A FASHION STAR LIGHTS UP THE CITY HUNTER BELL HAS DESIGNS ON HOUSTON By Minnie Payne | Photography by Cody Bess HUNTER BELL, a true Southern belle from Florence, SC, and winner of NBC’s prestigious Fashion Star award, is turning fashion-minded Houston-area women’s heads. Contestants on the fashion design reality television series competed with each other to create the best essential clothes and were restricted to a 24-hour time limit, materials and theme. Designs were judged, with one or more designers being eliminated each week. The grand prize: a $3 million contract divided between Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Express. “It was a very challenging competition, and you really need perseverance and faith through the process,” Hunter says. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.” When designing, she keeps her family in mind; she grew up with several fashion-minded cousins, an older and younger sister, and mother who all have different styles. “In fashion, you have to reach a very large audience, designing with different climates in mind. My younger sister lives in Los Angeles, and I want her to wear products for a long time. In New York City where I lived it’s very cold, and I designed accordingly. It’s very important to offer a product that is manufactured in the United States, making sure that the product stays in a woman’s closet a long time.” Hunter moved to Houston in 2015 (because of her Houston born-and-bred husband’s job) and has come across several production facilities. Presently, 100 percent of her production is in New York, but plans are to bring about 30 percent to Houston before the end of 2016, with hopes of reaching 100 percent by the end of 2017. “Last year, I had 10 employees in New York. This year, I am working so well out of Houston that I’m looking to hire an assistant,” she says. “I believe in job contribution; that’s one of the duties of a small business – to add more jobs to the Houston community.” www.hunterbellnyc.com. 56 L O C A L | november 16 BRUNCH WITH BELL | By Carla Valencia de Martinéz On a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in late September, Hunter Bell hosted an exclusive brunch to preview her Fall 2016 collection at Tiny’s No. 5. In a private backroom, local bloggers, writers and trendsetters sat at a community table decorated in true southern style and casually talked about how the fashion industry has changed in the last few years. Bell, a recent mother, shared her experience starting as a young designer in NYC and how much she loved it. At her busiest, the Hunter Bell NYC line was in 150 stores. But just as the industry she so loves has changed, so has Bell’s life. Her recent move to Houston has her embracing the city her husband grew up in and where she is now raising a little girl. I was drawn to how comfortable she is in her skin and her newfound position as a mom in a completely different sort of city. She was completely honest in the evolution of her brand. “I am only selling in five accounts right now as I re-strategize my distribution,” Bell shared with us. Bell’s decision to change the plan of her company to fit her life takes courage, and as a working mom, I completely understand her reasoning. Downsizing isn’t failure; recognizing what is important and having the will to make that change is an accomplishment.