- Isabel Costa’s wool factory makes burel, a tightly woven Portuguese fabric that was a mainstay of the region for centuries.
- Her factory is the only one left in the village of Manteigas, and is using machines that date back to the 19th century.
- Many of the region’s factories were pushed to bankruptcy or moved overseas when Portugal’s economy stalled in 2000.
- View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.
The mountain villages in central Portugal have depended on the wool industry since the 19th century.
But with manufacturing moving overseas and Portugal’s economy beginning to stall in 2000, many of the already struggling factories were pushed to bankruptcy.
Now, one wool factory in Portugal is helping revive the local economy while keeping a centuries-old tradition alive.
In 2006, Isabel Costa was looking to open a hotel in Manteigas, a village in the picturesque Serra da Estrela mountain region. But as she learned about the village’ history and economic plight, she ended up also buying the village’s old wool factory – one of 11 that once operated there.
The idea was to revamp a traditional, natural fabric called burel used in Portugal for over a thousand years. The factory is making use of the same 19th-century machines that have been a mainstay in the region - machines that were nearly melted down to be sold as iron before Costa stepped in.
"The whole logic behind the project was to bring value - value the fabric, the machines, the art, the people," Costa told Business Insider Today. "If we didn't do the project back then, all the people who could teach [how to use the machines] would no longer be alive. The machines are beautiful, but they are only beautiful if they work. Otherwise, it's just a museum."