Bella I Ha sandals made from salmon skin.
Charitable shopping is a popular concept with consumers for obvious reasons: Buy a product, help the world. What’s not to love? Everyone wins, and we all get to walk away feeling like we’ve done something good, while sporting new glasses, a cute new bag, or slippers. Companies like Warby Parker, Toms and Feed Projects have struck a chord. And now there’s a new brand on the block: Bella | Ha.
Bella | Ha is a luxury sandal line that benefits We Care Solar. The shoes are made in a high-end factory in Italy with sustainable materials, and 10 percent of each pair purchased goes toward buying a solar suitcase via We Care Solar. Solar suitcases help women give birth in the developing world by providing power, a fetal doppler to monitor the baby’s heart rate, cell phone chargers, and other accessories. One suitcase costs $1,500.
We spoke with Keely Solimene, the founder and designer of Bella | Ha about the project, how it started, and what her goals are for the company.
Yahoo Style: How did the shoe line come about?
Keely Solimene: The creation of Bella | Ha was inspired by the journey to find our adopted daughter’s identical twin sister from whom she was separated at birth. Over the course of the eight years that we traveled through southern Vietnam searching for her sister, our eyes were opened to the vast array of people and cultures and traditions in the Khanh Hoa province. These experiences had a transformative effect on us. And Bella | Ha was born out of the desire to give back to the people we met on our journeys. The company was named after our adopted daughter, Isabella, and her twin sister, Ha. So the Khanh Hoa province in southern Vietnam, where our journey began, is the inspiration for our very first collection of sandals. The color palette was pulled straight from the beautiful little corners of the area.
YS: The shoes support a great cause—We Care Solar. What made you decide to work with them?
KS: The people that have most touched our life along the way are mothers and their babies. And while we were searching for our daughter’s identical twin sister, Isabella was a member of the inaugural class of the United Nations Foundation Girl Up Teen Advisors where she learned that maternal mortality is the second leading cause of death of girls age 15-19. And preventable newborn deaths account for 44% of deaths in children under the age of five worldwide, resulting in 2.9 million lives each year. In more places than you can imagine, mothers are giving birth to babies in darkness. This contributes to high infant and maternal mortality rates in impoverished regions. That’s way we are doing everything we can to support infant and maternal health around the globe.
YS: What is a solar suitcase?
KS: It’s a portable, suitcase-like device that equips off-the-grid medical clinics with solar power so they can have light. By the simple act of providing solar power, these clinics will now have medical equipment and surgical lighting, as well as power to charge cell phones and essential medical devices. It’s a durable, plug-and-play Solar Suitcase that provides highly efficient solar energy systems to power medical quality lighting, fetal monitors, power for charging cell phones and small devices, and headlamps with rechargeable batteries. A Solar Suitcase with solar panels, battery, LED lights, charge controller, mounting hardware, and standard accessories costs about $1,500.
YS: Your business model is different from the usual buy a pair, give a pair model we’ve seen. Talk to me about this?
KS: So every purchase of our shoes will help us send solar suitcases to provide light to off-the-grid clinics. But the Bella | Ha brand is so much more. It’s an opportunity for women to collectively help other women. Because we believe so passionately in the transformative power of travel, the Solar Suitcase seemed like the perfect fit for us. Wonderful things happen when you pack up a suitcase! It’s a truth for us as a brand and for We Care Solar, our giving partner. And we love that a Solar Suitcase can help babies make safe passage into the world for years. The effects of giving a suitcase to a clinic are perpetual.
YS: The tags on the shoes have the longitude and latitude of Khanh Hoa, the province in Vietnam that is being helped. Are you planning on expanding to other locations?
KS: Yes, these longitude and latitude tags are a little reminder that the purchase of the shoes has provided Solar Suitcases to birth clinics in the area to help mothers and babies. And each new collection of Bella | Ha shoes will support clinics in a new area of the world. We will work closely with We Care Solar to determine where there is the greatest need.
YS: The shoes are made with sustainable salmon skin, which is pretty unique. Why did you choose this material?
KS: Since the skins are a natural by-product of the salmon industry, the fish are not specifically bred for their skin. The making of salmon leather gives new life to a once bi-product of salmon fishing. Sustainably-sourced salmon skin leather from Ireland provides the rich textures of the strap of the shoe. Textured salmon leather is remarkably durable and wears beautifully over time.
YS: Are you planning on expanding the line beyond shoes?
KS: Yes, we are in discussions with our manufacturer to add a children’s collection and travel accessories. Stay tuned!
Belle I Ha sandals, $100, available at belleha.com