In 2011, seasoned entrepreneur and fashion designer Bela Shehu sent out an unusual invitation. She asked friends and collectors to join her for an intimate party at her South Philly rowhouse where they could kick off their shoes, drink, dance, and try on an experimental collection she was calling NINObrand. 

The approach was unheard of, and Bela’s unique retail sensibilities were thrown into question by an industry bound by convention. 

But they’d soon learn being traditional was not the contribution Bela was destined to make. 

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Growing up under the harsh rule of Albania’s communist party, four-year-old Bela spent her days crouched over the cold cement floor of her family’s shadowy one bedroom apartment, making the things she didn’t have, like dolls, chewing gum, and of course, clothing.

In a world of strict conformity, minimalism wasn’t a style, it was a mandate. Rations were small and resources scarce. Out of necessity, driven purely by her intuition, Bela began to practice utilitarian design — her young eyes studying the behavior of found materials and fabrics, her small, skillful hands designing and constructing multi-purpose garments she could wear comfortably, for days at a time, without falling apart. 

By the time she was a teen, design was no longer just an act of need, but one of self-expression. Without direction, academic or social influence, patterns or modern machines, Bela learned to transform used garments and hand-me-downs into works of art. 

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Today, NINObrand is a living, breathing representation of Bela’s relentlessly resourceful spirit, ingenuity and hard-won utilitarian design perspective. 

With whimsical artistry and technical engineering, each garment offers more than meets the eye. A daytime top unzips seamlessly into an evening dress. Kick flare pant bottoms detach for a skinny ankle. A little black dress goes from sweet to defiant with a stack of silver hammered chokers.

Impeccably crafted with a bold, enigmatic energy, there’s no surprise that collectors call NINObrand garments their “uniform for life.” True to Bela’s utilitarian ethos, pieces are made of machine washable, antimicrobial technical fabrics that both look and feel incredible no matter how long they are worn.

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Bela is driven by a desire to design with purpose, innovate, and contribute positively to the collective well being. In NINObrand’s dual showroom and atelier in Rittenhouse, she is able to do just that — open up her process, share new pieces fresh out of the studio, and feed off of the energy of her community. 

Yet, the global push towards fast fashion is quickly extinguishing the slow fashion design philosophy. It has nearly rendered the craft of pattern making and handmade construction extinct, and is poisoning our planet. 

With her open source fashion initiative, Bela is working to restore the soul of fashion design and inspire young designers to get involved. Through openness, connectivity, and emerging technology, the initiative unlocks new pathways for the next generation of designers looking to change the world for the better.