Kenyatta Jones is putting her best fashion foot forward — in 6-inch stilettos — on the new WE tv series, “House of Curves,” as she works on making her plus-size designs notable in the skinny world of fashion.
“I dress the woman that I am,” Kenyatta tells XfinityTV in an exclusive interview. “I dress women in different sizes, shapes, races and ages.”
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As CEO of Bella René – named after her mother, who’s also her partner – the Atlanta-based designer, who also employs several of her friends, has set her sites on making the fashion world stand up and take notice.
As the star of her own show, and with episodes titled “Who’s the B in the Skinny Jeans,” people will definitely notice.
In this interview, Kenyatta talks about her struggle to succeed, why fashion never lets her down, how having an MBA helps her keep her design company on a smart business path, how Oprah Winfrey is her inspiration, and how filming “House of Curves,” which airs Thursdays at 9 pm, let the cat out of the bag where her secret boyfriend was concerned. Oops.
You’ve hired several friends to work for you. How do you juggle your work relationship with your friendship? It seems as if the problems at work would get in the way.
It does and that is pretty much what you see as the show progresses. There is a serious, blurry line that we are dealing with between friendship and business. When I want them to be professional and not think about what is going on between us personally, it just doesn’t happen. That is where the drama comes in because I have to step in as their boss, and they want me to be their friend at that moment. I just can’t unfortunately. It is hard and it does take up a lot of unnecessary time trying to go back and forth, trying to balance the two. Sometimes it is more difficult. When my mother and I are arguing, I wish she wasn’t my business partner. Most of the time, it is really, really good and helpful.
Do you feel a big responsibility to your mother to be a success since she is your partner?
Exactly. She invested her life savings in the company, so it is my job to work night and day to make sure she gets a return. It does keep me up at night worrying about her investment and about the business. But at the end of the day, I know I can only do so much in 24 hours. I know that if I do my best, she will appreciate that more than anything.
Watch the premiere episode here:
I was shocked to learn you can’t sew. How do you know if your designs are feasible if you don’t know how to put them together?
I know construction. As a plus-size woman, I know how the body is shaped and what looks good on a plus-size body, so I see things visually. Then I sketch them. As I sketch them, I know how that garment should drape and how it should fit. The sewing part is just putting the seams together. The easiest part of designing is the sewing. The hard part is figuring out how to design it and the construction of it.
You have said “fashion never lets me down.” What does that mean to you?
In life, you have people who promise you things and you have expectations of things you wish people would do in the way they act, or treat you, and they fall short. But fashion is not like that for me. Fashion is the place that I run to hide. It is my secret, solemn place that when I am feeling down, or I am feeling stressed, I can literally open a fashion magazine and my entire mood changes. Or I can sketch a fabulous dress and all of a sudden my mind is going in a different direction. For me, it’s therapeutic.
You did a spring fashion show in the premiere episode. Is there somewhere viewers can buy your designs?
Yes. What they have already seen for spring is available on my website: www.bellarene.net . We actually have two other lines that are going to debut on the show as well. As those episodes air, they will be able to buy those clothes, too.
Your boyfriend Phil is on your show, but you haven’t told your mother that he is more than a friend, so you have had to lie to her. Of course, she is going to watch this and see that, so have you told her yet?
Well, I tell you what. My mother finds out a lot of things that my mother did not know as the episodes progress. In a way, it all hit the fan. You’re going to have to watch and see. But it is going to be very interesting. There definitely will be fireworks.
Watch episode 2, “Who’s the B in the Skinny Jeans?” here:
What and/or who inspired you to do what you’re doing?
I, honestly, inspired myself. I have been fat since I was five, so I am my customer. I know exactly what she goes through. I know the plight she has with the fashion industry. I think it is very important as a plus-size woman to dress the women who are like me. Why would I go and dress someone that I don’t even understand? I never lived the life of a skinny woman. I don’t know how she shops, what she likes to wear. I am not her.
What was your break?
Honestly, this show was my break. To be able to be on a national network and such an amazing network as WE tv that has a brand that is synonymous with making women feel good about themselves, and showing women in their personal and professional lives. We really want to empower women. I can definitely say that just having a national platform is definitely my break because I am able to give a voice to what I call the forgotten woman. Plus-size women are the forgotten women in fashion. Now they have a voice speaking for them.
Who gave you advice when you were young that helped you become the person you are today with all of your achievements?
I think it was definitely my mother. She is the biggest influence in my life. Seeing her battle cancer and being able to come back from that and be in remission, and working for the same company for 30 years, and saying to me, “Being a businesswoman … entrepreneurship is the way to go. You can work for someone for 30 years and, at the end of the day, all you get is a retirement check, which is half of the check you have been earning for that 30 years.” She said, “Be an entrepreneur. Follow your dream. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.” Seeing her work so hard to put me through college and to take care of me, then she got sick and me take care of her, it taught me the lesson that life is very short. If I have something that I am passionate about, then I need to pursue it.
Other than your mom, who are your inspirations?
I would definitely say that I am inspired by Oprah Winfrey. I think it took a lot of guts to do her own network and for her to basically crash and burn, and come out and say, “I don’t know everything. I am not perfect. I thought that I could transition and it hasn’t been easy.” I think that is a lesson that not only any businesswoman could take a note from, but any person in general that there will be times in life that you could try something and totally fail at it, but that doesn’t mean that the tide won’t change. It doesn’t mean that you can’t turn around and try it again in a different way and be totally successful at it.
Talk about some of your previous projects and how they led you to success?
I definitely think education. At this point, it gets a back burner. We have a lot of people who have gained a lot of success and notoriety overnight or easily without having had to go to school and work hard for an education. I, honestly, grew up in a family where education was the most important thing. I was supposed to be a lawyer and it was just being burnt out with going to school and being bogged down with this and that, that it transitioned into me getting an MBA and going to work in corporate America. But I, honestly, think that education put the foundation down for me to realize that everything that you do in some way, shape, or fashion, you have to look at it from a business standpoint. Especially to make any revenue and to take care of yourself, you really have to look at everything as a business. Going to business school really taught me to look at every endeavor as a business deal. So, that is how I look at things right now.
Do you have advice for others to follow in your footsteps?
I am not a person who says, “I don’t want competition.” I think I am very, very good at what I do. I think I have a very good point of view and I definitely see longevity for me and my brand. I want there to be other plus-size women who step up and do clothing lines. I don’t think we could ever run out of designers and options. I think that we need it. I want plus-size women to have as many options as straight-size women have.
“House of Curves” airs Thursdays at 10/9c on WE tv.