Founded in 2019, Beepy Bella is the brainchild of NY-based artist Isabella Lalonde. Whether you've come across her mystical lookbooks, her handcrafted pieces on Bella Hadid, or her pearl necklace that went viral after being seen on Jules during Euphoria's latest episode—you've, to some extent, stepped into the Beepy universe. After graduating from Parsons and taking a course at Central Saint Martins for jewelry design, Lalonde went straight into the fashion industry. When the pandemic hit, she went headfirst into her business and hasn't looked back. Each handmade piece is inspired by Lalonde's own personal experience and is used as a way to work through her emotions. We spoke to the artist about how she wants to use her brand to reshape the fashion industry (for the better), why business and creativity can (and should) go hand-in-hand, and why she's headed for the unknown.
This interview took place over the phone between Ella Jayes and Isabella Lalonde in New York, and was edited by Duc Dinh.
EJ: How did you get to where you are today?
IL: To be honest, that’s still a mystery to me. I approach every single day with the same determination and motivation. I think the recipe for building my brand into what it is today is about not expecting anyone to love it. It’s more about the process and the commitment I have to this [jewelry-making] practice—working as if you have nothing to lose and the world to gain.
I know that you went to Parsons to study Fine Arts. How did that lead to your current practice?
It happened organically. I've always been really obsessed with materials, textures, and forms. In my senior year, I narrowed down on video art and performance as mediums because I've always loved storytelling and building little utopias deriving from my inner being.
I was first introduced to jewelry-making because I wanted to create wearable sculptures for my fictional characters which channeled an otherworldly perspective. I looked at jewelry not only as a new art form to experiment and challenge myself with but also as a way to accentuate the characters in my performance art. Even to this day, my interest is very much in the cinematic qualities of jewelry and the storytelling of fantastical art objects.
After that, you went to Central Saint Martins (CSM) for Jewelry Design. Can you tell me more about that experience?
My first time doing jewelry at CSM was in a five-day intensive course. The teacher would challenge us with one project a day. We were bending and molding Plexiglass and acrylic, and even though I strongly disliked those materials, I challenged myself to think outside the box as soon as I learned a new technique.
I ended up making around twenty pieces of jewelry. What stayed with me the most was how my unusual method to learning new techniques of art can be valid, even if it's not necessarily a traditional mindset that is academically applauded. In class, I try not to skip steps, but I'm a 360-thinker, and that makes my practice unique.
Did you do any fashion internships while in school? What were your first gateways into the fashion world?
I started really young, and did internships every summer—I never took an entire summer off. I quickly grew up by staying in New York as a young person, while my family was living overseas. Throughout my career, I continued my art practice, but making jewelry was the first time I felt like both my art and my fashion experience could collide.
What happened after you graduated?
I was working part-time [during school], so I went full time, and then I hopped around a little bit with different jobs. The longest full-time job I had was as a graphic designer at Helmut Lang. I learned so much about design, visual standards, and technical programs while I was there, which later became an integral part of my work.
Are you still working there?
I was furloughed way back at the beginning of quarantine. Immediately, I thought, “This is my chance to prove myself as an artist,” but being full time at my own company, initially, was a really scary thing to do, especially at the beginning when I haven't proven that I could make a continuous living out of it. [But] the longer you stick with it, the more you can learn to have trust in your skillset of creating beautiful products that can make an impact on the industry.
What inspired you to create your own brand?
I started Beepy Bella because it was an outlet for the creativity that was initially suppressed in the way I had to make a living. Everything I've ever done for this brand has been a conscious choice to better the industry and people's experiences with fashion.
People who I admire that love fashion are curious beings who play with visuals and appearance—comparable to a performative, theatrical approach of dressing, which I find beautiful. With modern-day fashion and art, I hope everyone can express themselves in their own unique way and feel valued for it.
I've never thought about that, but it's so weird how we just accept that the fashion industry is innately toxic to its own dwellers.
A lot of it stems from competition and insecurity. Fashion has always been a very exclusive and judgemental industry. I want to make my brand the opposite of that outdated mentality. I personally also deal with insecurities, like every other human, so I aspire to showcase the organic humanness of creation and rejuvenate the process of designing for the sake of making art.
Why did you choose jewelry design as your artistic form?
Jewelry making is absolutely cathartic for me. I don't sketch pieces, I build them from my emotions. All the pieces are extremely personal because they represent my life, my experiences, my learnings, and beliefs—everything that is me lies within these creations.
I get to do that on a daily basis, which is the most I could have ever asked for. I say things in my art that I wouldn't be able to say in words.
Is it hard for you to let go of pieces since they are so personal?
It's actually the opposite because I design pieces with the goal of learning something about myself from the process of doing so. The perk is that I get to sell the end piece and share it with someone else who can then form their own emotional meaning about it. It’s an exploration of self and a seeking of my inner-being that I cannot connect to through my physical reality, I can only connect to this aspect of my brain and my energy through my work and my art.
I don't feel that remorse selling the physical objects because I have the emotional reward of it with me forever. I accumulate and collect the knowledge about who I am as an artist, and how my physical being interprets reality—those are permanent.
Are you enjoying the business side? What have been your biggest takeaways so far?
The biggest takeaway is to be an artist, you have to be a business person—they go together. When I was in art school, I was very naive about the industry. I thought that if I were to be an artist, that the entirety of my practice would be about the meaning of life, and selling a really great piece of art would have to be the most emotionally complex work I've ever made. But art is a business as well. Artists also have bills, food that needs to be paid for, and rent that needs to be covered in order to live comfortably. Business isn’t innately capitalistic. It’s a way to survive in this day and age as a maker of objects, a maker of a unique perspective.
Business is a lot like gambling. Not that I've ever gambled before, but it's a lot of risks through trial and error, especially when you're doing it all by yourself. You have to be strategic, but also know when to let go and take chances.
What does your role consist of now?
Everything: customer service, production, operations, clienteling, marketing, branding, making art. It's one of the most complicated mindsets that I've ever had to acquire and channel for a position—I have to be everything from the intern to the CEO. I never had a mentor who helped me through everything. Every day, I'm building my instinct from mistakes I've made in the past and the moments of success when things went right.
What does a day of running Beepy Bella look like?
I do a little bit of email work. I do beading for online orders, making labels, packing the orders, making sure I have enough inventory. Then I plan out what I'm posting on social media and make the imagery and videos for that. I also have loads of collaborations, whether it be a collection with another small brand or a special artist commission project.
A lot of it is design work, customer service, upkeeping, and making sure things are functioning in the way they're supposed to—all that stuff. It’s complicated, I feel like my mind is sometimes a factory.
Is there any Isabella time that's away from Beepy Bella, or does it always go hand-in-hand?
It's very comparable to having a newborn baby. I haven't slept, it keeps crying. But I know it's going to grow up and be more independent. Right now, everything is in my brand. I eat, sleep, drink, think my brand because it's still the stage where I want to prove myself.
What skills do you think are most important for your current role?
Resilience. I'm putting out fires every day, whether it's a crisis with what I’m going to post or a new collection, or I'm running low on a specific material, or a customer service issue. There are always little fires, and you have to be a fighter in order to keep building your brand.
Working mostly by yourself, how do you manage to not become overwhelmed by all of it?
It’s important to learn to love the process. Because if you're okay to make mistakes, you realize they are an opportunity to learn and that you haven't wasted any time.
When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I try to analyze and digest that feeling. I think to myself, “What can I learn from this? How can I apply this feeling to my life, in order to be better and make my work even stronger?” It’s about channeling energies and making sure that you're always twisting and turning them to be something that is positive for you.
What was your most exciting project to work on and why?
I’ve had a lot of exciting projects, but one of the most heartfelt photoshoots that I creative directed was the one I did recently with my good friend Evanie Frausto, who does hair styling, and his partner, George, who shot it. It was my first time showcasing my jewelry on bare chests, which was exciting. Evanie is just such an amazing artist.
I also loved that I was able to use the imagery in many different ways after the shoot. A lot of the time, we think content is redundant if you see the same shoot twice in a week, which doesn't seem very sustainable to me.
The first time I repurposed images from the shoot, I collaged some BTS months after we released the final photos. I had videos that I did special effects on. In the future, I really want to focus on producing shoots that are durable and can be upcycled into multiple new works of art.
How did that come to fruition? Did you know them beforehand?
We had mutual friends, and now that we had a shoot together, we bonded and became good friends. It’s funny, I happen to become friends with anyone who models or does anything for me on set—it's unique because the creative connections I make while working are timeless.
Do you have any advice for young creatives who want to pursue something similar to you?
Make things that you don't see exist, through self-reflection. A lot of what I see happening now, which I'm not saying is good or bad, is just replication. Don't make things just because you see them on Instagram, and they're trendy. Digest the trend and see how you can make this more genuine to yourself. What can you bring to the table that's going to offer a new perspective?
Any business advice?
A lot of it is about e-commerce. Especially if you don't have a retail store, your social media is your storefront. Keep in mind that your audience is mainly digital, and when you photograph your pieces, you need to make sure they'll be photogenic, so that people can have an emotional response to them, despite the fact that you're just seeing them through screens. That is why I rely so heavily on my emotions for my design processes because I think that's the easiest way to communicate just how passionate I am about the objects I make and the mini utopia world I’m trying to build.
If you could recommend something for our readers to read, listen to, or watch for inspiration, what would they be?
Plantasia [by Mort Garson] is my favorite music album, ever. I love it so much. It's been so informative in my art practice—making something that's for plants rather than solely for humans…art that we can both enjoy. I think it's a really powerful message about truly loving the earth.
One of my favorite movies is The Dark Crystal (1982) because the set design is so amazing. I love movies that have a sci-fi plot with an innovative soundscape and storyline, as well as handmade sets where you can really see the artistry.
What's your favorite thing to create with right now?
It's always changing for me because I like to respond to my previous collection and rebel against it—I'm always evolving. When I make something and it becomes really popular, I immediately think, "Okay, I'm gonna drop that and challenge myself to do the opposite now because it’s too easy to just bank on one type of product." I’m not interested in staying in my comfort zone. I want to see what else is out there, what else can I make? What else can I learn about myself? Maybe it's not the smartest thing to do for a business, but I'm more motivated by building the mystery and the expectation for a surprise with my audience.
What do you like about the industry today? And how would you like to see it improve?
What I really like about the industry is the vibrancy of it right now. A lot of my friends who have small brands are looking at themselves and thinking, "What do I want to change for the better in the world I live in now?" People are making more beautiful and unexpected work because of that mentality. Quarantine has definitely played a part with that as well.
I love seeing self-expression and creativity. Social media has really changed the authority of self-expression because your work can be valid without having the press or a publication validate it. It's nice to see what people can do at home, living their own life, and how big of an impact they can have just because of the reach of our digital platforms.
What I would like to see improve are obvious answers—inclusivity, diversity, sustainability. Acceptance, compassion, and caring of our humaneness, which includes the fact that we're living on this earth and we have to be really careful of how we treat it. I want people to genuinely accept everyone, stop judging others and themselves, and truly appreciate the fact that we're all unique.
Where do you hope to be in two or three years?
The unknown. I want to surpass even the wildest goals I have for my future myself. My plan is to accomplish everything I can and make a lasting impact that will evolve modern art and design, by challenging it at its core.
Curious what Isabella listens to while beading?
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Isabella Lalonde
Special thanks to Polaroid