Subjectivity is a cornerstone of fashion. Like art, a garment or accessory is either admired or not depending on personal taste. With so many different styles and functions, fashion has a certain air of adaptability, too, and attraction to that versatility is what led Boise designer Kim Mitchell-Catlett to create her label, Bella Modi, seven years ago. Mitchell-Catlett's business has an interesting model: It allows customers to design their own handbags, essentially adapting each bag to their specific needs.
"I don't know anyone who's found their perfect bag, they always compromise," said Mitchell-Catlett. "We took that concept to heart and built a design configurator that allows people to go online and build the bag that is exactly what they want. Somebody can pick the handles they want, different kinds of pockets, and mix and match [the] colors of the leather and how they want the bag to close."
- Courtesy Bella Modi
- Mitchell-Catlett is the designer behind Bella Modi.
When Mitchell-Catlett set out to create her label, she didn't want people to sacrifice their needs when choosing a bag. But when she began seeking out manufacturers, she had a hard time finding one that would take her concept of customized production seriously.
"It just didn't exist," said Mitchell-Catlett. "Everything that I sent out was coming back in such poor quality. So, I bought myself a leather sewing machine and taught myself to sew."
"Bella Modi" means "beautiful ways" in Italian, and is an ode to Mitchell-Catlett's Italian grandmother, who used to greet her with "Come stai, bella?" or "How are you, beautiful?" when she was a child. Mitchell-Catlett took the word "bella" from that phrase and combined it with "modi," the word for "ways" in Italian.
"It's about the idea that whatever you put together is going to be beautiful," she said.
While Mitchell-Catlett doesn't have a traditional background in fashion, her past experience didn't hinder her when she transitioned careers to become an accessories designer.
"I've always been in design in some way, shape or form, whether it was interior design or graphic design," said Mitchell-Catlett. "My work was mostly about bringing clients' design ideas to life. It was really about the process of figuring out how to get from whatever the idea was to a finished product."
- Courtesy Bella Modi
Mitchell-Catlett's attention to quality carries throughout her label's production materials. All of Bella Modi's leathers and many of its other materials come straight from Italy. The bags themselves, which cost between $80 and $450, are manufactured in the label's studio in Garden City. From the time a bag is designed the buyer's instructions are sent to the studio, it takes between two and four weeks for Mitchell-Catlett and her team to construct the bag and send it to the customer.
There are three people who make the magic happen. Mitchell-Catlett acts as the designer and owner of the business, but when they get slammed with orders she still gets her hands dirty in production.
"There are many days where I'm sitting there sewing," she said. "So when we've got a lot of orders, I'm at a machine."
Bella Modi specializes in accessories. Previously, the brand only carried handbags, but it has recently launched a jewelry line. Another product that has been a work in progress for a few years is a customizable shoe with interchangeable components, like straps of different colors.
- Courtesy Bella Modi
"The shoe system lets you redesign your shoes everyday because it comes apart and each component is an individual piece," said Mitchell-Catlett. "You can mix and match all of these different pieces of the tops that connect to a specific bottom, and get a different look."
Bella Modi's production studio has also become an incubator of sorts. Mitchell-Catlett has started working with other emerging designers who want to break into production, training them on the entire process of starting a label.
"We've helped coach other companies through patterning, sampling and the manufacturing process to help them get their businesses [on] their feet," she said.
Currently, Bella Modi's accessories are only carried on its website and in its studio—buyers can browse online at bellamodihandbags.com, or in person at 5220 N. Sawyer Ave., Ste. B, in Garden City.