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Wedding bells ring up sales

Although Glenda Sandoval Rodríguez is accustomed to receiving compliments for her work, she never imagined that the accolades would one day come from the first lady of the United States.

A 40-year-old seamstress from Costa Rica, Sandoval specializes in bridal gowns, veils, and related accessories. She met Hillary Rodham Clinton in an exhibition at the Omar Dengo School in San José on May 8 that was held in conjunction with a microenterprise forum organized by the IDB. Seven other Costa Rican microentrepreneurs also participated in the event which was organized by the IDB and USAID. The microentrepreneurs showed their work and discussed their businesses with Ms. Clinton and the first ladies of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize and their hostess, Costa Rican first lady Josette Altmann de Figueres.

That recognition was the unexpected culmination of a long and arduous road for Sandoval. Born in Nicaragua, she migrated to Costa Rica at the age of 14 with her one-year-old baby. She worked first as a domestic servant and then in a restaurant. In 1977 she borrowed a sewing machine from a friend and made a few embroidered bridal headpieces. Sandoval took the samples to variety stores, and to her surprise, orders started coming in. She delivered the orders promptly, and her business has grown ever since.

"As soon as I'd sell something, I'd buy more material," Sandoval recalled. "When my husband saw that we were making more money from my business than from his, he closed his shop and joined me."

For six years Sandoval continued to "rent" her friend's sewing machine. She started taking night classes in sewing design and gradually expanded her offerings to include bridal bouquets and party dresses. Finally, her savings allowed Sandoval to buy a Singer sewing machine and set up shop in the back of her house. In 1986 she got a short-term loan from a local nongovernmental organization, Avance, which she used to travel to Mexico and buy better quality cloth at a lower price.

Sandoval's business continued to grow. In 1993, a $3,000 loan from Credimujer, an IDB-supported NGO, allowed Sandoval to purchase enough materials for two years of work. Today Sandoval's sales average $1,500 per month. "Eventually," she said, "I'd like to open my own bridal salon in San José."

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