Always a Bridesmaid

Always a Bridesmaid: The Business of Bella Bridesmaids

By Sandi Butler Hughes
Photography by Kelly Ginn Photography

FOR KELSEY JONES STEPHENS, 2018 will be remembered as a year of bridal beginnings: she bought a bridal business and she got married. While she was planning her own wedding, Kelsey discovered an opportunity to be in the bridal fashion business with Bella Bridesmaids Memphis, an ideal blend of her fashion merchandising degree and passion for all-things-bridal.

Kelsey was in Ridgeland, Mississippi, with her best friend shopping for her wedding dress in late 2017. A Bella Bridesmaids location was in the same building as the shop where she was buying her wedding dress. On the drive back on I-55 North to Memphis, Kelsey was brainstorming business ideas. She thought a Bella store would be great because she has a fashion background and loves the bridal industry. She looked at the Bella Bridesmaids website, and filled out an inquiry about owning a Bella store. Brainstorming time with a best friend and a click on a link began her new venture.

Bella Bridesmaids is an international business, with approximately 100 stores worldwide. As an answer to the inquiry she submitted, Kelsey got a call from Bella corporate while working at her job in banking. She was busy, and several times declined their call. When she received a text message saying they needed to speak with her immediately, she stepped away from her desk and called back. As luck would have it, the Memphis store was for sale. In March, 2018, she became the proprietor of a Bella Bridesmaids location. “I felt like it was such a blessing to have this opportunity,” Kelsey shared.

What is the best advice she could give to brides? “As soon as you have your wedding dress, start thinking about bridesmaids’ dresses,” she said. Before buying her business, Kelsey had already selected the dress for her own bridesmaids. She had selected the style, the designer, and the color she wanted for her wedding. When the sample dress arrived, it wasn’t exactly what she wanted so she changed it. And she changed again. And again several more times! What she learned in the process comes down to having a vision before and then doing some research.

Most brides just say they want their bridesmaids to feel good in the dress, and by doing a little homework everyone will look good and feel good on the big day. Kelsey recommends brides first choose a color, and to use Pinterest and Instagram in deciding what looks they like. “Follow designers that you like, and then look at the dresses in real wedding photographs because it will look different in pictures than it does in the store,“ she said. Other factors to consider include restrictions, such as church rules; if any bridesmaids are plus size; if the venue is more formal or casual; and the style preference. The choices can be overwhelming, and having a vision for the color, fabric, and style is crucial.

When Kelsey began running the store, it was very important to her that she really understand and know the dresses. To make sure she could personally relate to her clients, she and her staff tried on every dress in the store. From a personal perspective, they are able to share with girls how each dress fits, and are better able to help them make a selection.

Many brides like to have their dress first to make sure the bridesmaids’ dresses will coordinate with their gown. “For instance, if a bride has a strapless gown, she might not want her bridesmaids to wear strapless or that might not matter to them,” she said. Spending time researching beforehand can eliminate some of the confusion when trying to make a decision.

The trends she is seeing for the new year include dresses that are mixed and matched, rather than the same dress for every bridesmaid. The mix and match dress solution was how Kelsey solved her own wedding dilemma. For her recent wedding in November, her bridesmaids each wore a different dress style by different designers, and all in coordinated shades of pink.

Other trends for 2019 include muted, floral patterns. “Some brides choose the floral dresses for their maid of honor’s dress, and the bridesmaids’ dresses in a solid color,” she said. Popular colors are shades of burgundy or navy, and slate blue is becoming a new neutral color choice. Another trend is for the bridesmaids to wear white or nude dresses, and beaded or sequined dresses are a more dazzling choice.

Bella Bridesmaids offers a rainbow selection of dress colors, an array of styles, price points from $140-$420, and notable designers such as Jenny Yoo and Dessy. They also stock Hayley Paige bridesmaids dresses, that complement the designer’s wedding gowns offered at Maggie Louise. Brides also need to be aware that bridesmaids’ dresses take 14-16 weeks to arrive – back to her single most important piece of advice to start planning as soon as possible after choosing a wedding gown.

For Kelsey, the past year was one of successful beginnings with her own wedding and having her dream business with Bella Bridesmaids. “We try to make everyone’s vision for their wedding come to life!”

Kelsey with her bridesmaids
Kelly Ginn Photography

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