MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaraguan emerging designers Shantall Lacayo and Ana Alexandra Velazquez are aiming to tap overseas markets by showing at Paris’ Who’s Next in September.

Lacayo, who has sales of $80,000 a year, hopes to open 12 points of sale over the next three to five years, with tentative plans to market in Paris, Dubai, Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

In the near-term, she hopes to open doors in Honduras and El Salvador to take her count beyond her current four points of sale in Nicaragua and Panama. Further into the future, she hopes to enter the U.S. and Europe.

“I would love to find an agent to represent me in Paris and one day sell in Bloomingdale’s or Saks [Fifth Avenue],” said Lacayo, who also helps direct the Nicaragua Diseña trade fair, which has an expanding fashion wing that also showcases other design talents.

Lacayo, who was second finalist in the 2010 edition of “Project Runway Latin America,” hopes her spring 2016 will attract attention at Porte de Versailles.

Dubbed “Gypsy Goddess,” the collection features several embroidered dresses inspired by the Nicaraguan genciana flower and featuring geometric and Cubist prints evoking the Seventies. The most popular item has been a handmade, dark-blue nylon-mesh gown that sells for $800.

Lacayo draws inspiration from Nicaraguan cultural symbols and folklore as well as craftspeople from artisan communities whom she employs to make her affordable luxury collections as part of a government development plan.

Last summer, one of her star dresses featured a kitsch Virgin Immaculate Conception juxtaposed in a highly eccentric baroque and bling background.

“The Virgin Immaculate Conception is celebrated with huge parties here,” Lacayo said, adding that the dress sold so well in Panama Fashion Week it paved the way for her to start selling in Panama City’s Anima Boutique. She now retails in another boutique there, Revolviendo el Baúl, adding that Panama Fashion Week “has been one of my best promotion platforms.”

Nicaraguan designer Ana Alexandra Velazquez is also putting the final touches to her spring leather handbag collection to be featured at Who’s Next.

Velazquez is working to expand her brand, called Kuero, into France, the U.S. and other international markets. Her bags retail for $150 to $700.

She said her latest collection includes ultrasoft pelibuey sheep and goatskin and pressed and printed leather bags. “We want to innovate and create a new market project with this type of skin,” Velazquez said, adding that it is becoming increasingly available due to the popular pelibuey meat dish. “This leather is 1.4 millimeters [thick], as opposed to 2 millimeters for regular leather.”

Velazquez also uses low-income Nicaraguan artisans to make her bags through a social program called Earth Education Project that seeks to lift women and other vulnerable communities from poverty.

Meanwhile, Lacayo has busy weeks ahead. As the director of Nicaragua Diseña fashion arm, she is working to organize a series of runway shows featuring seven Central and Latin American designers and 28 local creators in a three-day event expected to draw 30,000.

Unlike Panama Fashion Week and similar fledgling events in Honduras and Costa Rica, Lacayo said Nicaragua Diseña offers free designer coaching. This year, the Savannah College of Art and Design will help train 10 design scholarship winners.

Nicaraguan tourism agency Intur helps organize Nicaragua Design. And in exchange for her work, Lacayo receives government funding from the Presidency and export lobby ProNicaragua.

She conceded such help has been pivotal. “I come from a family that doesn’t have lots of money to throw around,” she said. “Right now, I’m not making big profits but rather reinvesting in my expansion.”


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