These lines — Bay Belle, Frances Austen, and Bells & Becks — feature clothing and shoes made by East Bay women entrepreneurs.
Get your urban glam fix at Bay Belle. The online boutique, founded by style savvy sisters Ashley and Candase Chambers, was born equally from a love for fashion and a practical need to access style.
“When we wanted to shop for ourselves, we had to go to San Francisco or Walnut Creek,” Candase said. “We realized if we were experiencing this, then others were, too.”
“Each item we carry is unique,” Ashley said, “but even if it’s glam or casual or has a vintage look, it tailors to the Bay Belle style. We have trusted vendors we can rely on for fit and quality. Our online shoppers know that items are true to size.”
Originally the site targeted the young, savvy, professional woman looking to add glam to her wardrobe, but Ashley explained their base is expanding, and now even their mother and her friends find party-ready looks on the site (like the sequined palazzo pant with sassy tuxedo stripe detail).
Bay Belle looks range from curve-hugging, cut-to-there tapered leg jumpsuits to distressed skinny jeans with ankle tie accents. For spring and early summer, Ashley said the trend is neon, so they’re sourcing looks that are light, flowy, and feminine and feature bright color pops. Bay Belle is also stocking flirty new dresses, jumpsuits, and light jackets that will carry you through summer into fall. Sunglasses are a big focus for the Bay Belle sisters, so scope the site for your summer shades. Despite being an online boutique, Bay Belle is very much Oakland-based, and photo shoots for the site take place at iconic East Bay locations and feature local models (and sometimes even Candase and Ashley).
“Our goal is to promote confidence through our clothing,” explained Candase. “We are both black women, and a lot of our clients are women of color with curves. We share that not to exclude anyone, but to let women know that we make our selections based not only on style, but also on great fit and sizing for women with curves.”
As for their style background, “We were and are always in each other’s closets,” Ashley said. “That’s just something that comes with being sisters, but Candase has always been the fashionista.”
“My style is more glam,” agreed Candase. “Ashley is glam, but she is more casual. That’s good because she’ll reel me in when it comes to purchasing for the site. She’ll say, ‘You know that is cute, but our customer may not see themselves in that.’ Together we have a balance.”
Ashley and Candase were born and raised in Oakland. Both graduated from UC Berkeley and then pursued careers in journalism. “We were going after the American Dream,” Candase said. “We love what we got from our corporate careers but thought we could do more and become entrepreneurs. Our background is in marketing and communications, and I also have my master’s in communications.” In 2015 they decided to launch Bay Belle and have been full time in the fashion business since.
“Ashley was a teen parent (and graduated top of her class in high school and went on to graduate from Cal),” Candase said. “We are both single parents, and we really want to show other women of color that entrepreneurship is an option. We want to educate other women that they can start a business despite lack of resources or obstacles. We’re first-generation college in our family and first-generation entrepreneurs,” Candase said. “And as we grow. we are giving to the community more. We just spoke at Mills College, and we are working with McClymonds High School to assist students whose families can’t afford for them to go to prom. “We also work through Westside Missionary Baptist Church to help the community. Although they are making great strides, we are interested in finding a great mentor,” said Candase, “we want to learn more so that we can scale and grow.” Check out their fabulous fashions, fun photo shoots, and great style at BayBelle.com, and connect with them on Instagram @baybelleinc.
Year-round Luxury Cashmere
Margaret Coblentz, founder and designer behind Frances Austen, found the perfect Bay Area niche: A high-quality, elegantly wearable, fit-for-all-occasions cashmere sweater. Of course, cashmere has long been a Northern California coastal staple, but the San Francisco fashionista saw a hole in the market. “I wanted luxury cashmere that didn’t cost a thousand dollars. There were lower-priced options on the market, but they didn’t have the long-lasting quality I wanted,” Coblentz said. “At the time, I was working in the e-commerce sector of corporate fashion. I realized that I wanted to wear my values. I wanted to create clothes that reflected my values of sustainability, and that meant I could no longer work in fast fashion. I want clothing to last a lifetime, not be thrown out each season.” Using her industry contacts, e-commerce knowledge, and design savvy, Coblentz began to build Frances Austen. She targeted 200-year old Scottish company Johnstons of Elgin for production and sourced her cashmere yarn from Italian Cariaggi (a company that’s Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified, meaning it’s chemical free). “I spent 1.5 years in the design phase to get the fit, the details, and the look of the clothing exactly how I wanted it. By selling direct to consumer, I can offer this luxury material and craftsmanship at a lower rate.” Frances Austen launched in August 2017. The company’s spring 2019 collection offers the bestselling reversible V cashmere sweater — which has a relaxed, boyfriend fit — in a range of pastel tones (like lilac and creamy soft white) and vibrant hues (like the crisp yellow-green citrine and the playful orange red lacquer). Other favorites include the feminine lantern sleeve sweater and the elegant classic crew sweater with raw edges. All the designs are original to Frances Austen. The sweaters feature unique touches and hand-sewn details that elevate their look, making them appropriate for pairing with anything from jeans to a formal wear. The cashmere sweaters retail between $400 to $600. The site also has a collection of silk tops and silk dresses in timeless silhouettes that range from $85 to $345. Shop online at FrancesAusten.com, and stay in touch via Instagram @francesausten.
Shoes for the Savvy Bay
In March, Tamar Miller celebrated one year of launching her women’s shoe line, Bells & Becks. As with all the women entrepreneurs featured in this article, Miller saw a void in the market. This time, it was the lack of wearable, fabulous, designer-quality shoes that were feminine and comfortable. Everything she saw was either under $100 (and wasn’t of lasting quality) or was designer label over $800. Plus everything looked the same. “Even in the designer price point, there were so few shoes that were actually wearable. I love heels, but I also need chic shoes that can go from office to errands to dinner.” Thanks to a 25-year-long career in corporate retail, she had the industry contacts, the business savvy, and the design eye to launch Bells & Becks. “I work with the same Italian companies that craft the high-end luxury labels. I source the best leather I can find, and each element of my shoe is leather from the lining to the sole. But I’m able to offer it at lower rate as my company is direct to consumer.” For the spring 2019 collection, you’ll find timeless and streamlined looks with thoughtful touches that set the shoes apart. “I am passionate about the details in my shoe designs and work to get the outcome just right,” Miller said. Think softly rounded heels on a golden yellow snake print flat, orange-accented edges on a creamy white pebble-grain modern sling back, and a uniquely high vamp on a navy ballet flat in crinkle patent navy. All of it is darling without being precious and absolutely versatile for a high-style woman. Prices range from $225 to $435. Check out the stylish offerings at BellsAndBecks.com or stalk the line via Instagram @bells_becks for trunk shows and pop-ups.
This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.