BWC's Josh Langford sits down with Bela Shehu, founder and designer of Philadelphia's hidden gem, NINObrand, "the coveted women's line described as the fashion brand of the future, with an aesthetic both modern & classic."
Read full interview below.
1) You have such a unique aesthetic/style. Do you feel that Philadelphia has influenced you when it comes to design? If so, how? If not, where do you find inspiration?
"The rhythm and lifestyle of living in Philly is carried in all of the pieces that I make, but so is the vibe of Brussels where my parents live — or Montreal, NYC, Berlin and every cosmopolitan city I navigate. NINObrand is the perfect gear for the urban dweller; it's functional, technical, modular and chic. I suppose the main idea is to equip myself and like-minded people with all the right tools when it comes to packaging an objective. "
2) Your customer interaction is a little different than most. Can you tell me how you go about your "appointment only" structure and why you have it this way? What does it mean for NINObrand?
"When I was looking for a work space, I kept holding an awareness in the fact that I wanted to share my process with my collectors. There is a particular magic and pureness that gets transferred to all the pieces that we make, so I wanted to create an environment where a collector could experience and connect with that. The one-on-one appointments ensure an inspiring and elevated state of mind to be dominant, and that allows for a strong loyalty in the relationships with our collectors. This approach has proven to be very successful for us, so we're sticking with it."
3) What is one goal of yours that you haven't achieved yet, but want to in 2017?
"To reach a global market - that sweet tipping point. "
4) If you had to give any advice to a designer trying to come up in this industry, what are three things you would tell them?
"My first advice is to not get in this industry at all. "The industry" makes it nearly impossible for a newcomer to play successfully in it. But if one were guided by pure passion and joy to design and study the market, then three of the magic components would be the development/manufacturing team, sourcing and photography. These then would need to be followed by product placement strategy, which turns the design process into a business."
5) We both know this is a cut-throat industry. I'm curious to know what has kept you in the game for this long, and how? At what stage in your career did you realize that this was going to be your job - for life?
"From very early on, I realized that designing and making clothes would be part of my life forever - just like cooking, traveling or breathing; it's a necessity for my existence. When I was 22, I thought to explore it as a business, and I haven't looked back since. With practice, I've gotten very savvy, which makes it possible for me to be comfortable indulging in my passion, and make a living in the process. I suppose this was my calling all along."