With two hands and a pressing machine, Entrepreneur, Keenan Belle, created a label with the sole purpose of creating positive imagery and uplifting the black community. Through this ambition, the Belle Black Label was born.
“A majority of us love fashion, and I feel like that is one of the easiest ways to incorporate what we love while trying to educate at the same time,” Belle said.
In addition to being a clothing line, B.E.L.L.E, which also stands for Black Evolution for Livelihood and Lasting Empowerment, Keenan also uses his brand as a means to support charities and to encourage awareness of African American history and culture. The inspiration for his line came after growing weary of the constant negative imagery and social injustices plaguing the black community. It occurred to him that there was a need for more positive representation to combat this issue.
Back when he was a semi-pro ABA basketball player, four years ago, Belle says the coach of his Brooklyn SkyRockets team, Shawn Thomas recommended he research the teachings of Dr. Claud Anderson and Dr. Umar Johnson, resulting in his change of perspective forever.
“They presented so many facts that I didn’t know. They got the ball rolling. Since then I have been hooked,” Belle said explaining his process of becoming what is known today as “woke” or more socially aware.
“I feel like a lot of other brands are all about the profit and there’s really no love behind it. I care about my people. I care about the advancement of my people,” said Belle
The label is still in its early stages as it is only three years old now. Belle was unable to get investments early on, so he funded the project and any other tools he needed with extra earnings from his side job. When faced with rejection, Belle said he had to maintain perseverance.
“There’s plenty of times that I felt like giving up. I guess I was impatient because I felt like the message and what I was doing wasn’t being received fast enough, but I just kept pushing every time I got the answer no,” said Belle
Some advice he gives to aspiring Entrepreneurs is to do a lot of research on whatever your avenue of interest is, get a mentor, and only go forward if your heart is in it. He adds that surrounding yourself with like-minded people is also very useful in achieving your goal.
“I started off alone, but then I realized that I could not do it by myself. Now I have a team around me that is 100% for the cause. They see the same things that I see,” said Belle stressing the power in numbers. “Many of us underestimate just how effective group contribution and funding can be.”
For every purchase made, part of the proceeds goes to helping the community. He wants customers to know that when you support the cause, “you are investing in yourself.” So far, the brand has helped donate school supplies to children in Jamaica, they are involved with youth foundation SBG (Success Builds Generations), and has given proceeds to the Seventh Day Baptist Church in Plainfield, New Jersey to fund the building of other branches.
He expresses that one of the most significant sacrifices of running a company is how time-consuming it is.
“Not only am I an entrepreneur; I am a working man and a father as well. After working my normal 40 hours a week, I spend a lot of time on the business and that takes away from some family time, so I try to incorporate that time into the business.”
Belle includes his son in brand marketing, displaying photos of their loving bond and positive images of black fatherhood. He says that it is his duty as a father to instill self-love and black pride in his 5-year-old son.
“We’re all impressionable…I feel if our parents reiterated black beauty, strength, love, unity, and peace then it would kind of take away from the negative connotations and the negative stereotypes that we have for our race and culture,” Belle said. “So, these are the little messages I try to give him now, and as he gets older, I will continue to speak more candidly and break down the complex messages of social injustice.”
Belle challenges the black community to be more “proactive about being pro-black.” He not only asks for the support of his venture but that of other black businesses and Entrepreneurs as well. He stresses the level of spending power black people possess in America and how vital it is for it to be used to uplift our communities. He says, “We can save ourselves, we have to do it.”
With all the hard work put into his brand and into his community, Belle’s sights for the future is looking very bright.
“I want my brand to be a conglomerate. I want to incorporate more community service with youth to put them on the right path. There is so much I want to do, but I don’t want to give it all away just yet,” he said.