshop (where she has her pedal powered sewing machine) for a chat about her life and how this interesting mix of things came to be.
Let's start from the beginning…
Marta told me how her parents emigrated to France and only returned when she was 11 years old. They got a place near Santa Bárbara de Nexe and Marta grew up helping her parents grow and sell things - and so she has always been very used to ‘market life’.
Growing up her mum would always be suggesting this wild plant or another as a ‘home remedy’ for all sorts of ailments and this was where her interest in nature and the plants that spring up here in the countryside started to grow.
Marta studied in Lisbon to become a kindergarten teacher and taught at a school on the island of Culatra for 10 years - taking the ferry back and forth every day.
She took a course to find out about the wild plants that grow here and began to once again get fascinated by the medicinal (and almost magical) healing power of herbs. She was thrilled to discover that the benefits of the plants her mum had told her about when she was little had been proven scientifically.
She started to sell the herbs that she collects (mainly in spring) at the market in Loulé where she’s been a familiar face for many years.
The clothes business was born
Being a mother she didn’t want to dress her children in synthetic modern clothing and wanted to find clothes made of more natural fabrics but this proved almost impossible - so she decided to make her own.
People would see her kids looking all snazzy and cosy in their ‘natural get-ups’ and would ask if she could make some for their children too - and that's how this new business was born.
PURE natural comfort
Marta is passionate about dressing children in 100% natural fibres that won’t irritate their sensitive skins and will help them feel one with the natural world.
She works exclusively with ‘linho’ (linen), ‘algodão’ (cotton) and lã (wool). She sews shirts, shorts, jackets and the most lovely jumpsuits (that can be adjusted as your child inevitably gets bigger).
There are also accessories like sun hats, neckerchiefs, and the cutest little shoes (made from compressed wool).
She uses colours that match the seasons and has a line of clothes for the autumn/winter and for spring/summer.
Mother Nature has the best crayons
The natural dying process sounds a little complex (with various stages to ensure the dye doesn’t simply wash out) but Marta simplified it a little for me by explaining that it's a little like brewing tea.
She manages to create a range of natural soft colours by placing them in water with nets filled with things like stinging nettles, black beans, ‘azedos’ (Oxalis pes-caprae - the yellow flowers that highlight the countryside in spring) and red cabbage - with often surprising and wonderful results.
One of her favourite natural dyes comes from onion skins. She told me the fruit and veg farmers know she needs them and very kindly come and find her after market and give her the bits left at the bottom of their onion boxes.
Marta found that she had all sorts of offcuts from the fabrics she uses to make her clothes which seemed a real shame to waste and she has found a way of using them to unite what she calls her three great passions: herbs, natural fabrics - and dreaming.
She puts 7 very carefully selected herbs into these ‘Dream Pillows’. They release a very pleasant aroma throughout the night and help you relax and get a good night's sleep.
Where to find her?
Besides the Loulé market, she also has her herb stall at the Jardim Manuel Bívar in Faro (next to the marina) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday evenings from 6pm onwards.
If you are interested in Marta’s clothes, she doesn’t really keep any stock - but this means she will be able to make something special to fit your child's exact specifications.
To find out more follow her on Instagram (@belovedbynature) or Facebook
(@Purebelovedbynature) or visit her website www.purebelovedbynature.pt/