JALENE KANANI BELL
President and Creative Director, Noho Home
Selected to be part of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center’s Business Certification Training Cohort 4A/4B
Jalene Kanani Bell began her career after college in the furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) industry, specializing in flooring textiles, and soon found that there were no authentic designs that spoke to Native Hawaiian history, culture, flora, and fauna.
“I’d go back to manufacturers and ask for designs, and they’d send roses and pink flamingoes, things that were created for other locales,” Jalene explained. “So, I started designing myself—things to tell place-based stories—and the local architects and interior designers encouraged me to do more, and then I started licensing my designs to international manufacturers and they sold my designs on products in their networks.”
Eventually, Jalene started receiving requests from friends and family, whom she fondly refers to as “the aunties,” but due to the high volume required, they’d be looking at paying thousands of dollars for a single rug, unless they could somehow order a quantity of 500.
“I saw a void in the marketplace, and as a Native Hawaiian, I really wanted something made by us, for us, in that home space, and there really was nothing,” Jalene recalled. “My thought was, ‘How great would it be to walk into a department store and be able to connect and identify with a product, design, and cultural heritage, and have easy access to it whether online or in-store?’”
In January 2019, Jalene created Noho Home to fill this need. Her designs are featured on bedding, shower curtains, area rugs, drapery, pillows, throws, napkins, placemats, and tablecloths. Noho has many meanings in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (the Hawaiian language), but for the company’s purpose, Jalene describes it as “the essence of dwelling, being, sitting with something, like a thought or feeling.”
Staying rooted to the company’s values, the company’s care labels, packaging, and website all feature ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.
“The brand exposes people to the Hawaiian language and not in a classroom setting. You can kind of translate it yourself; it’s subtle and situational,” Jalene said. “I was able to bring product the way I want to bring to the market versus when you license, you don’t have a lot of control over that.”
Today, Noho Home products can be purchased online via the company’s website as well as in retail stores like Noʻeau Designers, Bloomingdale’s, HomeWorld, and smaller boutiques throughout the islands. The company has grown to eight employees and a micro-factory in Waipio, Hawaii where they develop and manufacture select products locally.
To further address the needs of locals, Noho Home bedding is specifically designed for warm weather with light fills, cool-to-the-touch cotton, sateen finish, and can be easily washed and dried. The décor textiles are also stain- and soil-resistant, perfect for the active island lifestyle and families with keiki (children).
Throughout her business journey, Jalene has found the biggest challenge is finding balance between work life and home life.
“And the answer is there’s just not balance,” she said. “It’s just where you’re able to find joy in the moment, be connected in the moments you have, and always take advantage of every opportunity you have, whether for business or family, and to be engaged and present.”
Jalene has fond memories of growing up in an entrepreneurial atmosphere that included craft fairs on the weekends and printing t-shirts to help with her mother’s design business. While she initially wanted a corporate job, the entrepreneurial spirit followed her. Similarly, she believes her children have a great appreciation for entrepreneurship and have developed the skills that come with it from working in her business.
Women in entrepreneurship face a unique set of challenges. Jalene mentioned her hurdles with access to capital, especially being a single mother where there were added risks to taking on debt financing. When she felt lonely and isolated while trying to navigate the entrepreneurial waters, she realized she couldn’t run her business by herself and reached out to mentors and accelerators. She was part of the third cohort of Mana Up and the inaugural WE by Rising Tide cohort.
Mentorship is such a gift to small business owners, and one that goes both ways. Jalene values opportunities to be mentored and pays it forward by mentoring others.
“Since launching Noho Home, I became much more visible,” she said. “Before that, I was very much in the background. By getting out and meeting people, I’ve had the opportunity to do some mentoring, and I think that’s probably my greatest achievement—to inspire others to do one of the things I’ve done whether it’s design or entrepreneurship.”
Jalene met MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center instructor Marie Villa through WE by Rising Tide and then participated in the Center’s Business Certification Training Cohort 4A/4B. She’s currently working with Marie on her application.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time,” Jalene said. “For us, it’s been start-stop where we’ve started to engage in the process and stopped because we didn’t have the knowledge or bandwidth. It requires rethinking your business plan to how you want to present yourself to private or government entities, and then also being able to provide all of the due diligence that’s required.”
Additional plans for Noho Home include more partnerships and collaborations as well as expanding their micro-factory to be able to help other designers bring their products to market.
To her fellow women entrepreneurs and small business owners, Jalene emphasizes persistence, consistency, and asking questions.
“Develop a network and ask questions of your network,” she said. “The younger generations are very open about that. Typically, when I’m in entrepreneurial rooms, I’m on the upper end of the age scale, so I’ve really kind of fed into that because it’s my nature to be open and giving of time and energy. The younger generation is all about collabs and I learned a lot from younger entrepreneurs and their fresh eyes.”