WORDS / MORGAN COOK
Wayne Bell and Daniel Bonner, creators and owners of the store BonnerBell in downtown Fayetteville, are getting ready to debut their brand new Spring/Summer collection this Thursday, March 13th. With countless hours of hard work leading up to their exciting new clothing line debut, The Idle Class Mag was fortunate enough to be able to ask Wayne Bell a few questions about his success in owning a local business.
Q: What made you realize you wanted to open a business and take your love for fashion a step further?
A: BonnerBell began as a home business in the fall of 2011. In the Spring of 2012, we moved into a studio in downtown Fayetteville. In September 2013, we moved to our current location which includes retail on Spring and Locust street in downtown Fayetteville. As the owner and creative director, I have always had a love of fashion and wanted to bring my vision to Northwest Arkansas. I started the company in 2011 to bring a new and different voice to NWA.
Q: You work primarily with made to order pieces, tell me about this process. Why do you prefer this process?
A: I feel like there’s tons of options out there for the modern woman to choose from. However, there are very few options for women who are looking for something special that is made to fit their style, aesthetic, and body. Therefore, we focus our work on making special items ranging from wear to work, evening, and even bridal for ladies looking for something special and different. Each season we do a collection of pieces that are available in our retail store. However, we also make custom pieces for women looking for something different. Typically we work with clients to select fabric, work on design concepts, and do multiple fittings. It is a personal experience that is rewarding for both the client, and I…as the designer. In a few weeks, they have a garment that is hand made in Northwest Arkansas that truly speaks to them.
Q: You have a very progressive business model. In your outsourcing work to households within the community, how many skilled workers are you employing who might not otherwise be able to work. Why did you choose this business model?
A: As the designer and owner, I am responsible for the design and ordering for the client. I work with a pair of local seamstresses to produce the garments. One works from home (because she is looking for at home work). The other works within our studio. She was looking for part-time work that worked around her schedule…she has pretty severe back pain and therefore has limited hours of pain free time. I think its fantastic to work with these two women who have specific needs within their lives. Daniel, my other half…does our online marketing and some of our marketing. Finally, we have an intern from the university who assists me with our growing alterations business.
Q: What was the process you went through starting a clothing label in this area of the country?
A: I started from our home and began making mostly men’s accessories. However, over time, many people showed interest in purchasing more elaborate designs. In the spring of 2012, demand reached the point that we felt the need to move into our studio downtown. In the fall of 2013, we paired with Lauren Embree Jewelry, Forever Design home items, Jennifer Rhodes beadwork etc. to open our retail location on Spring and Locust. The new space houses both the BonnerBell studio but also the showroom, which features these other local artists.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles you face as a small socially conscious company? What are the biggest benefits?
A: Exposure is always a major issue. We are always looking for new and different clients. Once we moved to our new location, we also wanted to get the word out regarding our retail store and alterations business.
Q: What materials do you primarily use that are considered eco-friendly?
A: Most of our jersey material which we use each season is organic and sourced from two companies in LA which feature organic bamboo, linen, and cotton products. Most of our other materials are purchased from two different companies in the New York City area. We try to order as much domestic material as possible.
Q: What do you think about the concept of fashion being socially responsible?
A: I love the idea that people ask where their clothes come from. In the past few years, there has been a huge push to know where your food comes from. People spend tons of time and money finding the best food items. However, very few people ask where their clothes come from. By asking these questions…we are able to find out where our clothing is produced, how it was produced, the standards for work and the materials used etc. It is important to know what the practices are that are used to make the garments as much as what content are in the garments themselves.
Q: If you do expand, do you have any plans on how you can stay relevant to the green movement?
A: I think that a constant focus on the goals of our company will keep us grounded, no matter what the future holds. As long as we stay true to our goals (which include being “Green”) the future can present new challenges that we can filter through our mission and goals.
Q: What do you think about “slow design” versus “fast fashion”?
A: I’m concerned with the number of people who simply buy what’s new or hot at extremely low prices without thinking about the content, construction, and makeup of the garment. I am also concerned as to why people don’t think about the conditions in which those less expensive garments are made. Clothing doesn’t have have to be exclusive or expensive. It should however be accessible and sustainable. If it can also help local designers and their staff in your local community….that’s all the better. By not asking yourself questions about your garments, your very inexpensive or quickly made garments are truly costing more that you think.
Although I think it is incredibly important to shop locally, it is simply not enough to support local boutiques. You must ask yourself where those boutiques source their materials. It is always better to shop local over a national chain etc. However, if those local stores are selling extremely low priced goods or “fast fashion”…that isn’t made locally….what’s the point? I am concerned about the number of low priced/fast fashion boutiques that are all over the area. Many of them make absolutely no effort to reach out to local designers or local artisans. They simply sell mass produced fashion that may have been made in undesirable circumstances. Although its important to support local business, those local boutique owners must do their part as well. They don’t have to purchase my line or any of my friends lines…but they should also be conscience about what is being housed in their stores. That is another way in which we should all be concerned with green fashion.
Q: What is your personal favorite out of all the collections that you’ve created?
A: I am a huge fan of our current collection. I feel that with each collection, we grow in new and different ways.
Q: What is your favorite season to create collections for?
A: I enjoy the fall and winter best, but as a designer, I like the spring and summer because I get to incorporate color.
Q: If you could live and open a new BonnerBell anywhere, where would you go?
A: For now, I would like to make the one I have the best it can be. That being said, I would never turn down a vacation home in NYC.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to someone thinking of opening his or her own business?
A: Have a strong business plan and stick to it. Meet with Small Business representatives, like within the Walton College, and learn from their experiences and ask lots of questions.
Q: What are your plans for the future of the label?
A: Our Spring/Summer 2014 line entitled “Go Glam” features items which pair 70’s glamour with modern shapes. We launch our new line this month. As we move forward, we strive to promote our new products. We also plan to grow our custom, alterations, and retail business. Our plans don’t really include world fashion domination. We do however wish to be the absolute best “BonnerBell” we can be and share our vision throughout the area.
If you would like to learn more about their store and see their latest collections, you can visit BonnerBell at 241 W. Spring Street or visit them online.