Story by Bavani, Photos by Amanda Antilla
Chic and functional. A killer combination every woman wants to hear when buying a handbag. We have all, at some point, had to compromise on elegance for functionality or vice-versa. Visionary entrepreneur, Kimberly Mitchell-Catlett’s brainchild, Bella Modi Handbags which was launched in November last year aims to eliminate that need for compromise. Bella Modi offers customers the uncompromising ability to design their own bag, hence making it a personal statement piece. I want to empower and enable women to have what they need to be successful. Every little tool that makes a woman’s life easier is one step closer to getting where she needs to be that day or that night.”
“My grandmother loved her Italian roots. When I was little and visited her, she would try to speak Italian and she always greeted me with the word, ‘Bella’, which means beautiful. Bella Modi means ‘Beautiful Ways’. The name is a tribute to my late grandmother,” Mitchell-Catlett explained of the significance of Bella Modi’s name.
Nestled in a cozy office downtown, you’ll find Mitchell-Catlett, a one-woman operation, working on every aspect of her business from purchasing, marketing, and sales to painstakingly stitching and assembling each and every handbag herself.
Mitchell’s inspiration for Bella Modi was born of a need to design customized shoes for her size 5 feet. She was tired of the difficulty of replacing her favorite shoes and having to shop in the kids’ shoe department. “The only shoes that could fit me had Hello Kitty designs on them,” she grinned.
Mitchell-Catlett had always known that she wanted to create and produce shoes and handbags. However, the process of creating the interchangeable shoe system proved to be more complicated than anticipated. She finally decided to leave the product development, temporarily, to the specialist team she works with that spans the globe. Instead, she shifted her focus to something else that she could be more productive at. Handbags! The whole process for Bella Modi Handbags took nine months from conception to the finished product.
Curious about how the process works, Mitchell-Catlett took me through the steps. A customer starts off by using the online configurator tool on the Bella Modi website to build a bag in real time. The first choice to be made is from one of the three fully or one moderately customizable bags that are made from high-quality leather. This is where the fun begins. Customers can mix and match the handles, closures, exterior pockets, lining, internal and external colors. While the options for purchase are now via the office or website, Mitchell-Catlett’s vision for the future includes direct sales and home parties.
Mitchell-Catlett shared, “this is not just a bag for women. It is geared towards men, too, who want to give that special someone not just a handbag off the shelves, but one that they had a fun experience of designing and a look that they can take ownership of.”
For Mitchell-Catlett, the road to Bella Modi has been a bumpy one. She has had eye-opening experiences attempting to get it off the ground. With no prior skills in creating bags, she sought the services of self-proclaimed experts, one to whom she even paid $3600 to create what she had envisioned. I was privy to a viewing of it, and saying that the returned product looked like it wasn’t fit for sale would have been an understatement.
Mitchell-Catlett went from never having sewed before to designing, patterning, and making the handbags, completely self-taught. When asked what advice she would give aspiring entrepreneurs, she offered, “be prepared for the long haul. And even more than that, do not discount your own level of intelligence. If something feels wrong, or feels right, it probably is. If you think you can do it better, you probably can.” She also added that a good support system is always valuable. She turns to her husband, who has a background in marketing, to “bounce off ideas.”
Mitchell-Catlett said that she sees, an addition of designs such as wallets and backpacks in Bella Modi’s future. She hopes to grow into a big business which gives back to the community. A manufacturing facility and a team to focus on the consistent production of exquisitely-designed bags are in sight.
Visit Bella Modi Handbags at www.bellamodi.com