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As part of my series of portraits of Brazilian designers, shot by Murilo Yamanaka, meet Rafael Varandas.

Varandas is the designer of Cotton Project, a São Paulo-based menswear brand with only one store and a few selected multibrand stores that represent everything Varandas stands for. He surprised me as a smart and young entrepreneur who decided to grow organically, without losing his lifestyle and the essence of his brand.

The 28-year-old started with a T-shirt line that became a craze among boys in São Paulo who want to look and feel tropical while living in a gray. It created an alternative to the traditional beachy look and killed the clichés that surround seaside life. Cotton Project became emblematic of the low-key, cool Brazilian who lives in the city but is relaxed and loves the ocean.

Here is our Q&A.

How did you start Cotton Project?

Cotton Project started in my early twenties. I grew up in the ’90s, and I was always connected to action sports, such as surf and skate, and I realized that the brands I liked sponsored a “gang” of people that separated the urban groups. I always watched videos and found out what gangs I liked best. With that in mind, I started to do some T-shirts for my friends.

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I feel like there’s a lot of Californian influence on your designs. Is that what you look to when you create?

Actually, I moved to California right when I did my first collection. First I lived in San Diego, and then San Francisco, where I studied graphic design. That experience opened my mind to a different idea of the surfing lifestyle. It wasn’t a stereotype. I found out that in California there is a life beyond surf, where subcultures emerge. That’s when I realized the essence of Cotton Project: We are the after-surf. For people who surf but don’t [only do that]. We evolved through that. We are based in São Paulo, so it’s more urban. Our influence is from the city to the beach, and not from the beach to the city.

How do you see the evolution of that first impression of life beyond the beach to your fashion?

Surfing in California is like playing soccer in Brazil. Everybody does it. You can have a totally different life, and the surfing is part of it. You can be a surfer, but you can also be something else. I love graphic design, and today I am more influenced by Denmark than California, by the minimal design and simplicity that is also [found in] streetwear. Of course, in Brazil it’s warmer, but this is a direction we are taking for the brand.

For more information, visit cottonproject.com.br.

Photos: Murilo Yamanaka; Courtesy of Cotton Project

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