At the 10-year mark for her business, Felisha “Fe” Noel is ready to unveil her first stand-alone boutique.
A grand opening is set for Fe Noel Little Caribbean on June 10 at 1133 Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn’s “Little Caribbean” neighborhood. This is familiar territory for the designer, who aside from being of Grenadian heritage grew up and started her company in the neighborhood.
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In tune with the amount of work that others have devoted to preserving the neighborhood, Noel sees the opening as a full-circle moment. As gentrification and commercial development continue to eat away at many of New York City’s neighborhoods, including culturally rich ones, Noel is intent on helping preserve Little Caribbean. Citing landmarks like Labay Market and Allan’s Bakery had been rooted there for 20-plus years, Noel is striving for longevity, “joining forces with them and continuing what they started. Especially since Fe Noel has been doing some big things, it is great to add my name to the neighborhood to let people know that I’m Caribbean, I grew up here and I stand with them.”
Consumer awareness of Fe Noel recently jumped due to a resort collaboration with Target, “which really wanted to spread the message of culture in Grenada and in the Caribbean in general. We like to do special projects that align,” Noel said. “Every year is a matter of, ‘What do we want to do now? Do we have the resources? If not, how can we get them?’ I approach investing and everything else in that way. Everything has to make sense. It’s not about saying yes just to say yes.”
Noel declined to comment about the recent Target controversy that was sparked by the retailer’s decision to remove some Pride merchandise from its stores.
During New York Fashion Week earlier this year, Noel made a different kind of statement with an elaborate corseted gown and a signature robe with a 16-foot cathedral train made from $1.6 million worth of phony bills. The “Dre$$” tie-up with retirement agency services provider TIAA was part of its #RetireInequality and highlighted pay inequality between women and men. The takeaway was a potential $1.6 retirement savings loss for women.
Showcasing the work of Caribbean talent is among her priorities. The store will double as an artisan workshop. Deadstock from the Fe Noel business will be used for some apparel and accessories to increase sustainability. As an incentive to frequent the store, Fe Noel is creating a multisensory immersive experience for shoppers into Caribbean culture.
“We have some tricks up our sleeve. We’re really going to immerse people in the music, the food, the sound and the five senses to get people excited and inspired,” Noel said, adding that everything that will be sold in the store will only be available there, as another enticement to venture into the neighborhood. “I really want people to experience this special neighborhood. I am from Grenada, but my neighbors are from Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad. It’s a melting pot. Part of the reason I am opening the store during Caribbean Heritage Month is because I want to bring people to the Little Caribbean neighborhood in Brooklyn,”
In addition to the 900-square-foot indoor space, there is a backyard that will be used for special events. She said, “I’m heavy into building community with our brand. That’s what we plan to do. We like to gather, to talk, to create. Part of the space will be used for that, somewhat like a hub.”
Noel’s mother relocated to the U.S. a month before Noel was born. She lived in Grenada briefly as a toddler before returning to Brooklyn. “It’s a running joke in the Caribbean that if you want to create a better future for your children, you have them here. That’s what she did. And I have access that I wouldn’t have had if I had been born in Grenada. But I am fully 100 percent dedicated to the Caribbean. It’s where I call home, vacation and all of my close relatives live.”
Preserving Caribbean culture is a favorite subject, and Noel is trying to create a pipeline for Caribbean designers to the U.S. by selling some of their creations in the new store and showing them how they can use their art to “create a life and a real business,” she said. That will involve mentoring some designers in Grenada, who need to develop hangtags, establish LLCs and learn about other business essentials to be able to sell their wares in the U.S. By giving them the opportunity to sell in the U.S., Noel wants to help them create new jobs by being able to hire others for a domino effect. During her most recent visit to Grenada two weeks ago, she spoke about her mission. Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell believes in the creative world and the prospect of funneling creative talent to the U.S., according to Noel, who plans to set up production in Grenada next year to create jobs.
Aware of the greater appreciation that fashion has for craftspeople, Noel noted how some designers are counting on artisans who have been finetuning their skills for years and years. “Some of them are not even doing it for the money. It is purely for the love. I imagine that more people will be tapping into that as well,” she said.
Noel generally touches down in Grenada four to six times a year to decompress or feel inspired. Fe Noel’s clothes, the colors, prints, the names of the collections, how the clothes move and everything else about the brand ties back to Noel’s heritage, as an act of authenticity and to create an ongoing story that brings people into her world. Whether deciding on artists from Grenada to work with or any other task, the designer tries to ensure that everything makes sense and is for the greater good of the story. Her hope is those who have never been to the Caribbean will feel as though they have experienced it through her collection, or be inspired to visit.
Handbags and beauty are at the top of her list for product expansion through collaborations. In the meantime, for the store’s opening, handbags and jewelry from Caribbean artists and designers will be offered so that shoppers can be dressed from head to toe.
With four full-time employees n New York, Noel currently works with eight contractors. This summer Noel will be visiting the south of France for the first time — a stop in Cannes for an appearance to discuss issues related to “the money dress.” August will be whiled away in Grenada, where her family gathers annually.
“It’s carnival time. It’s a festive celebration with arts and crafts and costumes so we look forward to it every year. I will be in costume and dancing, enjoying the season — for sure.”
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