Meet H.A. Bell: designer, business woman, mother and the woman behind The Passionista. From a young age she has been enamored by the craft of design, but decided to take a different path in her life. As she transitioned into a career she was clearly good at, she couldn’t help but return to her passion to build the brand that embodies her love for fashion.
As you continue to read, you will be able to see the fire she puts into her dream. Her story will definitely motivate you to never give up on yours.
MiMi: What are 3 words you would use to describe yourself?.
H.A Bell: Creative, Ambitious & Determined
MiMi: Who is the woman behind the brand?
H.A Bell: I, H.A. Bell, am the founder and woman behind the brand. I have always had an eye for design and fashion. I started designing dresses in my teenage years, but decided to pursue a career in Engineering upon graduating High School. Two years ago, I returned to my love for fashion design and in October 2015, I launched The Passionista.
I’m happy to wear many hats; I am a professional Engineer, I majored in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame (shout-out to my dear friend from college, Dr. Janelle Osadebay-Brown of Nassau) and I am also a General Contractor. My first business was and still is Home & Commercial Building Design & Construction. However, my most important and rewarding job is being a mother to my beautiful 5 year old daughter.
MiMi: For those who don’t know about your brand, what is The Passionista? How did you get started?
H.A Bell: The Passionista specializes in trendsetting looks for the fashionable traveler. Our mission is not only to empower women through fashion, but also to encourage women around the world to open their horizons and travel. We are passionate about encouraging women to build confidence in themselves through seeing and doing things they never thought possible.
Once I realized I had a concept for the brand, I began to research ways to start my own clothing line. I quickly realized that the fashion industry is not very accommodating for up and coming brands and that the minimums required to start a fashion line would be outrageous for a small business. I decided that curating designs from select brands was the best way for me to start in this industry.
MiMi: What was the inspiration behind The Passionista?
H.A Bell: In late 2014 and early 2015, I began to continuously visualize and sketch new and interesting swimwear and resort wear designs. It eventually became clear that I could no longer ignore my urge to bring glamour to travel. I decided to specialize in provocative looks which embody femininity and exude class. I am originally from the US Virgin Islands. Each day, women from around the world travel to our territory and, naturally, I was inspired to create unique looks in the swimwear and resort wear fashion categories.
MiMi: How do you think The Passionista differs from others?
H.A Bell: Well, for one thing, we cater to women who don’t mind showing off their curves or flashing a little extra skin while they’re on vacation or enroute to an exotic locale. We believe every woman is beautiful, period. So we design and curate sexy styles that suit women from a size 2 to a size 22. At The Passionista, we absolutely believe in quality; from the styles of our garments to the fabric and stitching of each, nothing misses our eye for quality. We carry pieces from Trinidad to London, Australia to Venezuela. We find those styles you’ve been in search of and ensure that they’re of the highest quality.
MiMi: What was the most challenging obstacle you had to overcome?
H.A Bell: Currently our most challenging obstacle is shipping. We ship worldwide, however, the costs associated with shipping to certain countries discourage customers in those countries from placing their orders. We’ve had customers from Ethiopia that have inquired about shipping to their location, but due to the rates set by the shipping companies, it makes things extremely difficult on our end. Reducing the shipping costs to our international customers is by far our greatest challenge since we cannot control the carrier’s rates.
MiMi: What motivates you to complete your goal?
H.A Bell: I have always been self-motivated and I usually set very high goals for myself; I sometimes fail in pursuit of my goals, but one thing is I never stop pursuing them. At times, I may want to give up, but I have a young daughter and she is watching every move I make. My daughter even helps to select some of the designs for The Passionista. She is my motivation, everything I do, I do it for her. I always push on because I know if I stop, I will never achieve my goals and that is not the example I want to set for my daughter.
MiMi: How do you think you’ve changed or improved since the beginning of your career?
H.A Bell: I’ve learned not to take everything at face value, I do more research to verify that companies or people are indeed the way they portray themselves to be. This skill comes in handy not only for my career but also for my everyday personal interactions with people.
MiMi: For those pursing a similar career path as yours, what advice can you share?
H.A Bell: Be fearless, stay the course and don’t take no for an answer. If you truly want your business to be a success, you will find a way.
MiMi: Do you want to eventually branch out to creating your own designs?
H.A Bell: At the moment we are actively developing three of my original designs. They should be ready on our website for the Fall of 2016. My ultimate goal for The Passionista has always been to showcase designs by and for our brand.
MiMi: What do you love most about what you do?
H.A Bell: I absolutely love designing our new line of clothing for The Passionista. I would also say that discovering up and coming designers from around the world and working to bring them exposure is also something I really love to do.
MiMi: Do you want to stay in the fashion industry for the remainder of your career?
H.A Bell: I think I will, but I am not absolutely sure. I truly believe that the fashion industry will always play a major role in my career, but I think I would ultimately like to incorporate more traveling and adventure in what I do.
MiMi: I love the diversity of the models on your site, was that a conscious decision?
H.A Bell: It absolutely was! As we all know, cultural diversity in the fashion industry remains a major issue that has yet to be overcome. At The Passionista, we believe all women are beautiful, period. We consciously aim to represent women from all walks of life and it is our goal to clearly reflect that on our website and social media sites.
MiMi: Here at The COCO Magazine we too try to reflect the diversity of women in our Caribbean community. We know how some women can be marginalized and we applaud you for your conscious effort to be inclusive diverse. Looking back, is there anything you would change in regards to opportunities you may have missed or certain decisions made?
H.A Bell: If I could do it again, I think I would definitely perform a more in-depth research of the companies I purchased from initially. False advertising is real. Oftentimes, the photos on display look too good to be true for the listed prices; sometimes these companies steal photos from other companies who actually sell quality garments and use it for their own benefit. It took me a while to identify those companies that have misleading business practices and I am glad that I didn’t lose too much time or money in the process.
MiMi: Your site takes a particular focus on travel. What are your top 5 tips when taking a trip?
H.A Bell: My top 5 tips are:
- Pack Light – There’s nothing worse than lugging a heavy suitcase around the world
- Always Dress to Kill – Even when you are enroute to your destination, always look your best. You never know who you may see [laughs]
- Try Something New – From new adventures to new cuisines, always make your trip an experience you won’t forget
- Pack Extra Cash – Remember s#*t happens, always make sure you have access to extra cash or credit from more than one account or have family members on standby who can send you money in the event that it’s necessary
- Travel with an Open Mind and Spirit – Always take time to research the local customs in your destination; remember to show respect for the people and their culture. Oftentimes a little respect will go a long way
MiMi: What was your most inspirational destination and why?
H.A Bell: My most inspirational destination was Port Au Prince, Haiti. Poverty in the country was very evident, but equally evident was the beauty of the people and the innovative means they adopted to survive and thrive. I remember seeing leagues of school-children out in the parks at night reading and doing their homework. Someone asked the guide, “Why aren’t they at home completing their schoolwork?” The guide said, “They are here because they do not have any electricity at home, the parks have light, so they come here to study.” That was a very profound moment for me. Here is a country that truly knows the value of electricity and education; two things that Virgin Islanders or even Bahamian’s take for granted everyday. Several Haitians don’t readily have access to many of the amenities we are fortunate to enjoy, but they are making the best with what little they have.
MiMi: What do you hope to accomplish within the next 5 years?
H.A Bell: In 5 years, I hope to have successfully launched The Passionista as an independent label where all designs are created in-house and sold from our online and brick & mortar stores.
MiMi: What’s next for The Passionista?
H.A Bell: Currently, we are working to expand our community service outreach. We are actively involved with non-profit organizations that assist women who are homeless, promote women’s education and encourage women’s empowerment in the process.
Fun Facts about H.A. Bell
MiMi: What is your favorite show to binge watch?
H.A Bell: I don’t watch TV, but occasionally I do tune in to YouTube. My favorite channel to watch is Dr. Sandra Lee (a.k.a. Dr. Pimple Popper). If I wasn’t an Engineer, I’d definitely become a Dermatologist just to be able to extract some pimples. Pimple popping and bodily extractions are my absolute favorite things to binge watch, I could literally tune in for hours.
MiMi: If you could meet anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
H.A Bell: I would love to meet any one of my Ancestors who lived during the era of slavery or in the kingdoms of pre-colonial Africa. I think it would answer so many of my questions about who they were, how they lived and what their aspirations were for me and the future generation.
MiMi: What is your dream vacation?
H.A Bell: My dream vacation would involve a cruise or yacht charter whose ports of call would include the major cities and popular destinations which border the Mediterranean Sea. From Alexandria to Monte Carlo, Malta and the Amalfi Coast, a trip to that region would definitely fulfill the travel goals on my bucket-list.
MiMi: What is your go-to everyday outfit?
H.A Bell: My everyday go-to outfit would be my favorite pair of jeans (I’ve had since my freshman year of College), a fitted top, a jacket and heels (or flats).
MiMi: What’s the one thing you love to do when no one is around?
H.A Bell: When no one is around, I love to design beautiful dream homes, sketch one of a kind fashion styles or visualize my next career move.
MiMi: Last book you read?
H.A Bell: The last book I read was Voyager (Outlander, Book 3) by Diana Gabaldon. I really like the Outlander series thus far. I know the series originally came out in the 90’s but it’s about romance and time-travel so the message remains timeless. I am glad that I discovered her writing; I think she is a pretty gifted writer and storyteller. I haven’t had time to read Book 4, but with all the twists and turns of her previous 3 books, I know I’m in for a treat.
MiMi: Model or designer you would love to work with?
H.A Bell: Dream Model I’d love to work with: Naomi Campbell. Dream Designer I’d love to work with: Olivier Rousteing… A girl can dream!
When it comes to doing what you love, taking a leap of faith is necessary. Yes, there will be obstacles awaiting you and challenges fighting to block you, but all the hard work will surely be worth it in the end. I am a firm believer in “if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life”.
I love that this brand encourages women to be and feel confident. No matter what her size, to be empowered and inspired; specifically, by travel. A fabulous excursion may be just what you need to rediscover yourself and when you decide to take that plunge head over to thepassionista.com.