Shantall Lacayo’s introduction to the world of fashion came at the age of five, when she designed and sewed a tiny dress for her Barbie doll.
Lacayo remembers when her grandmother used to bring her to the Managua Commercial Center to putter around the mall on weekends as a little girl. It was there, among the whirl of sights, sounds and smells of the market, that Lacayo fell in love with the colors and textures of fabrics. She eventually picked out a few scraps of fabric to bring home to sew into a doll-sized dress to give her Barbie an extreme “Managua Nights” makeover.
“It has been my passion ever since; it’s what I love most,” says Lacayo, who finished second runner-up in the first season of Project Runway Latin America.
Lacayo started designing clothing for people when she turned 17 and was give n the task of making costumes for her dance troupe in Managua. That experience quickly led to her getting orders for bridal dresses, social gowns and Miss Nicaragua pageants.
Though the young Nicaraguan designer was hemming a reputation for herself in Managua, it wasn’t until 2010 that she got her first moment in the international spotlight when she got selected to compete on the first season of the fashion-design reality TV show shot in Argentina. On Project Runway Latin America, Lacayo got noticed by the judges right away. In the first week of the program, the young Nicaraguan won first place for her dress design, beating 14 other contestants and becoming an early favorite.
Lacayo ultimately finished in third place, but made it to the final episode of a season. Her quest to be named top fashion designer in Latin America was followed addictively by a cohort of young Nicaraguans who were glued to their TV sets every week to cheer on the hometown favorite.
Since that experience, which Lacayo says “turned my life around,” the 27-year-old designer has opened two ateliers and showrooms in Managua and Buenos Arias. Now she wants to share her passion for fashion by helping to develop local talent and discovering the next great Nicaraguan designer.
That next great talent could be discovered this weekend at “Nicaragua Designs 2012,” an event that Lacayo has been organizing with the Nicaraguan Tourism Board (INTUR) for the past four months.
The two-day fashion-design showcase will be held Saturday and Sunday in Managua, featuring 40 select Nicaraguan artists and clothing designers who were picked for a large pool of applicants. The event is an effort to show “the new face of Nicaragua,” according to INTUR.
“This will act as a type of cultural incubator by featuring the best designs from our country and projecting them internationally,” Lacayo told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
The showcase event will hopefully be the first step in establishing a fashion-design industry in Nicaragua—something Lacayo calls a “definite challenge” in a county where much of the population wears secondhand clothing from the United States.
“No country—Brazil or Argentina—started at the top,” Lacayo says. “Those countries have all had to go through a long journey to get to where they are today. And I think Nicaragua can do the same, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
While Nicaragua may have a ways to go before it becomes synonymous with “high fashion,” this weekend’s event promises to be a starting point.
After all, Lacayo says, the country has all the mysticism, exoticism and creativity needed to become a hit in the fashion world.
“I am sure that the European or U.S. markets will find and exotic and original design that represents our country,” Lacayo told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
Nicaragua may not yet be a hotbed for fashion design, but it is Lacayo’s foundation for strength.
“Nicaragua is my umbilical cord that gives me energy and creativity,” she added. “That’s why I have the confidence to travel the world because I will always remember the road home to Nicaragua.”