Women masqueraders in two-piece costumes during Carnival gave Diana Botero the idea that an intimate-apparel business in Venezuela would do well in Trinidad.
A move to Venezuela's Caribbean neighbour would also help the business survive the economic challenges of her homeland.
It was 2003 when Botero came to Trinidad for Carnival. A year later, she would convince her father to open a store which today, under the name My Perfect Shape, has branches in malls across the island.
"I came on vacation to a Carnival, then I decided to stay for a few months to study English, and then my father came, encouraged by me," Botero told Business Day.
In Venezuela, the Botero family was a shareholder in a chain of intimate-apparel stores.
Botero observed that in Carnival the women's costumes had body shapers and undergarments as the base. It was even part of the fashion worn at fetes.
So she suggested to her father, Luis Jose Botero, that they open a store in Trinidad. He took the idea to his partners in Venezuela and they decided to test the Trinidadian market for a few months.
“We started with the name of Trivenco and then we went on to My Perfect Shape, allied with the Diane and Jordi brands, leaders of underwear in Venezuela and Colombia, and with whom we were associated in Venezuela,” Botero said.
The family also has Colombian roots.
"At first it was very hard trying to reach a difficult market, because Trinidadian women invested a lot in beauty products, but they went more towards the brands already known to them here."
The slow start forced Botero and her family to relaunch the brands and use other strategies.
“We decided to go to the malls, open small booths with lower rent payments and that would attract attention. We focused on the sale of the girdles and that gave us good results."
My Perfect Shape's first store was Pasarella on Frederick Street, Port of Spain, still there today. The other stores operate as My Perfect Shape branches in Aboutique Mall, Port of Spain; Centre City Mall, Chaguanas; Trincity Mall, Trincity; Gulf City Mall, La Romaine; and Carlton Centre in San Fernando.
"Our main product is the girdles, currently selling about 300 units per month – that can reach 500 in December. We also sell sunglasses and underwear for men and women."
The Botero family is an example for Venezuelan businesses operating in other countries, although they have not forgotten their home country.
“If I could return to Venezuela, I would do so, because emotionally it still affects us, But economically, socially and even legally, the situation in Venezuela is very difficult. We sold everything there, and thanks to Trinidad and Tobago, which opened its doors to us, we have been able to stay here,” said Luis Jose.
At 81, Luis Jose Botero believes a complete change of the economic system is needed in his country.
"It is necessary to boost production with good proposals to boost investment so that the business sector can feel comfortable, safe and eager to return to production," he said.
Businessman: How Venezuelan firms survive
Today, Venezuela has gone from being a country of major exports, factories, modern construction to a nation where many people survive by selling clothes, chocolates, juices, cigarettes or coffee on the streets.
Aaron Olmos, a businessman and university lecturer in Venezuela, explained to Business Day by phone that these types of informal markets were examples of the difficulties companies experienced, and which have forced thousands of entrepreneurs to invest in other countries.
“International revenues have decreased by more than 90 per cent."Olmos said this was combined with the decline of the national oil industry, as well as "the exhaustion of the mono-producer and mono-exporter vision" that had become the model of growth and development. But this had shown its weaknesses after more than 20 years of dependence and lack of strategic direction of national production, he said.
This situation has affected both the public and private sectors and Venezuelans in general, who have been unable to carry out routine economic and commercial activities in a hyperinflationary economy, full of controls and with a marked bias to encourage imports over national production.
"Individuals and private entrepreneurs have had to reinvent themselves in the domestic market," said Olmos.
He said setting up any enterprise in Venezuela takes a great investment of time and effort, owing to all the bureaucracy involved.
Private companies have had to rethink their business model, product lines, marketing strategies and distribution of products and services. For this reason, he said, it's more common to see informal enterprises that use social media to promote their products and services, first to friends and relatives, and then to the market in general.
In recent statements to the Venezuelan media, industrial trade union leader Luigi Pisella said the remuneration at private companies was not in line with the income any worker should receive in a country that is in its eighth year in recession and fourth of hyperinflation, which reduced the purchasing power of the ordinary citizen.
Pisella said on average an employee in the industrial sector earns US$90 a month, and in the commercial sector, around US$66-US$70.
“That is why many people have gone to the informal sector. There are no sources of work and our workers are not paid as they deserve,” explained Pisella.
In the last 20 years, thousands of industries have closed, are not functioning, or are underutilised, which has triggered job losses.
"Today we are around 2,000 industries, as opposed to the 12,400 industries we had in 1998," Olmos said.
Hence thousands of Venezuelan entrepreneurs, such as the Botero family, had to leave in search of business opportunities, although they hope one day things in Venezuela will change and they will be able to return.