Tropical Soul Design for Dkoko Surf Bikinis
New design for Dkoko by Erykah Zeledón from Collage Diseño with the guaria morada and flor de sancuajoche

The first time I came to Nicaragua was 12 years ago. I swam in the waters of Lake Cocibolca, climbed Maderas Volcano and danced beneath the full moon in Granada. I fell in love with the slow pace of time, with dragon fruit for breakfast, and with the friendly, sincere smiles of the people I met along the way. This first trip not only opened my eyes to the beauty of my country's neighbor to the north, but also imprinted my spirit with a thirst for different landscapes and cultures, guiding the journeys of my life for years to come... 

Five years after creating Dkoko as a graduation project for my degree in Fashion Design, last year I had to begin paying more attention to the numbers. I hired someone to calculate my exact production costs. Soon after, my accountant informed me that despite having doubled our sales each year, we were still not producing profit. We had sold thousands of bikinis, but our costs were so high that we incurred more and more debt. I learned then that the difficulty of doing what we love (for us creative types, especially) is that we can't ignore the boring and tedious reality that, at the end of the day, puts food on the table.

As I confronted the financial reality of my business, I also received the news that the company that sewed our products was going to double our prices for the following year. Worried, I began searching for new options in various cities around Costa Rica - to no avail. Each week I visited a different workshop to compare samples. The results were frustrating, to say the least. 

One afternoon in October, I was sitting at my computer trying to work when the thought entered my headspace that I was bored of surfing my home break every day. I thought about Nicaragua. On that first trip I hadn't even started surfing yet, and lately I had been hearing how good the waves were up there. Automatically the name 'Playa Colorado' came to mind - surely I had heard it from someone telling me about the waves there, but I couldn't remember who or when. I checked AirBnB and reserved a room for the very next day.

I left early from Playa Hermosa, crossed the border, drove to Playa Colorado and checked in. I arrived to the beach just in time to see the beautiful orange sunset over the horizon. The next day I awoke early, paddled out at dawn, and after a few waves I couldn't believe how much fun I was having in this new paradise found.

After a week of surfing perfect waves I decided to try my luck and drove to Managua - a city where I had never been and where I didn't know anyone - to search for a place to help me sew our surf bikinis. 

From that time on I began making frequent visits to Nicaragua, and at the end of December, I made the impulsive decision to come and live here. I filled a shipping container with all of Dkoko's fabrics and materials and said to myself, without quite knowing just yet how I would do it, that I was going to begin production in Nicaragua.

I don't quite know how life works - if a certain destiny exists for that type of thing. But I have experienced how opportunities present themselves silently and by surprise, without having planned them. And how certain decisions can change drastically the direction of our journeys.  

It wasn't easy. I experienced the difficulty of starting from zero and doing things in a country where I am a foreigner. But I had the blessing of meeting many good people who have helped me immensely. The Nicaraguan people have welcomed me like family. I realized that those sincere, friendly smiles I noticed twelve years ago on my very first trip to Nicaragua, are still the same today, and they are as real as it gets.

A few months ago I was driving with a Nicaraguan girlfriend I met living here. We were returning home after a weekend in San Juan del Sur. The plumeria trees - or sancuanjoches, as they call them here - were full of sweetly fragrant flowers, the winds from the lake blew perfectly offshore, and the volcanoes peaked in cloudless skies in the distance. We returned happy, listening to music and singing. After a while I asked my friend: 

'Steph, don't you think it's strange that Ticos and Nicas have always fought despite being so similar? Look at this place, it's like being in Guanacaste - we speak and eat similarly, and we like all the same things."

"Of course," she said. "We are the same, we are right next to one another, and in both of our countries we have the same tropical soul."

Yes, I thought. That's it. We share the same tropical soul...

Since last April, Dkoko now has its own sewing workshop in Masaya, a city famous for the talent of its artisans. After these three months working with my new team, I'm proud of the quality of each and every piece, designed and produced with love. It is a true joy to incorporate the skills of our new team members in the upcoming Dkoko collection.

We continue distributing our bikinis to the world from our office in Costa Rica, and I travel there once or twice per month to work, visit friends and family and surf my favorite Costa Rican waves. After all, we are only a few hours away. 

Life in Nicaragua is good. I work most days from my home in Playa Colorado, I travel a couple of times a week to the workshop in Masaya, I brought my dog and I'm obsessed with learning how to get barrelled in these perfect waves created by the winds off the lake.

Dkoko continues to be a small business, but it has expanded to become a Central American company, with a mix of both Costa Rican and Nicaraguan talent for the creation of beautiful products used by women around the world. With this new concept in mind, Costa Rican designer Erykah Zeledón of Collage Diseño redesigned our garment tags and made us the 'Tropical Soul' design, in which she combined illustrations of the guaria morada and the sancuanjoche flower (the national flowers of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, respectively).

I am forever grateful to everyone who has trusted in me, supported me, and of course, to all of the women who use our designs and love our brand as much as we do. I have all the confidence in the world that this change is just the beginning of many more good things to come for Dkoko. 

Life of a surf bikini designer in Nicaragua
Some pictures of my new life in Nicaragua. Upper left picture: working on patterns in my house in Playa Colorado. Right: discovering new waves. Bottom picture: Getting ready for a surf at sunset in my new home.

Translation from spanish to english by my friend and writer Tara Ruttenberg, visit her blog here