Martina Kaiser already has legions of fans who first become regulars at her design shop in a Loulé back street, where handmade jewellery and artisan homewares were the signature. Open since 2012 and in fact opened on a whim – Martina is an interior architect by profession but went on to study creative skills like silversmithing; she had no retail experience – her little store attracted local artists and designers looking for a platform to showcase their work. With talents and merchandise spilling out, she moved to larger premises on a corner in the pedestrian street, Rua das Lojas, and word spread fast about her very different offering.
Martina travelled the country, always in search on new talents and inspired ideas. She discovered ceramic factories with unusual stoneware and tableware, which became a major part of her growing product palette, alongside jewellery and accessories.
Six years later, in 2017, she fell in love with a beautiful line of linen dresses at a trade show and, recognising the potential of the fashion and jewellery combination, she decided to buy into the collection.
Every piece Martina bought sold out fast and clients repeatedly asked more. Two-years on, and again the shop was bursting at the seams.
“I think I was unconsciously looking for additional premises in Loulé for a while,” she recalls. “The town was bustling, and attracting newcomers with its beautiful Saturday market, new cafés, great little, and artisan studios. But for fashion lovers there was nothing to be found.”
Then, right bang in the middle of the pandemic, Martina came across a big corner shop facing the side of the municipal market, that had, in its previous life, been a wine and spirits store. She was hooked again! The handwritten telephone number in the window caught her eye and she investigated. “The rent was reasonable – the times, after all, were anything but – and with the spread of Covid-19, we were very close to another lockdown. What a time to take on a fresh business challenge!”
Martina talked to family, to friends and to clients to gather opinions. “Despite the challenging climate, everyone loved the idea of a new fashion shop in Loulé and without exception, they encouraged me to go ahead. So I went for it: a big 100m2, with four large shop windows, and an ugly interior in need of love and attention. But I could see the potential, and that inspired me to move forward and realise the dream.
“In the next five month, we turned everything upside down and transformed a dark and old-fashioned space into an open, modern and welcoming shop. As an interior architect I could visualise right from the start how I wanted it to look in the end. Only installations like the electrics, the fire system and metal work were outsourced; the rest was completed by us.”
Sourcing the perfect ranges
During the detailed renovation process, Martina not only had to supervise works to ensure that they reached her exacting design standards, but she also had to focus on finding the right labels that made a statement about her business and, of course, enough stock to fill the new premises.
“I already had brilliant connections with the established labels I had been selling previously and I also set out to discover young Portuguese designers with a distinct handwriting, whose work would sit perfectly in my new environment.
“I have never wanted to be all things to all people. I want my story, and my collections, to be distinct, with a choice of labels that offer timeless, yet contemporary design-led statements and become key wardrobe pieces that continue to be favourites, rather the one-season wonders.
“My vision is simple and my look understated: dresses, tops, trousers in linen, cotton, silk and special materials like rayon and Tencel. Each collection consists of only a limited number of pieces, sometimes only one piece per size. I want to look after my clients and ensure there is little chance of their seeing someone in the same outfit at a local event. To me, it is also crucial that fashion itself respects the environment – sustainability is a vital responsibility that we must all share, and that’s where the right selection of fabrics comes into play.”
Expect to see
The shop is spacious, a statement of contemporary cool, flooded with light, with big windows opening onto the street. There are burnished metal wall rails (Martins’s own design), hanging bags and baskets from Africa, pieces suspended on the wall, and some great artworks. The whole impression is one of newness, and a fashion freshness you don’t often see here on the Algarve.
Martina’s favourite kaftan dress is in fine linen – great for lunch on the beach but just as good looking on city streets. And there’s an adventurous Italian label that’s best described as having a ‘nomadic and curious soul’, and that means relaxed, colourful and happy clothes.
The offering doesn’t stop at fashion, either. Alongside essential basics – beautiful t-shirts, chic little day dresses, perfectly-cut shorts in cotton and linen, and accessories like summer hats, scarves, sandals and socks – you will find a delicious selection of hand-picked interior decoration pieces like lampshades, blankets, beach towels . ‘That’s the advantage of space,” laughs Martina.
“I will have two seasons,” she says. “A summer season with a big selection of sunshine-right labels and a winter season with a carefully developed range that’s right for that time of year. The pricing and sizing structure, too, have been key to my buying decisions; I am looking at a €50 to €200 price range, and sizes 36-44.”
Martina will, of course, continue to design her own jewellery collection (clients would never forgive her otherwise!) and create one-off pieces complement a particular outfit, making the finished effect unique to the wearer.
And what about menswear – is that on the horizon? “At this moment my focus is on womenswear but believe me, I am looking to find the designers and collections for men that will underpin the Martina message. It won’t be long!”
And the ‘old’ shop? It remains the place to go for ceramics, jewellery and accessories.
Homes – Ruse das Lojas, R. 5 de Outubro, 68
Fashion and accessories _ R. José Fernandes Guerreiro, xx
Monday-Friday 10.00-13.00; 15.00-18.00
Words: Susi Rogol-Goodkind
Photograhy: Lars Hinsenhofen