When Montserrat Dibango was young, she admired her Aunt Albertina, a seamstress who lived in Nicoya and inspired her to create things with her own hands.
“I felt like she was performing magic, creating things out of nothing,” says the 35-year-old designer in her workshop, which is located near the neighborhood where her aunt lived.
Since she couldn’t find a profession in Nicoya that would teach her about everything she liked, she sought out a “profitable” career outside of the province, but she never forgot her love for fashion.
Today, her clothes are shown off on national and international fashion walkways and she is one of five designers chosen to dress the next Miss Costa Rica.
The events she is invited to, the providers who buy her clothes and customers are almost always in San Jose. But her inspiration is in Guanacaste, which is why she is here today, not only designing but also helping other Guanacastecans start their paths into the world of fashion.
Montserrat has large, brown eyes and brown hair and the energy of those who start the day early. She usually wakes up at 4:20 a.m, gets her kids ready for school and arrives at the workshop at 7 a.m.
Heer office is a room in the back of the workshop, away from machines and fabric where she spends hours designing and doing administrative work. Earrings made with remnants of previous works hang from her desk and that is, more or less, how she tells her life story, in a bunch of pieces that, now, fit together in a perfect puzzle.
She studied economics in the National University for four years and then dropped out a year before graduation. Then she took up hotel administration. Her parents thought that, in an arts major, she wasn’t going to do well, but she still took courses on silversmithing and dressmaking in order to not lose sight of her true passion.
What ended up bringing her back to Guanacaste was her work in hotels, restaurants and ziplining. But she quit all that in order to put into practice what she had been working on since she asked her Aunt Betty to make her clothes, just two watch her do it.
The brand born that bears her name attracted other young people to learn about fashion and design since 2015.
“I started giving clases in order to give the girls a tool.” A couple of years ago, Montserrat offered a workshop attended by people from all over the province. “I told them, ‘if I have been able to reach this point, you can do the same, or even better.”
One of her students, who came from Bagaces to take the class every Saturday, now has her own brand of bags, Montserrat said with a smile. “I believe heavily in the power of the universe and if you feel that you can’t share it’s because you are denying abundance.”
Women from the ages of 22 to 54 work with her. “The clothes have to speak for each one of us,” Montserrat says friendly and with conviction.
Nabiuska Rodríguez, 23, works outside the office, near the workshop’s entrance. Nabi, as she is known, studied hairstyling and dressmaking in Nicoya’s CTP. She migrated to San Jose when she couldn’t find work and started a job in a sweatshop.
“You would show up, say good morning and that was it. No more talking throughout the long work days,” she recalls. It was a stressful environment, but she has been working in Montserrat’s workshop for the last year-and-a-half, just a few minutes away from her house in Barrio San Martin with much better working conditions. She’s learned a lot in the process.
“Her perspective and the way she sees things is unique, and it motivates you to see things in a different way,” says Nabi, who is in the process of buying equipment and designing a logo to open her own workshop.
Monsterrat hopes more young people in Guanacaste like Nabi get encouraged and start their own businesses and seek support with her if they need it.