Portugal native Sonia Afonso calls the world home, having lived in far-flung locales like Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and Tokyo before eventually landing in Lake Forest. But it was during a 2018 ski trip to Granite Peak, Wisconsin with her family and their friends when Afonso found a way to combine her love of travel and culture with her interest in fashion. The result? Afonso’s lifestyle label Hoshi Collective with her business partner Rute Ribeiro Martins, a fellow Portugal transplant.
“During the four-hour drive back to Chicago, we came up with everything: the business plan, name, and what we should sell,” says Afonso. “The next day, we officially formed our partnership.”
Combining Ribeiro Martins’ passion for sustainability with Afonso’s interest in cultural preservation, Hoshi aims to create timeless pieces for women who are looking to define their own style with sourcing from cultures around the world. Each product is developed with the idea of promoting local craftsmanship, and the launch collection includes handmade baskets from artisans in Portugal and Panama hats from Ecuador. Each is designed by Hoshi but made by local artisans.
“My interest in cultural preservation comes from living abroad and from embracing and experiencing different cultures,” says Afonso. “In Norway, every time there’s a wedding or an important party, like the National Day, they always wear traditional costumes—the bunad. In Japan, women wear kimonos for tea ceremonies, festivals, and special occasions. With Hoshi, we want to keep those traditions alive.”
Afonso says moving across the world—nearly every three years for her husband’s job—gave her the freedom to try something new. When the family first moved to Switzerland, she learned German; in Sweden, she volunteered for humanitarian organization UNICEF; and, in Tokyo, she furthered her interest in photography and launched a travel blog, Out and About Tokyo, which led to freelance web design work in Norway.
“I love moving and the feeling of a new place,” says Afonso. “I’ve gained so much from embracing new cultures. I understand others more and don’t judge as much.”
Of all the places she’s lived, Afonso counts Japan as her favorite and says its impact on her is “difficult to explain.” The name Hoshi comes from the Japanese word for “star,” and Afonso says the star is the brand’s unifying element, as no matter where you are in the world, we all look at the same sun.
Even though Afonso had no formal background in fashion, her parents used to run fashion retail stores in Portugal, so she’d always had a passion for the industry. And she still uses her background in photography and web design with Hoshi today, wearing many hats, if you will.
“The day we launched last May, I couldn’t believe it was finally happening,” she says. “Every brand takes time to build and sales are important, for sure, but we want people to see that we’re doing something that goes beyond that. That’s what gives me motivation to continue and makes me feel proud.”
Hoshi gives one percent of its sales to Chicago-based Dress for Success, a global nonprofit organization that provides professional attire for low-income women to help support their job-search and interview process. Not only does Hoshi donate money, but Afonso gives her time, too, and volunteers when she can.
“Dress for Success really resonates with what we are doing,” says Afonso. “Not everyone is in the position to start something because they simply might not have the resources or connections, but we all have dreams. We want to help women come back to work and find their way.”
Hoshi does just that outside of Chicago as well by working with artisans worldwide who bring their vision to life with contemporary designs that
are usable for day-to-day life. Next up Hoshi plans to launch bracelets made by the Maasai tribe in Kenya and a new hat soon after.
But first, Afonso plans to spend the summer in Portugal with her kids and wants them to know they’re Portuguese, even though one was born in Switzerland and the other in Sweden. And, until then, she’s taking painting and drawing classes at the Stirling Hall Art Center in Lake Forest every Tuesday, focused on charcoal portraiture; frequenting Sushi Kushi Toyo, the Deer Path Inn and Mino’s Italian; and cross-country skiing at the Lake Bluff Golf Course.
“It’s been very easy to adjust,” says Afonso. “The community is great. We all love it here. I think we’ll stay for a while.”
For more information, visit hoshicollective.com.