Interview with Teresa Martins, creative director of TM Collection

By Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2016)

Teresa Martins at her showroom. Photos by Lígia Carvalho Abreu

TM Collection is a Portuguese brand known for its poetic-contemporary collections, inspired on folk traditions, nature and all the other elements that human sensibility can reach, within a concept of an urban woman conscious of her cultural identity and who desires to discover other dimensions of herself on a journey around the world. Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR) spoke with Teresa Martins, the creative director of TM Collection, at her atelier in Alvide (Cascais) about her sources of inspiration, her will to be independent from the current fashion business system which undermines creative and the sustainability of planet earth, her background in both art and biology that defines her creative process, the search for places of production not based on the cheapest cost, but instead based on emotional liaison with people and on their expertise and wisdom, as well as about the aesthetic and values which sculpt the identity of the brand. It is a conversation that goes beyond clothes, in a discovering of an interesting woman’ soul path constructed with intuition, work, colour, fluidity, movement and supported by her belief of new ways of production and consumption more ethical and respectful of health and environment.  

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): How did the idea of creating the TM Collection come about?

Teresa Martins: I’ve always liked clothes or a special outfit. As a child, I had a seamstress who would come to our house. Seeing her work was something that fascinated me. Just like the shows fascinated me. The Gulbenkian ballets which I attended with my family. I remember being little and getting into the car imagining the shows, the ballet, the movement, width and fluidity of clothing. At that time I was already inventing my own clothes. During adulthood, I worked in interior decoration for some time. Within this area I attended many international fairs, I even worked for Vista Alegre and had my own company: As Coisas da Terra (Things on Earth). One of our textile suppliers had a factory in India. The owners were an English couple, she was a specialist in textiles and he was a journalist for The Times. They often came to Portugal and brought with them many fabrics. Me and my partner at the time would choose the fabrics that were more in line with our collection, but at the same time we always imagined clothes with these fantastic fabrics. Until one day, I was with this couple in Paris and we began to think that there weren’t many things that were different. There are some new ideas that create a boom which later give rise to aesthetic cycles that repeat themselves. It's like painting, or the arts in general. This is a little bit like our own life. I often say that nothing is created. Everything is recreated. Therefore, these recreations have seasons that are more intense and give rise to trends that then last for many years. But whoever uses creation as a way of life will have a crave for new things, with the need to go further. It was then when I decided to go to India. When I arrived in India, the first thing I did was see the colours. I was fascinated. I did drawing and painting in Brussels and in, Lisbon, so I like a lot of colours. They had a huge warehouse with thousands of samples, where I was on my own, as if I were in a library understanding what textiles embroidery, fabrics and weavings are really about, experimenting with a combination of colours, materials, dyes and then choosing what interested me more to create my path, my identity. I picked up silks, I dyed various beautiful colours, I gathered all the silks together with a rubber band, made a pocket and created some fantastic skirts using a very simple cut. They were called Gipsy Skirts. Five months later, I went to Paris to exhibit a collection with my friends who were the suppliers and the year after I already had my own stand. That was fifteen years ago, and since then, I have never stopped. And that was how TM Collection was born.


Left: Dress from Entre Serras (Spring/Summer) Collection Right: The Blue by Catarina Pinto

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): What is the philosophical-creative concept associated with the brand TM Collection? 

Teresa Martins: I have an academic background in Biology and Biochemistry, with which I learned to see what is not seen. I can imagine the molecules. I studied and also explained to my students at the university, to see, to feel, to understand what is not seen. So, when I think of something, I can see it as ready. I also did a few drawings of the human body which gave me a sense of volume and the knowledge of how the human body works. In Brussels I learned various techniques. But what I liked most was painting with my hands, picking up pigments, looking at the model and then closing my eyes to feel and draw. I always thought I couldn’t draw. Line drawing for me was a drama. As I am a perfectionist and come from a scientific background, I thought drawing meant reproducing exactly the model that was shown. At this fantastic school where I was in Brussels, they showed me that drawing was not only that. Because I know how to feel, I can pick up a piece of paper and with eyes closed look at the model, feel it, and with this, the movement of my hands can reproduce the model in marking. I have beautiful nude drawings, all done by pigments and powder. I can see the images feeling and transmitting sensations. Everything has to do with exploring our talent, which is within us. So, I have to have the exact feeling of what a collection is. It must be born within me. I need space and time. I need people to let me dream. To dream of a song, the sea, as I did as a young girl when I watched the Gulbenkian ballets and imagined their dresses. If I am not able to imagine, I can’t pass on the information. I think the most important thing is to make people feel good about themselves and so therefore the identity of TM Collection has to do with the fluidity of fabrics, with width, beauty and movement. As I was influenced by ballets, this is my fairy tale. Furthermore, I like to transform, I like to pick up something that no one finds interesting and transform it into something exceptional. Creating is being able to morph something which society does not value and turn it into something of value. I also get inspired by traditional, ethnic and tribal items. I think this has to do with my past lives. I believe in a soul path, it is part of my philosophy, my sense of living and my creative process.

Left: Dress from Entre Serras (Spring/Summer) Collection Right: Loïe Fuller in La Danse Blanche by Isaiah West Taber, 1897 (The Red List[i])  

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): Portugal is one of the brand’s many inspirations. What place does Portugal hold both in the creative process and in production?

Teresa Martins: Portugal is inspiring in that it has the light, colour, sea, the textures of the rocks ... all which touch me deeply. The latest collections I made on Portugal was the Alma Mater, Tanto Mar and Entre Serras. The Spring/Summer 2017 collection that will be called Moon River, was both born from a fabric that we asked to be made and the sound to the music of Moon River by Henri Mancini, interpreted by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's. We had a trainee designer with us who designed the tones of the river marshes. Currently, we are producing items using Portuguese wool and we are working with a small clothes industry in Portugal. We are a niche design brand. I will never care to make something in mass. Production in Portugal helps to keep our cultural heritage, which is the history of the country. I would like to produce more in Portugal, but unfortunately I do not always have the necessary support.

Left: Trousers Kaos Lemon Tree and Blouse from Entre Serras Collection (Spring/Summer). Right: River Marshes photo by Lígia Carvalho Abreu  

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): Do you find it difficult to produce in Portugal?

Teresa Martins: With great sadness I had to cancel an order with a supplier from Portugal who gave me no answer on a production order and was always delaying it. The factory is quite good, with great capabilities and they used to be our usual supplier. TM Collection publicised the work of this company to show the items they produced for our brand so that they could produce for new customers, particularly for international brands that are very reputable. However, they began to not answer my phone calls and emails about my production order and I only got a response when I told them that I was going place myself outside their factory doors until I got an answer. They told me that they would hand in the production two months later and there was I, with customers waiting, with deadlines to meet. I simply cancelled the production order and I had no choice but to produce in Nepal to respond to my clients because I assured the production would be ready in a month; it was a very difficult time for the country, there had been an earthquake. We (Portugal) are a very tiny country, and yet we have everything, we have tourism, agriculture, industry, and an extraordinary climate. If we could unite, we could go further. We have a very well equipped industry. However, some family industries that grew with large EU subsidies began producing for major international brands of fashion mass production. When these brands later left them to go to other places where they produced cheaper, these family industries found themselves alone grappling with fabulous facilities but without a know how and no world. I, myself have offered to help, to explain to them other concepts, to open their minds up to what they can do with more competitive markets, but there is no interest. It is something that saddens me. Many things I do in India or in Nepal could be done here in Portugal to keep a cultural heritage of traditions and also industry, which is the history of a country, of a family. If we lose our family or our roots, we are lost in the world. We manage to realise this individually. It’s important that the Portuguese have this collective sense. This can’t only exist in football. There must be a link between passion and identity with regards to what is ours. One can’t only work with the sole purpose of making money. There must be commitment, and this has to do with identity, with this bond we must unite and be proud. Portugal is a country of great history, but a greater collective responsibility is needed, including in the world of fashion and textiles. We must do more things. For example, bring the right people to fashion weeks, bring more buyers because we need to live. I’ve never seen in Portugal, after the fashion shows, meetings with the buyers. A fashion week isn’t just about fait divers.


Skirt with embroidered fish by TM Collection. The Fish  Illustration by Catarina Pinto

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): Apart from Portugal, India holds great meaning to you, and now Nepal. What do these two countries represent to the brand both in terms of production and inspiration?

India has a culture of textiles, silks and brocades which are very difficult to find elsewhere. China also has this tradition, but I have a greater identification with India, it has to do with my life story. I was born in Portugal, I'm Portuguese but I’m sure I was born elsewhere and have had other identities, other lives. The most important foundation in my life is the growing path of the soul. It is not about making clothes my everything, it’s about creating and recreating beauty, allowing people to have good energy. In India I have great friends and also great professionals. Apart from this, India is an extraordinary country as a source of inspiration. The public have a sense of aesthetics and dignity. The average Indian is not miserable, they may be poor but decent as well as having inner energy. There is nothing more beautiful than to see, for example, women in fields with saris, there, wearing colours, bracelets. The fabrics fly, they have movement, they stir the senses. India has a highly skilled workforce in terms of textiles, brocades and finishes. Most great designers and brands such as Dries Van Noten, Dior or Kenzo look for Indian experience and fine textiles. In Nepal, I started working on blankets made out of yak. The next Autumn/Winter 2016/2017 collection contains handmade clothes from Nepal in artisan weaving made from 100 % yak wool, which is a very warm natural fibre, like cashmere. The collection will be called Embrace to convey the feeling of ambience and comfort that yak wool provides.

Left: Coat, tunic and trousers from Entre Serras Collection (Spring/Summer) Right: Shadows of Asia (India) at The Fundação Oriente Photo by Lígia Carvalho Abreu

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): In which countries are TM Collection clothes and accessories found?

Teresa Martins: In 37 countries on all continents. For example, in Australia, South Africa, USA, Italy, UK, France, Japan, Spain etc ... You can see the list on our website[ii] In Portugal we have, as well as the showroom in Alvide(Cascais), a shop in Chiado (Lisbon) and another in Comporta[iii]. And we  also have an online store.[iv]

Entre Serras Collection (Spring/Summer)

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): The education used to understand fashion design should also be considered an education for culture and sustainability. Do you agree?

Teresa Martins: Yes. Everyone should be united, in a sense, for a country’s evolution and growth.

Left: Entre Serras Collection (Spring/Summer). Right: Green by Lígia Carvalho Abreu

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): Today we are witnessing an excessive production of fashion collections all in one year: resorts, RTW etc ... Everything is too fast. What is your position on this unrestrained production? Do you think this enhances creativity or, on the contrary, does this jeopardise creative fashion, planet sustainability and create the image of an aggressive and impatient consumer addicted to seasonal trends of short duration?

Teresa Martins: Of course. I think that the collections should be annual or even up to two years, because it takes a long time to arrange everything. Furthermore, we have a lot more clothes than we need, we don’t need this unbridled consumption because it is driven by added economic value, it has no other purpose but to try to make money. My journey is a soul journey, it isn’t a journey about making clothes, I am currently making clothes, I don’t know if I have done this in another life or not, but this has to do with my personal evolution, and my evolution of the awareness of things, people and the world in which we live in.

It is important that people are aware that they are an individual process of internalisation. One shouldn't buy clothes to become what they aren’t or an image of something that they will never be, otherwise we create a schizophrenia and disillusion about ourselves and we alienate our own inner truth. The human being does not evolve like that, it regresses. But this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I have a completely different conscious position of this system, on the other hand, I have no capability of alienating myself from it, I have to live with it. I find it very frustrating to show people things they do not have time to touch. If I am responsible for the brand and I almost have no time to touch the items, what will others who are outside the brand do? This doesn’t make sense to me. With this system I have very little time to be with the collections. It's as if I was given a toy and suddenly “You’ve played with it for too long" and they take the toy away from me, in the end I wasn’t given the opportunity to even look at it. This saddens me, because I don’t agree with this process. The collections have to live with me for a while. And in this current fashion process I don’t have time to be with the items, to touch them, to watch them shine.

Coat Texas Pockets Socoí from Entre Serras (Fall/Winter)

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR: How do you define the TM Collection consumer?

Teresa Martins: You must be a consistent consumer. TM Collection has a high price point because the pieces are made of fine products and often made manually or by traditional methods. For example, 70% of the fabrics from the Moon River (Spring/Summer 2017) collection are handmade. All on handlooms. Just because some parts are made in India, it doesn’t mean that the cost of production and materials are cheaper. In India there are also raw materials, designers and a high level of cost production. Some of the most expensive items that I have seen in my life has been in India. On the other hand, as our brand has a very unique identity, people have to like it or rather the TM Collection consumer is someone who knows what they want. They don’t just buy any particular item just because it’s pretty or that they saw it on so and so model or actress. They either have identified themselves with the concept and items or they are going through this identification process. They buy an item of clothing because it feels good, because it brings them happiness. People tell me that. "We wear a TM garment and we feel good in it" and so they come back. They are items that are cared for, loved, we know them all, we know how they were created, who worked on them. People have to understand that the things we don’t see are the things that are most important in life. In Kuwait, there was a customer trying on an item of clothing from the TM Collection and looked at a pair of trousers and asked, "How many pairs of trousers, of the same colour should I buy? I said, "just a couple because they will last for a long time." Why do you need 4 or 5 pairs of trousers of the same colour? Just because you have economic power? We need to stop this schizophrenia in order to grow in the world. By raising our individual awareness, we raise awareness on the earth and therefore if we don’t elevate this awareness, then we are destroying the earth.

Top Free Perdiz from Entre Serras Collection (Fall/Winter)

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): What are the greatest challenges that lie ahead for TM Collection? Do you have any future goals?

Teresa Martins: My aim and challenge has to do with my independence from this system of which I do not agree with. Having to live in it gives me a certain anguish, and takes away my creative freedom, because I am under a lot of pressure, which I do not need. Why have an Autumn/Winter 2016, Spring/Summer 2016, Autumn/Winter 2017, Spring/Summer 2017 Collection and so on? The planet lives simultaneously in two seasons, summer and winter. They are two hemispheres. Everything is possible. So why are we bilateral? Why are we creating schizophrenia? I have a 2015 collection, and why can’t I sell this collection in 2016 and 2017? I think the world will change and yet people have not realised that the world is changing.

It is necessary to work and be more aware, to preserve the planet's history by instilling this love for planet earth and the skin itself. I would like TM to be a great school, with those values and at the same time with our doors open to receive all those who are on their way, who want space and do not have it or do not have any financial capacity, because it will take time to build. You have to give your all and sometimes what you get in return is difficult, because when you take a step forwards you end up taking two steps back. I want to evolve, to grow online, to find my collection in good stores worldwide and to have financial return. That's my dream, it's where I would like to take TM, towards a more humane and economic calmness, one where people could earn a little more, where I could reward people for their efforts in a way which I could grow in stages and at the same time create a united world without jealousy and fear.

We human beings are one family. If in a family only one or some of the children are well, then does it mean that the family is happy? Would it not be preferable for all the children to be happy? The world serves everyone. I have to find the right partners in this world. I have my chosen tribe. I need to send out smoke signals on earth to find my tribe so that we are all well, so that I can be allowed to evolve. Evolving with them, and leaving this schizophrenic fashion scheme. If these types of clients are out there, then we will all survive. We don’t need to be millionaires, millionaires don’t have a life to spend all their money on. When I manage to set myself free from this necessity of following this madness in order to survive, only then I will be happy and TM will be able to make that giant leap.

Trousers and Top from Entre Serras Collection (Spring/Summer)

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): A piece of advice for the consumers

Teresa Martins: It is rare for a TM Collection item that was made, let’s say 10 years ago, to not go well with the other items of the current TM Collection. They all communicate and have the same language. And that’s how a person’s wardrobe should be. No clothes thrown away. So you can’t buy 10 pairs of trousers? I don’t want someone to buy 10 pairs of trousers. I want 10 people to each buy a pair. And so they can mix them with other items. There are so many beautiful things made by other designers. You should mix and match. People don’t have to dress up the same way. I try to make up outfits, but they aren’t uniforms, instead, it’s my head that is thinking to make life easier for people and to make me feel. As I see everything in imagery, I can’t see a person walking in their own underwear, I just see the skirt, coat etc.. People should be themselves and feel good about themselves. Someone that feels good in their own skin is interesting. It’s like a balloon full of energy. By them wanting to be something they are not, they are silencing someone who has a voice and cannot speak. If you want to be wild and put a feather in your hair, then do it, if it makes you happy, or because you want to, not because so and so does the same. In order to like myself I need some sort of intuition to discover what makes me feel good. So be careful with synthetic items. Clothing is our second skin. Do not buy a piece of clothing in polyester just because the outfit is fashionable. Polyester is made from chemicals and works as a different energy on our skin. They are not compatible with the organic flesh of our body. You must look after your health, with what you put on your skin. And read Alice in Wonderland that explains the many worlds where people are, the other world which is the real world.

Top from Tanto Mar Collection and Trousers Underphants Linen Mood. Lewis Carroll's original illustrated manuscript: Alice in Wonderland/The British Library

Ligia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law: WFMFR): Advice for young designers.

Teresa Martins: The most important thing in life is our inner journey. Understand yourselves and what you want. Find you talent. Your passion. Do not be afraid to move forward. We are always being confronted by images of a reality that doesn’t exist and that wastes time, space, truth, everything. You have to understand your inner truth, to grow in awareness and do everything with great truth and transparency, and from this, create a union.

Boots Chinese painting embroidered from Origami Folding Emotions Collection 

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR):  Thank you Teresa for this interview.

Teresa Martins: Thank you