.By Ellen Zoe Golden .Photos courtesy: Kata Kis
In a town with diverse cultures like Tamarindo the country of Hungary is represented by the lovely, talented Kata Kis, owner of the stylish boutique Papaya Con Leche. Raised in the dreary communist block, she was fascinated with the idea of creating beautiful things. Kis was set on a career in ceramic arts, but her journey to the beach led to creating bathing suits, clothing, furniture, dolls and more.
THE Tamarindo News sat down to talk with Kata Kis in the lounge area of her new space located at Pacific Park’s commercial center.
THE Tamarindo News: Tell me about growing up in Hungary.
Kata Kis: I lived in Debrecen, near Budapest for the early years of my life. Hungary was part of the communist block and our apartment was in one of those 10-story plain, basic buildings with nothing architectural about it. Everything was smaller when I was growing up, but that was normal and my life was nothing to frown about. We went to the market every day for meat, eggs, veggies, which were available but we did have to stand in line for some things like bananas. Both my grandmothers were seamstresses, tailors–they actually made a living as tailors which was unusual because traditionally there the tailors were men. I would live with one of them in the summers. I had my first business sewing little t-shaped shirts in the first grade. The big kick back them was tiedyed gauzy material. It wasn’t readily available, but my Dad was a paramedic so he brought home big sheets of gauze from work and I tiedyed it. I have always made money.
TTN: When did you leave the country?
KK: I moved to Canada with my brother in 1989 to study ceramic arts and English, never thinking I would end up doing what I’m doing now. I didn’t want to stay, it was too cold. When I moved to California, I met Koral’s father and after 8 years in San Diego, we decided to move to Playa Negra for the waves so he could surf. I think surfing is great, and I like boogie boarding and paddle boarding. I started sewing matching bathing suits for me and Koral, and people started asking about them, and asking me to make suits for them. It was a fluke and I thought if it fizzled out I could always go back to my business plan for a high-end ceramic studio. My first bikini company was called La Sirena, and besides in Negra, I started selling the suits and dresses in Tamarindo Pacific and Azul Profundo . I had no business plan for making bikinis, it has been very organic. Next I had The Bikini Factory out near where the Automercado is now, but changed the name because I was doing clothes now and people would tell me they thought I only made bikinis because of the name. Finally, I got the opportunity to open a shop near the Diria and became Papaya con Leche. This name fits my goods, which are playful and tropical—shoes, actual furniture, bathing suits and clothes. I’m constantly creating.
TTN: How did you evolve at the Diria spot?
KK: I kept growing, and everything was very specialized for the clients, all custommade and size specific, and even copied old favorites. It was killer and a lot of work. I eventually had to reconstruct the business because it became overly complicated. I added another aspect, outside clothing that fit in with my brand. These were stylish, affordable clothes for Tamarindo that fit the climate. I also started making ragdolls for kids and grown women. They speak to the child in us. I wanted to move grownups in the same way as the kids.
TTN: Has this been entirely a solo venture for you?
KK: Through the years there have been other creative forces. Like Chelsea Lisaius, who helped me come up with one particular bikini style and collaborated on the rag dolls, like making a removable mermaid tail for them that the little girls go crazy for. Krystl Apeles, a top world surfer who was on board for 6 to 8 months. Two more people are Lorena Guitierrez, who has been with me over 18 years as a master seamstress, and the other is Serena Xing, a fashion savvy computer guru. Then there’s Valentina Subercaseaux, who’s been with me for 4 or 5 months. She is an amazing creative source that worked hard with me redoing the logo and overall revamp the brand. Rik Grencik (the love of my life) was instrumental to help me with the actual build out of the store. He has worked 15 hour days to make all this happen.
TTN: Why did you move the shop?
KK: The old store was closing in on me especially given the direction I wanted to go. Pacific Park was a blank canvas. Working with Val, the new place had great spatial design, industrial with high ceilings. It took 3 months to design and 6 weeks to build. I wanted a big space to bring in other creative people from the area and from the country. Like Luni with their beach towel designed like a traditional cart wheel, and Agustina Bartolleli, whose glass art hangs in the shop for sale. And I have a partnership with Che boards for Papaya Con Leche surfboards. I’m thinking of putting furniture on the ceiling upside down. There is a platform on wheels that I can roll out for fashion shows. And I want this shop to be a collecting point for all creative feminine energy. Come in, have some tea and sit on our couch and relax. We are hosting a graphic artist here for Tamarindo Art Wave as well.
TTN: Sounds like you have a lot of things you will be doing.
KK: I’m a terrible business woman. I have too many ideas to make them all happen. I thought Tamarindo could use a different collection point. There’s a lot of restaurants and bars, but here at Papaya con Leche it’s a different color and taste, playful, you can literally play with a ragdoll. I myself like to play with things, and my job is playing all day. If you do what you love, it’s not a burden. That is success in my book.