Style Observer

Bell & Whistles

— Fashion entrepreneur delivers a master class in retail strategy

Sunday, July 08, 2018

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There's something quite remarkable about Alessandra Bell. Beneath her humility lies a prudent businesswoman for whom the word “impossible” does not exist. This quiet confidence has been developed through a career that is studded with the shattering of ceilings and the knocking down of doors.

She was listed as “one to watch” by SO at the beginning of 2012 and has not disappointed. She has over a decade of experience in the fashion industry working across London, New York, Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks. She landed a plum communications job with APCO Worldwide in Abu Dhabi and parleyed that opportunity into the role of communications manager for the ritzy Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche. We don't have to spend much time emphasising the obstacles involved with being a woman in management in the United Arab Emirates, especially a black one. And in another career climax, Bell combined all of her experiences working in some of the world's major cultural, financial and fashion capitals to found Coconautical.

Coconautical is the fashion equivalent of a good music label. It “specialises in luxury fashion with a focus on developing emerging designers and supporting their growth into new markets”. It offers a multi-pronged sales approach strategy for “both emerging and established brands”. And it creates “co-branding, OEM (private label) and concession opportunities by creating sustainable long-term relationships with key global retailers”.

Bell has been back on The Rock for business and SO jumped at the opportunity to introduce her to some of the key players on the local retail and fashion manufacturing scenes. This was also the perfect opportunity to officially kick off Jamaica Observer Takes Style Out 2018, taking place on Thursday, October 4.

Novia McDonald-Whyte, senior associate editor, lifestyle and social content, the Jamaica Observer , and Natalie Chin, head of advertising, marketing and communications, invited 26 locals from across the fields of fashion design, garment manufacturing, retail and finance to join them for brunch and hear from Bell. The Mumm Champagne fashion brunch was hosted in the executive boardroom of the newspaper's headquarters on the morning of Tuesday, July 3.

During what could only be summarised as a master class in retail strategy, brand development and relationship building, guests were exposed to Coconautical's core values, strategies and international network of retailers and hotel groups. Bell is a woman of faith and this, along with being raised by encouraging and enterprising parents, has given her the foundation needed to successfully compete globally.

Fuelled by Mumm mimosas, a delicious brunch by Jamaica Observer Table Talk Award winners Celeste Gordon and Jing Shi, and Blue Mountain coffee, guests were forthcoming with Bell about their experiences working within local and international fashion industries.

During one of the brunch's more spirited conversations, Bell spoke about the need to change local mindsets as they pertain to collaborations. “A joyful collaboration and a peaceful spirit will always produce fruit”, Amen, sister! Bell was brave enough to “ruffle feathers” (her words, not ours) and speak to the challenge that Jamaicans have with punctuality. “Time is the most expensive and important resource,” she said to the captive audience. Not only does showing up late for meetings weaken trust, but missing promised delivery dates will ruin relationships that have been nurtured for many months and, in some cases, years. In Bell's experience, Jamaica is not alone in this, however, her Colombia-based brands need constant monitoring to make deadlines.

Bell has developed relationships and collaborated with respected brands that include ASOS, Anthropologie, 10 Corso Como, Harvey Nichols, W Hotel Group and Topshop. On Sunday, June 17, Coconautical launched its first concession at Topshop's flagship store on Oxford Street in London.

To coincide with the in-store launch, Bell delivered a “virtual love letter to women around the world”, entitled “Girls Around the World”. The digital campaign features a song, Paradise Plum, which is a collaboration between local artistes Naomi Cowan and Teflon Zinc Fence. See, fruit.

Bell's vision is to “develop Coconautical into a platform that enables women around the world to work from home”. She commented on how retailers are finding innovative ways to secure slices of the proverbial pie: “There's money in fashion; it's just moving online.” She wants to ensure that Jamaican designers not only get to partake, but are also able to effectively compete internationally.

Alessandra Bell is steered by her trademark peaceful spirit. She's a strong believer in the talent of Jamaicans. She wants to help in taking more of local brands global. Judging by her past accomplishments, this is just another door, another ceiling that she will breach. Because, for her, nothing is impossible.

— Vaughn Gray

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