Finding the Pleasure in Routine With NINObrand Founder Bela Shehu

Author: Melissa Alam

Determined is one way to describe the mindset of Bela Shehu, the fashion designer behind Philadelphia-based fashion brand and atelier NINOBrand. Hailing from The People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, Bela came to the U.S. as an exchange student in the late 90’s. She followed her instinct and stayed in the U.S. - creating a new home in the city of Philadelphia - where her relationships, hard work, and natural instinct towards minimal and functional style helped launch her name and brand into the limelight. Bela carries herself with a high level of feminine grace, sophistication, and class at all times, bringing a refreshing sense of personality not seen in most. Learn more about how she keeps motivated and what her tips are for getting into the fashion industry below!

Tell us about NINOBrand and how you started the brand.
As I turned 30, my curiosity in life was leaning more toward shape, proportions, and space. If I listened to a record or got lost in architectural books, I kept being drawn to these elements which then started to reflect on my own style of living. I started with a few garments that I really wanted to wear and kept adding rapidly 'til the 40 pieces I designed started looking like a collection - I've been designing and making clothes since I was a little girl. I thought to have a few friends over at my house one evening, and get their thoughts on the pieces and see if it moved them at all. 30 guests showed up and from their reaction, it was clear that I had to explore this experiment; it all started just like that.

Running a business isn't easy. How do you stay motivated each day? What drives you?
The key for me is to arrange each task into a pleasurable routine. Starting with the morning coffee and e-mail correspondence, I make sure that is peppered in with visual discoveries and catching up on information, which always pumps me full of inspiration. And the same concept goes for everything. My walk to work is my meditation so I look forward to it. My fittings are an opportunity for me to get a little high and lost on subtle nuances of the garments, so you can imagine how much it motivates me to create more. I turn doing business into a neat puzzle game; the more you do it, you start paying attention to what is not working and start eliminating quicker and adapting faster because you really want to win this game. This dance goes on all day and I get to repeat it every day.

What are some of your favorite beauty/skincare products currently?
I am a bare face kind of gal but do think that healthy skin is the most beautiful thing in the world, so I do incorporate a custom organic natural oil mix that is prepared for me along with Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer every day. My blush of choice is Coralista from Benefit. Sometimes in the evenings I apply Dior Addict It-Line for a richer eye.

“The key for me is to arrange each task into a pleasurable routine... I turn doing business into a neat puzzle game; the more you do it, you start paying attention to what is not working and start eliminating quicker and adapting faster because you really want to win this game."

Describe your personal style.
Each day has a different feel, but if I had to generalize it I would describe it as utilitarian with a clear understanding of proportions and confidence while honoring all current technical textiles and applications.

If you could go back and change any career decision from the past, what would it be and why?
I actually wouldn't want to change it since I'm still enjoying the process very much and have so much more to learn. I'm looking forward to it. If I were to add another profession to my life it would be that of an architect or a film director. I think I would enjoy playing in those mediums a lot.

What are your go-to places in Philadelphia?
Double Knot, PS&Co., Mulherin's Sons, and Erdon.

If you could design for anyone in the world and have them wear NINOBrand, who would it be?
All of the curious people who get lost in their fantasies and make memories from each moment in life. I'd like to dress beautiful/free spirits.

What advice would you have for someone looking to get into the fashion industry or start their own boutique?
Ah, it's a tough business. If one is looking to get in the industry, I would warn them of all the challenges and the high barrier of entrance set by the industry. The ones that make it are the ones that don't have any choice; they are "cursed" with its magnetism and draw great pleasure out of the process.

What's next for you and NINOBrand?
We just launched a neat collaboration on an exclusive 5-piece genderless collection for Hotel Palomar - see the promotional video here - and I’m also working on a natural, all organic skin care line.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Real, celebratory, inspiring.

Three Favorite Gems in Philadelphia:
These are a couple additional spots that make Philly a gem: Hiding away or taking a private dip in the Devil's Pool, attending an art show at the 4-story walk of JOG (James Oliver Gallery), or finding yourself in one of NINObrand's Pop-Up Dance parties.

Photo Credit: Melissa Alam

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