Ken Bell looks fabulous in his shop at 20 Walton Street in Port Hope wearing a sparkling trio-coloured vest with matching bow tie and shoes!
Article & images by Valerie Macdonald
The talented designer and fashionista behind the persona of the King of Glitz has come a long way since his days at the former CDCI West high school in Cobourg.
When he was 13, Ken Bell remembers telling his gramma that he “wanted to own his own company and travel the world.”
Now, at 53, Bell is celebrating 25 years running his own retail and wholesale line of fashion accessories, selling across North America under the Kenneth Bell label.
It has been a lot of work – but a lot of fun too – for the man who starts his day at 4:30 a.m., splitting his time between important trade shows, travelling, and handling the wholesale shipping side out of his retail outlet at 20 Walton St., Port Hope.
Dressed in a dazzling and sparkling black, grey and white jacket, bow tie and matching shoes, Bell literally bounces across his shop floor on the day we spoke. His energy is palpable.
He began his work life as an accountant. It is difficult to believe that Bell moved from that line of work into selling an Apriori line of clothing to Holt Renfrew after that well-known company had turned its back on the former company. He was able to make that inroad in the late 1980s selling Holts a line of bomber jackets. For about a decade, he made contacts and learned the business.
“I got Holts. It was amazing. But it wasn’t mine,” he said.
Bell wanted something more – and the opportunity presented itself through friends he knows in the jewellery business.
After a four-day trip to New York and returning with two bags of jewellery, Bell opened up a small shop in Bloor West Village. He began travelling internationally to source his jewellery and now has 500 wholesale/retail customers across North America.
“Anything that is shiny, anything that is glitzy, I’m attracted to,” he said.
Bell describes the allure of being in the fashion business as one that is “always new, always evolving.”
At the same time, it is a hard business and “getting harder and harder,” Bell said.
He spread himself very thin when he opened a chain of retail stores with outlets in Port Perry, Aurora, Kingston, Peterborough (where a retailer sold his product) and Cobourg, in addition to his flag store in Port Hope which opened originally on John Street in 2003. Since then, he has sold and closed the locations as leases came up for renewal.
Now he does more than the 16 trade shows a year, mostly in Canada, but also in Los Vegas which is where he was earlier this month.
Bell said he has done 46 shows alone at the “Mode Accessories Show in Toronto” – which is twice a year for 23 of his 25 years in the fashion business.
As if this commitment to his business isn’t enough, Bell started designing his own necklaces and accessories in metals and other substances about five years ago. He likes to make bold statements with them and his store showcases his talent in this area.
With a move in 2009 to filling wholesale orders and selling on line, Bell says he now only visits about 10 to 15 wholesale customers in person.
His busiest season is from May to August but after that he can enjoy life more with his wife, Judy, whom he married in 1988 and who is, in his words “is brilliant.” They have three children, the youngest of whom is in grade 12 at St. Mary’s Secondary School.
“I have a nice life,” Bell says quite simply.
Asked what he does to unwind, Bell says “the thing I like doing most when I’m done all my shows, is catching up with my friends and family. I have wonderful friends and family and I miss them when I’m traveling.”
He also enjoys a night home watching movies or a weekend trip to Bermuda like the upcoming one planned with his wife.
At the same time Bell admits: “I’m a workaholic” with his phone almost an appendage.
For the 25-year-celebration of Kenneth Bell in 2018 there will be constant sales because that’s what customers really want, he says.
Part of the store, in fact, has a wall of 80% off jewellery so that anyone can enjoy an attractive addition to their wardrobe.
“I don’t do what others do, but I’m always on trend” Bell says of his designs.
His motto is “the look of high end for less.
“I’ve always based my business on that, and it’s worked.”