Nilson de Assis is an up and coming designer of exquisite artisan jewelry, but he is no stranger to hardship. Born in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, the fashion capital of South America, Nilson grew up in Morro do Tuiti, one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in Rio.
His parents desperately wanted to make a decent life for themselves and their children, but they couldn’t do it alone, and at age 15, Nilson, their eldest child, made a decision that would change all of their lives. He dropped out of school and went to work in a handbag workshop. Amazingly, through focus, hard work and single-minded dedication, Nilson helped his family move to a safe neighborhood and send his brother, Wellingson, to college.
Nilson later apprenticed with a brass artisan, and it was here that he discovered his artistic talents. In an effort to give his daughter, Laiz, the opportunities he never had, every night after work, Nilson used his previously untapped gifts as a designer to sculpt scraps from the workshop into exquisite jewelry and handbags. Before long, he was selling his designs in a well-known fair in Ipanema where the Burkes met him in 2005.
Today, Nilson has a thriving business in Rio de Janeiro. He and his fellow artisans produce his exquisite designs exclusively for Alegria, and Alegria provides their sole support. A generous employer, Nilson provides his team with three meals a day, and at lunchtime, they feast on the wonderful hot meals Nilson’s mother prepares for them in her kitchen.
Nilson also works hard to make a real difference in the lives of those most in need. When the Burkes placed their first order with him many years ago, he bought the raw materials he needed and immediately used the rest of the money to buy milk for the children at the local orphanage. Today, he is able to make a monthly pledge to support the mission of Solar Bezerra de Menezes, and this is but one small example of how Nilson pays it forward each and every day of his life.
Nilson works with a terrifically talented team of artisans, but he is especially grateful for the contributions of Rogerio and Alexandre.
Rogerio is an incredibly talented welder and the dedicated father of five children. A man with only an elementary school education, at 42, he is Nilson’s second in command, and he takes full responsibility for the operation if Nilson is away from the workshop. His dedication, discipline and attention to detail make him an invaluable member of Nilson’s team.
Alexandre is another vital member of Nilson’s team. Crippled by polio at the age of two, it was only through the help of many dedicated doctor’s in the public hospital system that Alexandre was ever able to walk, although now, at 45, he finds he needs crutches to get around. Despite the fact that Alexandre never went to school, with Nilson’s patient coaching, his skill at polishing Nilson’s exquisite designs is unmatched. For someone with Alexandre’s challenges, the opportunity to earn a living wage doing meaningful work is close to a miracle in Rio, and he is grateful to Nilson for his extraordinary good fortune.
Nilson is also very proud of the fact that his company is now a fully legal business and his employees are all registered with the government and paying into the Brazilian equivalent of the U.S. Social Security system. This is quite an accomplishment for a small business owner as most of businesses with fewer than 15 employees fly under the government radar because of the red tape and complications associated with being “legal”.
Needless to say, Nilson is very happy that he is able to help the members of his team earn living wages and build better lives for themselves and their families.
Artisan craftsmanship and superb detail are the hallmark of each Nilson creation. Individually hand crafted in Nilson’s workshop in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, his organic designs are inspired by his sense of wonder at the beauty of nature.
Nilson works primarily with brass (link), known for its strength and flexibility, chrome (link), prized for its brilliant luster, and the exquisite raw semi-precious gemstones (link) for which Brazil is famed. It goes without saying that Nilson’s designs are nickel free and hypoallergenic, and his earring wires and posts are surgical steel.
Nilson’s creation process is extraordinarily complex and time-consuming, and his team’s craftsmanship is clearly seen in the unmatched simple elegance of each style they create. He and his team carefully sculpt each design entirely by hand, bending and soldering brass into rich organic shapes. After plating each piece in glistening chrome or dipping it in a special solution to make it look like “old gold", they sift through their collection of native Brazilian crystals to find the just the right gemstones to complete each exquisite design.
Nilson’s extraordinary creativity is evident in his ever-evolving designs, and he has recently begun designing collections rather than individual pieces. In fact, he recently moved from his mother’s house to his workshop so he would have more uninterrupted time to create new designs in the evenings. As you can see, he is fighting very hard to make a better life for his family and the artisans on his team, and he is thrilled by his success.
If you or your customers have ideas for new product or thoughts about the line, please let us know. Nilson welcomes all ideas!
IF YOU THINK NILSON DESIGNS WOULD BE A GOOD FIT FOR YOUR GALLERY OR SHOP, PLEASE CONTACT US TO BECOME A RETAIL PARTNER
ALEGRIA IMPORTS, LLC
78 Meadow Woods Road | Deep River, CT
860 767 3033