Casco stands out for its streets abuzz with creative flair and energy. The creativity is immediately apparent as you take in Casco’s stylized architecture and sample its inventive gastronomy, but also in the colorful graffiti and the innovations of its designers as you turn Casco’s corners and peek in shop windows.
María Quintero, the Panamanian designer and genius behind Undercover, embodies a prime example of this vision and talent. Some children dream of growing up to be superheroes, while others aspire to be great athletes or heroic world leaders. But María Quintero had a very different vision. It all started in a young girl’s dream to design rain boots. After each trip with her parents, she would come back with a new pair of boots in her luggage. And that passion never faded. It was kept alive on the backburner when she went to study in Switzerland, when she started a family, and during the decade she spent working in the hotel industry. But the day came when, tired of toiling 14-hour days, she decided to take the decisive step to reinvent herself and finally follow that young girl’s dream. She detoxed for a couple of months, diving into another passion: I decided to take a sabbatical and spent time on a horse farm in Virginia to heal myself from the smog and concrete. She came out renewed. And, after months of re-working concepts and designs, the first rain boot prototype arrived in Panama.
What did you do when you finally touched that inaugural boot?
I was so excited that I slept embracing it.
Today, her rain boots are online, available to buy on Amazon , and in the now famous Undercover store in the heart of Panama City’s Casco Viejo.
We sat down to chat with María at Undercover, located between Avenue A and 5th street in San Felipe. The store was open, and we were briefly interrupted by people popping in to browse the gorgeous and constantly expanding selections on view by Panamanian designers: cushions and home goods, designs for children, flip-flops with playful images inspired by Panamanian popular culture, beauty products and more.
But the star at Undercover is – without a doubt — the famous rain boots.
We are the only Panamanian company that makes rain boots. It’s a quintessentially Panamanian boot featuring Panamanian designs. The percentage of rubber is greater than that used in other boots, which makes our product more flexible and smoother too, while retaining their natural rubber resistance. Four underlying concepts frame my designs: fauna, flora, folklore and the last pillar is the free interaction with a Panamanian artist, so that he or she can shape his or her own artistic ideas.
What’s the most popular product among your clientele?
By far the most popular is the Tembleque Boot. It’s almost sold out. For those of you who are not familiar with Panamanian folklore, the tembleque is a striking part of the headdress of an “empollerada” — a woman dressed in the national costume we call pollera.
The origins of tembleque lie in ladies adorning their hair with natural flowers. These flowers withered quickly and were replaced over the years by similar ornaments, but made with different materials. These ornaments literally tremble as the empollerada moves, hence the name tembleque.
How is the pace of production going?
Things have moved pretty fast for us: our Undercover brand is now 3 years old and our store in Casco Viejo opened almost a year and a half ago. The next big step will be launching the label in the USA, Brazil, Mexico and Europe, and we’ve already started working on a few concepts for the US market. The first designs we developed include a Cherry Blossom (in the flora category), and a Dream Catcher (for folklore). The next one will be a Sequoia.
What does having your store in Casco mean to you?
The opportunity to open my store in Casco is very special to me. Casco Viejo is like another world. Every morning I feel like I travel to another country. As a Panamanian I am very proud of Casco — I think we should have a casqueño ID. I feel a strong sense of belonging to this place and feel I am a part of something very special being created here.