Targeting Luxury Fashion Market In Cape Verde’s Subsistence Economy

Written by Ann Brown

Cape Verdean businesswoman Cindy Monteiro, 25, is living her childhood dream of being a professional fashion designer.

Born in Switzerland to emigrants from Santiago Island, Cape Verde, she and her family moved back to Cape Verde when she was 11. At 17, she moved to France to attend college, earning a degree in communication and image. Upon her return to Cape Verde, Monteiro decided to follow her lifelong dream, launching her own clothing brand in December 2013.

Praia, Cape Verde-based CM is a clothing line for executive Cape Verdean women, sold mainly online and in boutiques. Monteiro has attracted a celebrity clientele, including well-known Cape Verdean singer Solange Cesarovna and fashion blogger-Instagram sensation Nadine Fortes.

Monteiro says her designs are influenced by her Cape Verdean heritage with the sensitivity of local women in mind. Her clothing is made with fabrics from all over Africa including Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Senegal, as well as Italy, France, Germany, and Lebanon.

CM designs are sold locally in Cape Verde boutiques as well on though an online store.

Monteiro talked to AFKInsider about her business.

AFKInsider: What made you create a collection of women’s clothing?

Cindy Monteiro: Since I was a little girl, I always had this dream of being a big fashion designer. I have a lot of drawings from when at 7 years old I was already designing women’s clothes. I was this weird kid at school who always liked to wear weird things and things that were not for my age. I always said, ‘When I grow up, I will only wear skirt suits and high heels.’ I just forgot that I live in a county where the weather is too hot to be always suited up, and that our roads do not allow us to wear high heels unless you are willing to break your ankle.

AFKInsider: You studied communication. Why the move to fashion?

Cindy Monteiro: As I said, it has always been a dream, and when I came back from France I had this opportunity to create a collection for a hair fashion show. It was great and that’s where everything started. I decided to invest in this area.

AFKInsider: How would you describe your brand?

Cindy Monteiro: My brand is a brand made for people to feel and look the best of themselves or the person they want to be. It is about feeling powerful and self confident via something sober, chic, and with a lot of character.

(Photo: CM Designs)
Photo: CM Designs

AFKInsider: What fashion style do women in Cape Verde most desire?

Cindy Monteiro: Most of the women in Cape Verde, and mainly the new generation, want to look sexy. And for me sexy is about self confidence and power. Powerful women are sexy.

AFKInsider: Who are you customers?

Cindy Monteiro: My costumers are mainly women age 30 to 50. I would say 20 percent of them are foreigners.

Do you have customers outside Cape Verde?

Cindy Monteiro: Yes, mainly in France.

AFKInsider: How did you fund the startup?

Cindy Monteiro: I am very lucky because my family and mainly my mother invested in me and my talent. And for the rest I worked to open the doors myself.

AFKInsider: What were some challenges in starting up?

Cindy Monteiro: I think that my first challenge was dealing with my own fear that maybe it was not a good idea and that it might not work. It might seem like nothing but it’s the real and most difficult challenge because it’s with yourself. When it concerns other things like business decisions, you always manage to find your way, even when it takes some time.

Photo: cindymonteiro.com
Photo: cindymonteiro.com

AFKinsider: Fashion is highly competitive. How do you stand out?

Cindy Monteiro: By being myself. I know I sound idealistic and maybe a bit innocent but I believe that there is space for all of us. My mom always tells me: “What has to be yours will be and no one can take it from you. You just have to work hard for what you want and not fall asleep waiting for it to happen.”

AFKInsider: How have you been able to get a celebrity following?

Cindy Monteiro: I used to give fashion advice for the TV show “Show da Manhã” (“Morning Show”). So people have known me first for that and after as a designer.

AFKInsider: What is it like having a small business in Cape Verde?

Cindy Monteiro: A small businesses in this field is hard here in Cape Verde. Fashion as I like to do it targets a luxury economy and we live in a country with a subsistence economy. So you end up doing it more for your own pleasure than for the return that your business is giving you.

AFKInsider: Are you making money from the business?

Cindy Monteiro: No. I do not. All the shows and the representations that I have been doing were with my own money. But I know I have been acting like an artist and not a business owner. Because it’s what I really am. So I end up doing it more for my own satisfaction.

As a business owner I might have never started my business in this area, at least not here in Cape Verde. We have a subsistence economy where every little thing that you need (like furniture) is imported. Add to that the price of handwork. (Workers) are not always qualified and not cheap.

So when you have added all those additional costs, even if you want to make something inexpensive, it won’t be, unless you start doing some massive production. And I still believe that even in that situation it might be difficult, because it would have to be real cheap (like) Sucupira (an open air market with small boutiques in Praia, Cape Verde) and the Chinese clothing stores. Massive production and luxury is antagonist, and fashion is luxury. At least, in the way I see it and in the way I do it.

When I started my business I was less realistic. As I said I’m a dreamer, and even if I know and I am fully aware of all the difficulties of this business, I still do it. I have learned patience, which has helped me to always give my best, and I keep doing things as I think they should be.

I do it for me, because I believe it will change. It will take time but it will. I also do it for the next generation. Because I believe when they will start and find some bases (even if they are not very strong), it might help them not to have the same problems I have had.

AFKInsider: What do your peers in the business say about you?

Cindy Monteiro: That’s a good question. I do not know. And to be sincere I don’t think I want to know.

AFKInsider: What has been your biggest business lesson?

Cindy Monteiro:  To always have a plan B, C, D, E and even a F.

AFKInsider: What are your long-term goals?

Cindy Monteiro: I’m a dreamer who is not afraid of work, and I have the dream that one day my work might be known in all the world.

AFKInsider: What do you like the most about what you do?

Cindy Monteiro: I love the all the things. I just do not like the administrative and the business work because for me it’s boring. But I love the feeling, the adrenaline of the brainstorming when you start to put your collection on paper; when you are searching for textures, colors; and when you start assembling all the pieces and it gets out of the paper to become something real. It’s amazing. Then you see the smile of the person who is wearing it and…it doesn’t have a price.

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About Ann Brown
Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in CocoaFab, Black Enterprise, Essence, MadameNoire.com, New York Trend, Upscale, Moguldom, AFKInsider, The Network Journal, Playboy, Africa Strictly Business, For Harriet, Pathfinders, Black Meetings & Tourism, Frequent Flier, Girl, Honey, Source Sports, The Source, Black Radio Exclusive, and Launch. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cabo Verde,” a Facebook community.