Meet Allison Floam, a Wharton and Harvard Business school alum, former equity analyst on wall street, and cofounder of The Fix, a digital magazine that chronicles addiction and recovery- to now, founder of Bello Belts, a beautiful bespoke belt company based in New York.
“I WANT PEOPLE TO FEEL AMAZING IN THE BELTS THEY WEAR EVERYDAY.”
Her love for startups, technology, digital media, and fashion have us wanting to pick her brain. She’s going to give us the inside on her story as well as her secrets and tips to success:
GG: Allison, great talking with you! You have been an accomplished entrepreneur in digital media and previously, a retail finance professional at Morgan Stanley.
Tell us how you came up with the concept of Bello Belts.
AF: I was out after work with friends wearing a simple white dress. One of my friends “complimented” my outfit with the caveat that it would look cuter with a belt. She had a point – the dress was a bit tenty for my frame. So I asked myself, “where do I buy an awesome belt?” As a pretty savvy shopper, I couldn’t think of any high quality belt brands outside of the Hermes/Gucci/Prada realm (and respective prices). Neither could my friends. I’ve never been a fast-fashion shopper, I tend to seek out higher quality pieces that offer excellent “value per wear” and timeless appeal. I started looking for belts online and in stores over the next few days and couldn’t find anything I loved, and trust me, I know retail. I spent countless hours roaming department stores and analyzing every metric within them in the early days of my career on Wall Street. So, as a serial problem solver, I decided to make belts that I love and hack the design process!
GG: We love the price points and quality of the craftsmanship, and we find it amazing how you have them made in our very own New York City. How are you able to deliver exceptional Italian quality at these price points?
AF: First on quality — every belt we sell is individually handcrafted here in New York City. Some of the artisans we work with have been crafting belts for longer than I’ve been alive – and I’m older than I look (I hope!). We use the highest quality leather we can find – the majority of which is from Italy. But our suede, for example, is from Spain because that’s where we’ve found the softest, finest quality suede. Most belts sold in the US are manufactured abroad because the costs are significantly lower. One key advantage we have by producing locally is that we can carry less inventory since our turnaround times are much faster. We can go from design idea to market in under a month!
Now, on value, most of our belts range in price from $100-$150. All of our belts have snaps, so you can interchange the leather straps and buckles and buy them separately or as a finished belt for the same price. Our buckle prices start at as low as $20 and most of our leather straps are $80. When people see the belts in person, they always expect the prices to be higher. We can offer this value pricing by selling direct to consumers and cutting out traditional retailer middlemen who tend to mark up the price significantly. To-date, we’ve only worked with non-traditional retailers like luxury concept store, Dreams on Air in Soho, where we can offer the same prices in-store as online. We rely heavily on creative, smart marketing and word of mouth to help people discover our brand. Our customers have been our best marketers to-date – we haven’t had a single return.
GG: Who is your ideal client and how do you want women and men to feel when wearing Bello Belts?
AF: Our ideal client wears a lot of belts and loves to have fun with our mix and match functionality. All of our belts have snaps so customers can easily interchange buckles and leather straps to change up a look. Mixing and matching is truly the best way to take advantage of this excellent value we offer.
For example, if you purchase 2 belts for $100 each in the same width, you’re really buying 4 belts at a value of $50/belt, which is an even better deal. Or you can turn a simple $100 everyday belt into a high-end fashion look by simply adding another buckle, like the Wheat Bow for an extra $45, and then you have 2 belts for under $73. The more you buy, the better the value per belt.
From a demographic standpoint, we’ve sold almost an equal number of belts to men and women. More men wear belts, but the women who buy belts tend to purchase larger quantities. This is one of the few fashion categories where we’ve seen teenagers buy the same belts as their parents (and even grandparents), especially with our classic and vintage looks.
We want people to feel comfortable and confident in our belts—wearing something that looks and feels (and even smells) great! Funny enough, people are always commenting on the fresh leather smell.
“NO SIZE IS TOO BIG OR SMALL. WE’RE AN ALL INCLUSIVE BRAND, AND HAVE SO MANY STYLES. THERE’S SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE.”
GG: What are some of your best sellers?
AF: The Queen Bee – we launched it in silver and then released the gold version this summer after many requests! Other statement piece favorites for women are the Wheat Bow, Lucky Elephant, and the Evil Eye. For a more everyday look, the Caviar and Smooth Silver are popular choices. We’re also seeing trending interest in vintage-inspired looks like the Vintage Geo and Croc paired with brighter colors. For straps, the red, cognac, metallic silver, navy, and cobalt are what we’re restocking most lately as fall is approaching.
On the men’s side, the simpler styles do well – the guys gravitate toward the pebbled and smooth blacks and browns. Navy and cognac have also been trending.
GG: Do you custom make belts for clients that ask?
AF: Absolutely. We’ve done a number of custom sized belts for women at no additional charge. Because all of our design and production is handled in NYC, we have the flexibility to create pretty much anything. Our turnaround times are also super fast because we don’t make our product overseas.
“I’M LOOKING TO BUILD A PROFITABLE, SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE COMPANY.”
GG: What is your ultimate goal for Bello Belts?
AF: I’m looking to build a profitable, socially responsible company. I want people to feel amazing in the belts they wear every day. If you look at our Instagram, our pictures are mostly of customers. We show all types of bodies. No size is too big or too small. We’re an inclusive brand and have so many styles there’s something for everyone. And if a customer is seeking something they can’t find elsewhere, we’d love to create it!
GG: As an entrepreneur, what does your morning routine look like?
Well, I’m not much of a morning person. Way more of a night owl. But typically, after I check email and all our social media accounts from bed, I put out any immediate fires, grab some coffee, take a quick stab at the NY Times crossword puzzle, head to the gym, make my agenda for the day (love Trello for this!) and then start cranking. I found it is better to do critical work in the times of days when I’m most alert and productive. I’m a machine in the afternoon.
GG: What is inspiring you right now?
AF: I’m inspired by the opportunity to create social cause awareness and raise meaningful amounts of money for charities through our Benefit Buckles. I’ve purchased so many charity items I’ve never re-worn out of the house – I want to create more pieces that people are excited to wear more frequently. For example, our Lucky Elephant belt is just adorable, but it can also help support a very meaningful cause.
GG: How do you handle competition in this industry?
AF: All good businesses will have competitors and I’m not in a winner-takes-all business. There’s room for multiple players, and certainly more independent brands who manufacture responsibly in NYC. Amazon may take over the whole shopping world. Who knows? I just try to offer customers the best possible products and experience.
GG: What is your personal mantra or business ethos?
AF: Work smarter, not harder. As a four-time entrepreneur, several times in my career I’ve been all consumed with work and it was neither healthy nor productive. Now, when I’m working, I prioritize my time better, stick to my strengths, and outsource more of the rest. When I’m not working, I really try to disconnect, be present, and not be glued to my phone. Oh and one more thing, I always celebrate even the smallest wins.
GG: How do you stay motivated?
AF: Generally speaking, I only take on projects or build companies where I’m truly excited about the idea or opportunity. I’ve had past opportunities that maybe could have been more lucrative, but I think life’s too short to be miserable and bored. On more of a weekly basis, I set micro goals with a clear path from A to B, and like I mentioned earlier, celebrate those little wins throughout.
“THINGS TEND TO HAVE A FUNNY WAY OF WORKING OUT WHEN YOUR HEAD AND HEART ARE IN THE RIGHT PLACE.”
GG: What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
AF: Deciding which startup ideas to pursue. I’ve had no shortage of ideas in my career — ideas are a dime a dozen. I cycled through so many ideas before I decided to move forward with Bello Belts. After you’ve been around the block and know how much time and effort goes into building a company, it can be challenging knowing when to step back on the gas or pump the breaks.
GG: What other entrepreneurial endeavors are you eyeing or involved in?
AF: I’m always ideating and bouncing around ideas. I also have a brand offshoot idea I’m considering launching when the timing is right! In addition, I advise a number of first-time entrepreneurs. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s something I really enjoy.
“I REALIZED MY TRUE POTENTIAL WAS BUILDING COMPANIES, SO I QUIT MY JOB AND ENROLLED IN HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL, WHERE I SPENT A LOT OF TIME WORKING ON A START-UP AND LEARNING ALL I COULD ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP.”
GG: I remember you mentioning that you are involved in social entrepreneurship with collaborations with causes, What are some of your causes you have been associated with and what are some causes you believe in?
AF: I love thinking about my belts, especially the belt buckles, as a vehicle for expression. We launched with a collection of Benefit Buckles, including our Ribbon Collection, and have plans to add many more. We’ve participated in a number of charity events where we donate a portion of the proceeds at these events to charity, including the American Cancer Society. We’re also working on partnerships with charities for Benefit Buckles where 100% of the profits from these buckles will be donated to a specific charity when they are purchased on our website.
GG: Best decision you have ever made?
AF: Leaving a high-paying job on Wall Street to pursue entrepreneurship full-time. I had invented a product in college, The SunSak, which I sold on QVC while I was working full-time on Wall Street. I realized my true passion was building companies, so I quit my job and enrolled at Harvard Business School where I spent a lot of my time working on a startup and learning all I could about entrepreneurship.
GG: How do you unwind?
AF: I play a lot of tennis and watch an embarrassing amount (and selection) of TV. Don’t ask me who I was rooting for on the Bachelorette…
GG: What would you do with one more extra hour in the day?
AF: I used to work like a maniac in my 20s. I’ve now structured my life so I don’t have to think about things like what could I do with an extra hour in the day. I make time to work out, see friends and family, go on vacation, play tennis/golf, and do the things I love on a regular basis. I work fewer hours, but I’m a heck of a lot more protective and smarter about how I spend my time.
GG: What are your go-to hot spots in New York?
AF: While I love checking out all the latest new bars and restaurants and I’ve waited for a table at Sugarfish more times than I’d like to admit, my true favorites are classic neighborhood joints like the Strip House Speakeasy, Blue Water Grill, and Momoya.
GG: What are some tips to all the women out there who also want to transition from corporate to entrepreneurship?
AF: The longer you wait the harder it gets. Your opportunity costs get higher and life can just get in the way. If you’re miserable, just quit. You can figure out the rest later. Things tend to have a funny way of working out when your head and heart are in the right place.
Learn more about Allison Floam and Bello Belts here. Global Glam Readers get 10% off with promo code GLOBALGLAM.