Bella Noire boutique
300 W. 9th Street
Alisha Gay was a high school student studying fashion on Long Island when Rocawear called, offering her an internship at the fledgling brand. “It wasn't anything yet, except that it was Jay-Z and that was a big deal.” She answered the call (“returning the call was key, because phone calls were big before email”) and thus began a career that took her from Rocawear to the Fashion Institute of Technology to the music video circuit to a boutique in Williamsburg to Bella Noire, her new boutique on Ninth Street, just off Market. (If you can keep up, you can follow her @bellanoireofficial on Instagram.) Alisha is a Woman of Market on the move, as she was when we caught up with her on the phone…
“Well, I'm in Miami right now. I’m buying for the upcoming season, early spring and a bit of summer. I find Miami caters to a curvier woman without compromising style. It’s still fashionable, it's fly, and that's important to me because the sizes in my shop range from an extra small to a double X, but I'm not going to compromise style. So I’m here in Miami, and then we're going to L.A., and then to Panama, and then to New York.”
So what are you seeing in your travels?
“Lots of prints, lots of color, and a lot of lavender, and that's perfect because the store is lavender. A lot of sets – and I love sets, personally. A lot of jumpers. This neon trend is a big deal. And a lot of biker shorts. I'm OK with that, but I'm going to have to figure out how to put them in the store in a way that's going to come across ... grown, you know? It has to come across a certain way.”
Where did the Bella Noire name come from?
“In 2003, I started my clothing line, which I named Bella Noire. At the time, I had access to a lot of video shoots and photo shoots and commercials, and I would do a lot of product placement. That taught me a lot about the business aspects of fashion, because it's cute to have your stuff on TV, but that needs to equate to dollars and cents. It's one thing to say 'Oh, did you see my shirt?' But did you see my bank account? So I fell back a little bit and I ended up opening a vintage and reworked-vintage boutique.”
And you did that in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, before it became über hip.
“The area I was in hadn't really gotten to that place yet. I took a risk and after a couple of years, this couple approached me about buying my business. And I said, “OKAY!” I couldn't believe it. The money they offered me was like … whaaaat? I called my mom and said, ‘I made it!” Well, two years later, I could kick myself, because Williamsburg turned into what it is now.”
So how did you go from Williamsburg to Wilmington?
“My brother was in Brooklyn and was recruited to work at Incyte in Wilmington. In visiting him, I just fell in love with the city. What I saw in Williamsburg back then, I can see that same thing happening here. I can see the potential of the city. And I felt like, of my gosh, here we go again. But this time I'm older, I'm wiser, I'm more settled and I'm ready. And I want to be a part of it in a way that I didn't understand before.”
So what is it about you that you feel gives you an edge in this kind of work?
“Without, like, tooting my own horn too much, I feel I am really good at trends and forecasting. I can see what is good. I don't know how to explain it. Even in the location that I picked for my store, I can see that this is where the cool kids are. Before I knew that this was the Creative District, I could see that that was how it could be. It just makes sense to me. Even if the cool kids are not here right now, I know this is where they’re going to be. And I'm going to make it that way.”