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Problem Solved: Honouring a Brazilian Olympic Pioneer with ‘The Uniform that Never Existed’


LBB’s Ben Conway speaks to TracyLocke Brazil creative director José Spagnuolo about the campaign making amends 57 years in the making

Problem Solved: Honouring a Brazilian Olympic Pioneer with ‘The Uniform that Never Existed’

Aída dos Santos competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games for Brazil. Despite being an official member of the Brazilian Olympic delegation – and the only woman on the team – she received no support in her Olympic efforts, travelling without a trainer or even cleats to wear for her high jump event. Becoming the first Brazilian woman to compete in an Olympic final, she placed 4th whilst styled in a homemade uniform, fashioned from parts of another outfit.

57 years later, in 2021, the Olympics returned to Tokyo and Brazilian agency TracyLocke Brazil re-discovered Aída’s story. The creative agency decided to collaborate with sports retailer Centauro to create a campaign that would make efforts to rectify the athlete’s unfair treatment and lack of support, as well as honour her perseverance and legacy. 

To make amends for the injustices that Aída faced and to acknowledge her success against adversity, TracyLocke partnered with Centauro and stylist Carol Barreto to design ‘The Uniform That Never Existed’. The uniform has symbols of Aída’s athletic career and heritage and was presented to the now-84-year-old as part of the emotional campaign. The limited-edition uniform was also available for purchase through Centauro, which quickly sold out - with profits going to an NGO that supports women who have been victims of abuse. Following the campaign, Aída has also been inducted into the Brazilian Olympic Committee’s Hall of Fame.

To discuss how the campaign came about and to reflect on its impact for Aída, Brazilian women and aspiring women athletes, LBB’s Ben Conway spoke with TracyLocke’s creative director for the project, José Spagnuolo. 

LBB> How did you get involved with this project? Have you worked with Centauro before? And were you aware of Aída’s story already?


José> I'm a creative director at TracyLocke Brazil. We've been creating work for Centauro since 2019. In the midst of the pandemic, at the beginning of 2020, we received a briefing intended to engage Centauro in the theme of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Since the brand was not an official sponsor, our major challenge was that we couldn’t talk about the Olympic games. While researching, I came across the story of Aída dos Santos. We soon realised that her story was unique because, in addition to her journey of struggles and accomplishments, we had the chance to bring a historical cycle to a close – Tokyo 1964-2021. With this, we had found the perfect narrative to approach the Olympic Games theme without breaking any rules.



LBB> What does it mean to the Brazilian people nowadays to look back on her experience?


José> From that moment on, we were all touched by her struggles, achievements, and triumphs, both in sports and in her personal life. Aída dos Santos is a Black woman of humble origins and, like most Brazilians, she grew up in poverty and lack of opportunity. We were sure that we had to have fantastic curatorship to bring in a team that would give the legitimacy that the project required. Giving a voice to people who understood the reality and the struggle faced by Aída was not a possibility but a premise, and we succeeded. 

We brought in the stylist who created the Modativismo (Fashion-activism) movement, Carol Barreto, the young director Giorgia Prates, and the Brazilian singer, Sandra Sá. Through their eyes, we would manage to tell Aída’s story of resilience and success, in addition to recognising her valour, in order to bring a little hope to Brazilians who struggle every day, showing that it is possible to excel despite all obstacles that life imposes.



LBB> Did you approach Centauro with the campaign’s concept, or did they have the idea already?


José> At that point we knew that we had found the solution to putting the spotlight of the Tokyo games on the brand. Uniforms are an athlete's instrument of representation and recognition of their origins and nationality. A black woman from the outskirts of the city competing without an appropriate uniform demonstrates all the inequality of genders and races in sports and in society at large.

All factors involved in the project pointed us toward the brand's purpose, which is to transform lives through sports. We presented the idea of the 'Uniform That Never Existed’ on Christmas Eve and in less than two hours, the company's board approved the idea - since the theme was in line with the brand's purpose.



LBB> When did you involve Carol Barreto and have you worked with her before?


José> We were already familiar with the inspiring work of Carol Barreto, however, we had never worked with her, even though she was always our first choice. We just weren't sure if she would agree to get on board the project with us. 

Entering into this partnership was incredible for several reasons. She is a brilliant, intelligent person who – in addition to her notorious journey in the fashion world – with participation at the Black Fashion Week in Paris and collections exhibited in museums around the world, has always been concerned with transforming lives through fashion and knowledge in the courses she teaches at the Federal University of Bahia, which was in line with Centauro's purposes and the agency's strategy.



LBB> How closely did you work with her on the uniform designs? What instructions or input did you give to her, if any? 


José> During the nearly year-long project, we held weekly meetings to discuss the uniform. We briefed Carol with the history and symbols that represented the story of struggle and triumph in the life of Aída dos Santos. Based on these references, we gave Carol and her ‘FashionActivist’ team complete freedom to design the Uniform that Never Existed, since only she could express the entire story through her art.

We were constantly exchanging ideas. In addition to the uniform, she and her team were always involved in the creative process of the project. The agency made a point of sharing the paths we were taking and she always helped us fine-tune our creative process. We learned a lot from her and her team. Every meeting turned into a lesson and this process contributed to the final result of the work.



LBB> The case study says that you wanted to tell a story of ‘resilience’ - how did you achieve this in the campaign?


José> Aída dos Santos went to Tokyo in 1964, with only her strength and hope in her simple suitcase. She received no support, not even a coach to accompany her. She saw the other Olympic teams with all the necessary structure to support her adversaries, and this inspired her to overcome the barriers imposed on her.

Her uniform had to be improvised, otherwise she wouldn't have had anything to wear - this included the cleats she wore in the semifinals, which were borrowed from a runner in the Brazilian delegation. The cleats she borrowed were much larger than her feet, This and the fact that she would be jumping and landing on an air mattress (she had only trained and competed by landing on a sandbox) resulted in a sprained foot, which yielded her a fourth place. This makes us believe that if she had competed on equal terms with her opponents, she could have probably brought the Gold to Brazil.

We told her story of resilience through the uniform designed with the symbols of her struggle to remind the new generations that the strength to overcome barriers lives within each one of us, and to draw society's attention so that stories of prejudice and lack of support, like this one, may never happen again.



LBB> How was the process of making the Uniform that Never Existed film with Ladybird?  


José> The selection of the production company was very careful. Our audiovisual production team brought great options. Ladybird was the one that best met our expectations. There we found the young and talented director, Giorgia Prates, a black activist with the appropriate drive for what we had in mind.

The process took almost six months, in which we exchanged much knowledge, often bringing together all teams responsible for the project: Tracylocke, Centauro, Ladybird, and Carol Barreto. Unfortunately, due to the restrictions related to the pandemic, I was not able to participate in person in the filming, but I remotely followed some moments of the film's production. Our CCO Daniel Ottoni, who was involved in all phases of the project, brilliantly represented us in the film shoots, extracting the full potential of our story from the production company.



LBB> 20 pieces of the uniform were sold, with proceeds going to NGOs. Were you involved in this aspect of the campaign? What does it mean for people to be able to own the uniform, and for the money to go to a good cause?


José> To create the ideal environment for people to get to know the essence of the project, we developed a landing page that contained Aída's story, the process of creating the uniform and all stakeholders in the project.

Many people, including several celebrities, rushed to buy the uniform which sold out within minutes. Since then, we've seen lots of posts on social media from people wearing the uniform to practice sports and even celebrities wearing it on television shows. For them, it's not just about wearing some clothes, it's about celebrating a story of victory that defies all stigmas of prejudice in society.


LBB> How did you go about promoting this campaign? Was there mainly a social media strategy?


José> Our media team managed to get the story to be told on Globo Esporte, the oldest and most-watched weekly sports program on Brazilian TV in that time slot. The story was about Aída dos Santos and the Uniform that Never Existed. This was a successful kick-off of our campaign.

Using a direct strategy, we sent the uniform to select celebrities, athletes and influencers, and this considerably increased the reach of our message. We simultaneously started to run our campaign on social media, which supported the project's dissemination and helped raise awareness and build engagement among the audience. The media strategy for social media was designed together with the Centauro team and organically reached more than four million people.



LBB> What has the reaction been like to the campaign? How have the Brazilian people, the press and athletes reacted to the campaign?


José> Soon after the beginning of the campaign, the reaction of the audience was amazing. We received many comments on social media complimenting Centauro's initiative and praising the story of Aída dos Santos, which was unknown to most people until then. It was no different with the Brazilian and international press. The PR was widely disseminated in various media outlets, such as magazines Veja, Exame, and Elle, among many others.



LBB> Now Aída is in the Brazilian Olympics Committee Hall of Fame - what does this mean to you, knowing that you raised awareness about her story?


José> For me, her being recognised in the hall of fame of the Brazilian Olympic Committee is a gesture of hope for people who are facing a scenario similar to Aída's when she got into athletics. I believe that this is the greatest reward for this work. It materialises the power of a true Brazilian warrior who, besides being an exceptional athlete, has three university degrees: geography, physical education, and education.



LBB> What was the most difficult challenge you faced on the campaign, and how did you overcome it?


José> We are now living a moment of deconstruction of outdated values in search of greater awareness and respect for diversity around the world. I believe this is a mass awareness movement, since we are in a hurry to make the world a fairer place. At the same time, it is difficult for the brands to face sensitive topics like this, since they may become susceptible to overexposure. The courage to address sensitive topics in advertising is still a big challenge, and only brands that have a solid and legitimate purpose can do this type of work.



LBB> What was your favourite/most memorable part of the campaign?


José> For me, the most memorable moment of the campaign was when Aída opened the box containing the uniform. She was very emotional when she read the letter we had written to her and that emotion filled the set, as the truth of the story behind the Uniform That Never Existed was revealed. I watched this remotely, but even so, I was very moved and sure that we had done a great job.



LBB> Anything else to add?

José> Being able to participate in Aída dos Santos' resurgence made this work one of the most relevant in my career. I’m proud to give her the uniform she never had and to show the world the true story of a Brazilian heroine, inspiring new generations. All proceeds from the sale of the uniforms were donated to NGO Ballet Manguinhos, which is helping more than 30 girls from the outskirts of the city to take self-defence classes. This adds longevity to our efforts, whose goal has always been to transform lives.

This was only possible through the combination of many important factors, including the incredible clients who stood by our side and helped build this entire journey, brilliant and essential partners who enriched the idea and showed amazing dedication, and the entire TracyLocke team, who worked tirelessly for the Uniform That Never Existed to exist. Ideas that change the course of societies and people should not be a trend, but rather a reality for brands. We live in an increasingly difficult world, where we must worry about the fast pace of technological advances because the strata of the social pyramid tend to become more and more distant due to limited access to these new technologies by the lower-income population. Brands play a key role in reducing these gaps.

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DM9, Mon, 14 Mar 2022 17:42:00 GMT