Describe a day in the life of Hellz Bellz + Belle of the Brawl (BOTB)’s HBIC:
No day is ever the same and thank God for that. I’m the type of person who fears any type of normalcy so I welcome a little bit of chaos into my life with open arms… as long as it’s organized chaos. That being said, my days vary from designing in the office, to styling for other brands that I consult for, to running around town meeting with vendors, to mentoring and directing my team, to doing research and thinking of the next best thing.
What’s the history behind Hellz Bellz – what propelled you to start it (how did you come up with the name) – and how does Hellz Bellz reflect your personal aesthetic?
In 2005, I was working in NY as the art director for Rocawear’s Junior division. I loved my job, loved my team and of course I loved working with Jay-Z BUT at the same time I was creatively frustrated. As you can imagine… the company ran like a machine so I got to a point where I didn’t feel challenged anymore, so almost every night when I got home from work, as a hobby I’d design graphics that were more of a representation of my interest and style… which at the time was very provocative and I found a lot of inspiration in sexploitation flicks of the 60’s and 70’s where women were represented as not only sexy but extremely empowering, intimidating and strong.
Eventually, the graphics accumulated and I thought, “hey, why don’t I whip up a line sheet and send it over to so and so.” BUT before even doing that I had to come up with a name for a brand that up until that point was like I mentioned… a hobby. And I swear… it was almost as if the planets aligned, clouds opened and birds started singing when I was at home listening to some music and the AC/DC “Hell’s Bell’s” song came on and I sang the verse, “Cos if good’s on the left, then I’m sticking to the right.” and for the first time that verse had new meaning to me. I knew that if and when I ever started a brand it would be the type of brand that went totally against the grain and so right then and there, I decided I would name my brand, Hellz Bellz.
Because my background was in corporate design, I was used to designing to satisfy the needs and wants of “the man”… therefore having Hellz Bellz allowed me to finally design what I wanted, which was, thought provoking design with street sensibility.
What were fundamental steps you followed before starting your business?
Because Hellz Bellz was a hobby turned business, I didn’t take the “fundamental” steps… It developed pretty organically. Luckily however, I had my corporate background so I knew the basics but that doesn’t mean I didn’t go through the same struggles that any other young entrepreneur goes through.
What challenges did you face when building Hellz Bellz from scratch? How did you overcome such challenges?
Other than the typical financial challenges of having the funds available to develop and produce OR running into production issues new vendors… the challenges that stick out in my mind were the ones that questioned my capabilities as a graphic designer & brand owner in street wear because I was a female in such a male dominated industry. Countless times, guys would pull my husband, Bam aside and say, “No really… you do ALL the graphics, huh?” It was crushing to my ego therefore I felt the need to always prove myself and let the guys know that I could hold my own. It wasn’t until I realized that I nothing to prove to anybody… At the end of the day nobody was going to ever be a bigger critic on my work other than myself.
It’s empowering to see women making moves in the scene like you — how have the women in your life been instrumental in developing your hustle?
Thank you… if it wasn’t for the strong women in my life, specifically my mother, I guarantee you I wouldn’t have had the mindset or will to even want to make the moves that I have thus far. Although my father is very woven into the fabric of my life, he was away over seas, working to provide for our family majority of my life… even up until now. So my mom, had no choice but to play both mother and father roles BUT it was her father role that made me not only fear her but respect her at the same time.
I didn’t realize it then because I was your typically rebellious teenager who thought my mom was out to get me and never wanted me to have fun… fun… what’s that?! Sleep overs, ha! Forget about it. So I did what any kid would do (or not)… I snuck out of the house, hung out with the wrong crowd and dabbled in all types of wrong. Now, as an adult, I realize my mom was one strong B… she did what she had to do to keep the family together & I love her for that… I have this crazy need to wanna make up to my mom for all the stress I caused her growing up. It’s one of the main reasons why I strive so hard to succeed. I just want to make her proud.
What do you think it takes to make it in this business, especially for women?
Street smarts, guts, passion and confidence.
Cultural trends constantly change. What do you do to stay relevant, connected, and ahead of the curve?
This has always been a challenge for anyone in fashion and/or any field as a matter of fact BUT it’s even more so now with the internet and social media, which scares the shit out of me… If there’s one thing that I fear, it’s no longer being relevant. Just saying that gives me goose bumps… but like with anything, I gotta just shake it off and do work. Meaning, I do my research and step away from the computer as much as I can. I interact with people, read actual books, dig through actual records, travel and just experience as much as I can first hand. With all that, I’m constantly learning and being inspired.
How has social media shaped Hellz Bellz? What’s your favorite platform? Why?
Hellz Bellz started during the time when blogs like Hypebeast and Slamhype were popping up. So I was lucky because my brand had the support of the blogs which gave Hellz Bellz the worldwide exposure it couldn’t have had say a year or two prior. Since then, platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram have come into play which has been an integral part of the brands growth. It’s free marketing at the end of the day and gives us the opportunity to interact with our consumer. Personally my favorite is Instagram because I’m such a visual person. I love scrolling through my timeline and seeing what kids are wearing in the streets or what their into… I especially LOVE seeing people wearing Hellz Bellz and BOTB.
How do you keep track of personal & business goals, prioritize projects, and stay creative at the same time – even when you’re exhausted?
Even after 8 years, this is something I still struggle with… When I was younger my motto was basically, “sleep is for dead people” but it eventually it took a toll on my health. I pretty much sucked at balancing life, business and creative. It can difficult for anyone but as I get older it’s getting a little easier and easier because I’m making an effort. I do it simply by staying organized and making sure I save some time for myself to relax, do non-work related hobbies and just enjoy life.
What are your must-have tools or apps to run your day-to-day grind? What kind of gadgets would we find on your desk or in your bag?
I can’t live without my phone. It’s practically an extension of me and keeps me organized, entertained and in the loop. Other than, swatch books, post its, reference books, and other important documents… you’d find my MacBook pro, Wacom Tablet, iPhone Charger, headphones and Olympus Camera on my desk. As for my bag? Hmmm… no gadgets there. Just makeup, my wallet and random girl junk.
In a fast-paced industry where last-minute-anything can happen, what’s your fail-proof, go-to outfit that will last from morning meetings to evening events?
Even though I’m in fashion… it’s not out of the ordinary for me to wear the same thing everyday and I don’t care, lol. I have so much to think about on the daily that the last thing I want to worry about is what I’m wearing. So my uniform consist of my favorite Comme de Garcon slouchy black pants and basic black oversized tee. Then to change it up a bit, I’ll throw on one of my husbands button up woven shirts, a Hellz jacket and a shit load of gold accessories. This look can easily be dressed up with a pair of heels or dressed down w/ my favorite beat up Converse.
How important are mentors? Who is your mentor?
Extremely important… I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know everything. There’s always something new that I can learn to better myself as a designer, business woman or person in general. I’ve had many mentors during the course of my career… whether they knew it or not, I’ve thought of the following people as influential people in my life:
First being, one of my favorite professors in college, Larry Smith. He taught me the fundamentals of design and the importance hand drawing/sketching your ideas & concepts before even touching the computer.
Second being, one of the talented and well rounded designers I’ve ever worked with, Akiko Shiraishi. I was a graphic designer fresh out of college with no experience in apparel design. I worked with Akiko on a couple of brands and during that brief stint, I learned more from her then I did all my 4 years of college.
Third being, Dennis Calvero of Crooks & Castles. I credit a big part of my career path to Dennis. He worked with my husband, Bam in Los Angeles and soon after got a job as the Design Director at Ecko in NY. He ended up bringing Bam on board his team, so off to New York we went. That move to New York jump started my professional working career. Which later led me to starting Hellz Bellz… although I had the creative, production and marketing on lock, I had no clue how to do sales. Excel formulas?! What’s that? hahaha… I never dealt with numbers prior to that, I simply didn’t have to. So when Dennis, showed me the basics it was on from there.
and last but certainly not least is my husband, Bam… shhhh don’t tell him I told you that, it’ll get to his head, haha. But really tho, he’s such a good director/motivator/designer/business man. I’ve seen him grow into those roles and in the process he’s guided me along the way.
Define your idea of success.
Success to me is being content with your life. Therefore, success can mean something different to everyone. To some people, success is when you’re able to buy anything and everything you want, to others success is when you are financially stable/comfortable. Like I said, to me success is when I’m content. I don’t think I’ve achieved success just yet. When I first started, I thought success was getting into a couple of stores. Then that changed to 20 then 100 then worldwide. So, in my mind there’s always gonna be something bigger and better to strive for… Hopefully that will change for me because I don’t want to be the type of person who is never satisfied.
What’s your advice for other women entering creative fields or starting their own business?
Be fearless and just do it. Don’t let outside factors like sales or haters dictate or affect your creativity.
Since 2005, HELLZ has provided fashion alternatives for the bold fashionista. Headquartered in Downtown, Los Angeles, Hellz is a female streetwear clothing brand catering to the burgeoning class of rebellious youth influenced by all things subversive; from the gritty streets of New York to sexploitation flicks of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Stemming from the original trail blazing entity of HELLZ BELLZ, comes the matured sub-brand, BOTB, which infuses street influence with refined contemporary design. The evolution of the Hellz label has given creative director, Lanie Alabanza-Barcena the opportunity to present her growth as a designer as she enters into the contemporary side of fashion.