Who’s Caito Maia: The Eyewear Mogul Behind Brazil’s Iconic Chilli Beans

Discover the inspiring journey of Caito Maia, the Brazilian entrepreneur behind Chilli Beans, making a global impact in the eyewear industry
July 1, 2024
Caito Maia, CEO of Chilli Beans. Photo: Courtesy

Upon disembarking at a Brazilian airport, amid the buzz of duty-free shops, one sunglasses brand stands out, introducing foreign visitors to Brazilian fashion in all its vibrant glory. Chilli Beans, with stores in 30 of Brazil’s main airports, becomes one of the first points of contact between tourists and a national treasure. But it’s not just at the arrival gates where this spicy brand makes its mark. As the largest sunglasses franchise in Latin America, boasting 1,200 points of sale across all Brazilian states, Chilli Beans adorns the faces of countless Brazilians.

Beyond shielding eyes from the intense Brazilian sun—where cities can bask in up to 12 hours of sunlight daily—Chilli Beans sunglasses embody style, diversity, and a remarkable success story in the fashion market, spearheaded by São Paulo’s entrepreneur and musician Caito Maia.

Caito Maia
Chiili Beans at São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport

The seed of this fiery brand was planted in the late 1990s when Maia embarked on a journey to the United States. Leading the band “Las Ticas Tienen Fuego,” he dreamed of an international music career, hoping to share stages with legends like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns’n Roses. “I decided to spend some time in California and check out the lifestyle,” Caito Maia shared with Brazilcore.

Strolling through Venice Beach, he noticed something revolutionary: the way Californians sold sunglasses. “Back then, sunglasses in Brazil were pricey accessories, sold like jewelry, locked away in display cases,” he recalled. “When I saw a beach kiosk offering affordable, colorful, and fashionable models open for people to try on freely, I had an epiphany,” he said.

Upon his return to São Paulo, Caito Maia, while continuing his music career, began exploring the accessories market. Inspired by the Californian concept, he revolutionized the Brazilian market by treating sunglasses not as exclusive jewelry but as vibrant elements of pop culture. Thus, Chilli Beans was born, forever changing the way Brazilians viewed sunglasses.

Its first best-seller was a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses, made famous by the early 2000s icon, Paris Hilton. From that moment, Chilli Beans became synonymous with innovation and fast fashion in Brazil’s retail market, making trendy eyewear more accessible to everyone.

Despite its “imported” concept, the brand has always prioritized the needs of Brazilian consumers, offering not only affordable prices but also a commitment to inclusion and diversity. Known for its longstanding support of the LGBTQ community, Chilli Beans has implemented non-discrimination policies and publicly committed to hiring more individuals from diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Chilli Beans is celebrated for its bold and innovative designs, frequently collaborating with artists, designers, and celebrities to create unique collections. Highlights include exclusive wristwatch, sunglass, and eyeglass collections by Lenny Kravitz, and a special Star Wars™ glass collection in partnership with Disney. Licensing deals also feature NBA, Harry Potter, Coca-Cola, The Beatles, and Bob Marley, alongside collaborations with Brazilian stars like Anitta, Alok, and Pablo Vittar.

Caito Maia
Star Wars Collection by Chilli Beans

The brand has seen remarkable growth in recent years. Beyond Brazil, as of 2024, Chilli Beans boasts over 50 stores, spanning 18 markets, including the United States, Portugal, Germany, Australia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Kuwait, Dubai, and India. The brand operates through a combination of company-owned stores and franchises.

The significant success comes especially through strategic investments in marketing and cutting-edge technologies, continuously embracing new trends in the fashion industry. The brand’s proactive approach in leveraging platforms like Big Brother Brasil underscores its innovative marketing tactics. For instance, their inaugural virtual try-on campaign during Big Brother Brasil 2023 drew over 78,000 users within just 30 seconds, with an average engagement duration of 1 minute and 45 seconds.

Beyond television, Chilli Beans has extended its brand presence through prominent cultural events such as Rock in Rio and Lollapalooza, reinforcing its connection with diverse audiences and musical subcultures. These partnerships not only enhance brand visibility but also align Chilli Beans with the dynamic and vibrant spirit of these festivals.

Moreover, Chilli Beans has pushed boundaries by pioneering campaigns driven by artificial intelligence-generated models. This initiative not only highlights the brand’s commitment to innovation but also resonates with tech-savvy consumers seeking unique and forward-thinking brands.

Caito Maia
Chilli Beans campaign using hyper-realistic AI models

Through these strategies, Chilli Beans has positioned itself as a leader in the Brazilian eyewear and fashion accessories market, continually evolving to meet the demands of a diverse and trend-conscious consumer base.

 For over two decades, Caito Maia has remained at the helm as CEO of Chilli Beans. Once a musician dreaming of an international career, he now rocks the accessories world with the same passion and creativity. His entrepreneurial success and keen investment acumen have also earned him a spot as one of the hosts of the Brazilian version of Shark Tank. Additionally, he is a sought-after speaker on entrepreneurship, inspiring others with his journey from music to business.

In an interview with Brazilcore, Caito Maia discusses Chilli Beans’ influential presence in the fashion industry and its journey from a single kiosk to an international phenomenon.

INTERVIEW WITH CAITO MAIA – CEO OF CHILLI BEANS

Caito Maia Chilli Beans
Caito Maia

Brazilcore: You lived in California for a while, which played a key role in the creation of Chilli Beans. How has the United States inspired or continues to inspire you in business?

Caito Maia: I lived in the USA on several occasions, and it was there that I realized glasses were not just for protection or correction—they were pure fashion. I brought this concept back to Brazil when sunglasses were still not widely accessible here. Over the years, we managed to turn Chilli Beans into a synonym for fashion, style, and quality. I greatly admire the USA for its entrepreneurial spirit and business-promoting culture.

Brazilcore: Chilli Beans has a significant presence in various countries. What were the key factors that contributed to your successful international expansion?

Caito Maia: It wasn’t always smooth; initially, we faced many challenges and had to take a few steps back. However, post-pandemic, we resumed opening stores in various countries, and we are on a growth trajectory with 50 operations now. Several factors come into play: finding the ideal local partner, navigating laws, adapting our product mix, and understanding consumer behavior. It’s not simple for a Brazilian brand to expand internationally—many try and not all succeed. We hope to continue this pace in the coming years.

Caito Maia
Chilli Beans pop-up in Berlin

Brazilcore: Can you share some of the challenges you faced while expanding Chilli Beans internationally?

Caito Maia: We are a fashion company, which makes everything even more challenging, from finding the right person to be our local partner who understands the market, to navigating different cultures, behaviors, and seasonality. What’s fashionable in Brazil today might not be in Indonesia or Portugal. We’re keen on these nuances and working hard to spread our brand globally. But the most important thing is trusting the local partner. Our biggest mistake was trying to open our own stores abroad. The internationalization only succeeded when we began trusting those who really know the local specifics.

Brazilcore: What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered in the Brazilian market compared to international markets?

Caito Maia: Each country has its environment, laws, and customs—and the entrepreneur needs to be aware of all of this. For example, kiosks do very well in Brazil, but not so much in the USA, where traditional stores work better. But one central point remains: you need to understand people. Your team and customers are people—by understanding differences, respecting particularities, and creating good stories that involve everyone, you’re definitely on the right path.

Chilli Beans Brazil
Chilli Beans flagship in São Paulo

Brazilcore: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who wish to succeed in Brazil?

Caito Maia: Study, experiment, allow yourselves to make mistakes. But above all, listen to the consumer and your team. Sitting in a room looking at spreadsheets is not the way. And invest in branding. Branding brought Chilli Beans to where it is today. It should never be seen as an expense, but rather as the best long-term investment a company can make.

Brazilcore: What are your future plans for Chilli Beans? Are there new markets you plan to enter?

Caito Maia: We want to continue the international consolidation of a brand that’s 100% Brazilian, with designs 100% made in Brazil. This is one of the challenges that drives me in the coming years. And we are focusing increasingly on launching sustainable products—our goal is to be a reference in this area.

Brazilcore: How do you see the sunglasses industry evolving over the next decade, and how is Chilli Beans preparing for these changes?

Caito Maia: I see a very clear evolution towards sustainable products, which we are already experiencing here. Our portfolio already includes 15% of products made from recycled or recyclable materials, and we aim to reach 100%. I’ve challenged our team to become the world’s most sustainable glasses brand in the coming years. Even the cases, formerly plastic, are now made from recyclable material—we’re saving two million plastic pieces a year.

Brazilcore: Are there new product lines or collaborations that Chilli Beans fans should look out for?

Caito Maia: Absolutely, we’re experts in this—there’s something new every week. Still to come this year: collaborations with NASA, Rock In Rio, Casillero Del Diablo, Alok, Michael Jackson, Stranger Things, and much more. Big hits in the stores.

Caito Maia
Caito Maia
Caito Maia

Interesting Facts about Chilli Beans

What’s the largest sunglasses company in Latin America?

Chilli Beans is the largest sunglasses and fashion accessories company in Latin America. Its portfolio includes sunglasses, prescription frames, watches, and prescription lenses.

Who owns Chilli Beans?

Chilli Beans is owned by Caito Maia, a Brazilian entrepreneur who founded the company in the late 1990s.

What is the meaning of Chilli Beans?

In 1998, Caito Maia started using the trade name Chilli Beans, which was inspired by the Tex-Mex dish (a combination of Texan and Mexican cuisine) made with chili peppers and beans. The spelling “Chilli” with a double “l” (as opposed to the more common “Chili” with a single “l”) gives the brand a distinct flair or uniqueness. It’s a deliberate stylistic choice that sets the brand apart and adds a memorable touch to its identity.

Is Chilli Beans associated with any international group?

In the international plan, expansion was reinforced in partnership with the Hirmer Group, one of Germany’s most traditional fashion retailers. The partnership entails opening 64 physical stores and an e-commerce platform in Europe. Hirmer will also open units in Austria, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.

Where are Chilli Beans products made?

Chilli Beans products are manufactured in China, but all development takes place at Chilli Beans headquarters in Alphaville, Greater São Paulo, Brazil.

How can I open a Chilli Beans franchise?

To become a Chilli Beans franchisee, you must go through an evaluation process to see if you meet the brand’s criteria. If approved, you’ll receive a Circular of Offer of Franchise (COF) and can then sign a franchise agreement and pay the franchise fee. Next, you’ll need to train your employees, find a commercial space, and integrate your new store into the Chilli Beans network. Chilli Beans is looking for investors who want to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the store and motivate their employees

Tatiana Cesso

As a journalist, I've made it my mission to explore and share stories that inspire, inform, and entertain. You may have stumbled upon my work in esteemed publications such as InStyle, Marie Claire, Bazaar, L’Officiel, and Vogue, among others. Having called the U.S. home since 2010, I've lived in Chicago, LA, and currently, Miami. But my heart always beats to the rhythm of Brazil. It's where I was born and raised, and my love for its culture, people, and energy knows no bounds. To share this passion, I've founded Brazilcore, a platform aimed at bridging the gap between Brazil and English speakers worldwide.

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