Born in one of Rio's most dangerous neighborhoods, Nilson dropped out of school at the age of fifteen to help support his family. He first found work in a leather-goods workshop and later apprenticed with a brass artisan. Determined to give his daughter opportunities he didn't have, Nilson began handcrafting jewelry and handbags from leftover scraps at the workshop. With the help of Suzy of Connecticut, Nilson now brings his rich organic designs to the larger world, and is able to create a sustainable living for himself and many of his townspeople.

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