Why you should care

Abandoned spaces are a great place to start a revolution.

There’s something about an abandoned chocolate factory that’s instantly intriguing. Located in the residential outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and surrounded by weathered buildings and bleak parking lots, the Bhering factory is not much to look at from the outside. In fact, you’d be forgiven if you walked right past it. Yet its potential appeal didn’t escape the notice of local artists, who have turned the industrial skeleton into a six-story space of art studios and clothing stores.

Built in the early 1930s, the building still retains its original characteristics, with echoing iron stairwells, thin-slatted windows and dozens of large, inactive chocolate-making machines. Against this backdrop are more than 50 artists’ studios and shops, among them Tarsilla, which sells leather shoes and bags made in the workshop next door (the smell of tanned hides lingers in the air), and Oficina Itsu, which sells furniture, bikes, skateboards and clothes with a focus on minimalist design. In the lofty balconies are enchanting vendors, including Trapiche Carioca, where handcarved furniture is sold alongside collectibles like old Coca-Cola crates and leather suitcases, and Belchior Brecho, which repurposes secondhand clothes into vintage- and hippie-style outfits.

Bhering, with its one-of-a-kind pieces, is satisfying a desire for something that stands out from the crowd.

What makes Bhering so special? Its focus on independent designs and handcrafted items, moving away from the mass-produced styles that were once popular on Rio’s mainstream fashion scene. Lauren Quinn, owner and designer of Bromelia Swimwear, boutique beachwear made from print fabrics designed in an on-site workshop, elaborates: “In Rio, there was always a culture of harmonization and people who liked the same fashion styles.” Bhering provides “more alternative options and the city is slowly seeing a shift in the spectrum of what defines Rio fashion and the need for individual expression,” she adds. Rio’s fashion, with its bright colors, has shown it’s never been one to lack personality, yet trends often get standardized very quickly. Bhering, with its one-of-a-kind pieces, is satisfying a desire for something that stands out from the crowd.

The factory had been abandoned for more than two decades when, in 2005, owner Ruy Barreto started renting out affordable spaces to artists. At the time, most artist workshops were in Rio’s touristy (read: expensive) South Zone — the unprecedented offering of an artistic hub farther north, with lower and more stable rents, was a big draw for artists.

While quiet on weekdays, the weekends can attract up to 3,000 visitors — especially during “Circuito Interno,” a popular event organized by the Bhering artists that’s held on the first Saturday of each month to showcase their work. There are also DJs and food trucks selling gourmet hamburgers, artisanal ales and homemade sweets.

There’s “a kind of magic here,” says Rafael Rodrigues Dias Alves Pereira, who runs Gabo Café and Casa Botanica, a ground-floor store with retro furniture and all-natural beauty products. “I don’t know where, if it’s in the air or in the walls, but you feel it. And you want to be a part of it.” And he’s right.

GO THERE: BHERING FACTORY

  • Directions: Take the subway to Central station and from there take a taxi or Uber (it’s just a few minutes away). It’s a sketchy part of town and the roads seem go to up, down and all over the place, so avoid walking if you can. Map
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
  • Pro tip: Head to Gabo Café for a homemade vegetarian lunch and an espresso (or a locally brewed beer). There is only one item on the menu, and it changes every day, so no two meals are the same.

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