Sometimes not having a job can actually be quite useful. For Costa Rican business owner Andrea Pizarro, a brief stint of unemployment was exactly what led to her true calling as a swimsuit designer.
After graduating from college four years ago with a degree in nutrition, Andrea moved to Guanacaste. Unfortunately there just weren’t any job openings there – at least not in her field. With few responsibilities and a ton of time on her hands, Andrea found herself gravitating toward the beach.
“All I saw at the beach were bikinis, bikinis and more bikinis. One day I realized that my mom had a sewing machine at her house, and I started making bikinis for myself. Then for my friends. Then for friends of friends of friends. … Before I knew it, girls I didn’t even know were wearing my bikinis at the beach. That’s when I figured I might as well open a store.”
It’s been just under two years since Andrea opened Del Toro Bikinis in Huacas, the tiny crossroads town leading to some of the most popular beaches in northwestern Costa Rica. She cuts and designs all her creations by hand, with a few employees who do most of the sewing. Word is spreading fast and she’s getting more orders from farther distances every day. People can’t seem to get enough.
“Sometimes I lie awake at night and I just want the next day to come because I already have another idea in my head,” she says. “That’s when you’ve found what you really love. When it stops being a job and you just do it because you truly love it.”
Until recently, it had never occurred to Andrea that she could make a living by designing and altering clothes. As a child, she recalls cutting up her mother’s garments and turning them into new ones. “My mom would get mad because every time she’d pick up what she remembered was a blouse, it was a completely different piece of clothing.”
These days, her creations are much more deliberate. At her shop, she designs everything from skimpy cuts intended for sun tanning, to sporty crossbacks designed for intense beach activities. Surfer chicks come from far and wide seeking swimwear that can take a beating in the water. All are made with thicker and more resilient materials than traditional bikinis, so they aren’t as likely to irritate the skin or neck.
Even though the Del Toro brand tends to show more skin than the average two-piece, it seems to flatter nearly all body types – especially in the, uh, posterior region.
“I try to respect women’s feminine curves by not trying to cover them up,” Andrea says. “The more skin you see, the better it will look.”
While she finds inspiration almost everywhere, what mostly sparks her creativity is interacting with the diverse people that come into her store. Paying attention to their individual tastes, she creates a range of products with clients’ varying preferences in mind. No matter if someone is big, small, hourglass or pear-shaped, the basic blueprint is incredibly versatile. Bottom line: a woman doesn’t need a “perfect body” or model’s figure to look sexy in them.
In fact, happy customers are what keep Andrea motivated. She notes, “The thing I love most about my job – apart from being able to bring to life the creations I imagine in my head – is seeing women leave my store smiling. Who doesn’t want to make a living doing something that makes people happy?”
For the sake of variety, Andrea usually buys just enough of any given fabric to make only four suits in that pattern – two cuts in two different sizes. Each week clients can expect to find an almost completely different inventory than the week before. “It’s a bit time consuming, but worth it,” she says. “I don’t want to just crank out a bunch of the same kind. Tamarindo is very small and I don’t want everyone running around in the same bikini.”
Although her unique color combinations are always changing, the moderate price tags remain constant. Del Toro swimwear is quite affordable – especially compared to other, more costly designers in the region.
So what’s next for this 27-year-old entrepreneur? She’s planning to open a second location in Jacó, on the central Pacific coast, in October. In the meantime, you can find her bent over the drafting table in Huacas, her fingers flying across the cutting board trying to keep up with demand.