Feature: Do business and family really mix?


Kourtney Twyman, Journalism Student

To learn about operating a business and what it really takes, I interviewed Telisa Twyman, one of the owners of BELLA, a luxury boutique founded by four sisters who wanted to share their passion about fashion with the world. Telisa talked a lot about the struggles – the blood, sweat, and tears she and her sisters had to endure to establish this name for themselves. Telisa explained, “I and my sisters throughout our life have been called Bella Taz, Bella Star, Bella, and Bella Dae for me and each of my other sisters so it stuck with us. When I asked them why they called us this, they told me that we are beautiful, strong Black women and we should never forget that.”

 Telisa said before really learning about fashion all she did was stay inside the box and match clothing, but once she got older she started going outside the box stopped caring about matching her clothing, and just wanted to pop out from the crowd. Telisa said once she and her sisters got through their teenage years they all dressed very tomboyish and loved to take their clothes and redecorated them and from that day they knew they had a passion for clothing. When building up the company, these sisters worked tirelessly, hustled, and found a way to earn the money. Years after years of coming up with the money, the sisters moved. 

They knew they had to leave their birthplace of Chicago because it was getting difficult. As her best friend decided to leave Chicago, Telisa also did since she had begun to fall in love with him. They were only 17 when they moved to Minnesota and had nowhere to live, so they all chipped in to pay the rent at the home of Telisa’s best friend. These years of living with each other were difficult, and they all worked hard to make sure they had enough food and a way to continue their education. However, something unexpected happened when Kowanna became pregnant at the age of 18; this had an impact on everyone because no one had prepared for this. Kowanna fell for  one of Telisa’s homeboys, and their love story was enchanting. His name was David, and he came to Minnesota from the rough parts of Detroit. He would pass by the sisters’ cribs just to see Kowanna to, and when he learned she was pregnant, he wanted her to move in with him at his parents’ house. In response, Kowanna to said, “Yeah, it was rough times because we were so young, but me being the oldest, I knew I still had to take care of my sisters and make sure they were ok. But the pregnancy was very hard because I was a teen and I had no idea what I was doing. but I still knew I wanted this business to happen and hoped they didn’t give up just yet.”

 When asked why they chose the name BELLA, the sisters explained that it stands for “beautiful, entrepreneurs, loving, living, achieving.” The sisters responded, “Each of these words describes who we are and what we do; these words form us as a person.” The sisters started earning enough money in their late teens and early twenties to buy a duplex, which they did. Danielle and Dominique lived on one side while Telisa and her best friend Courtney started dating and lived on the other. When asked how it was like living with just the two of them, Danielle and Dominique admitted that there were conflicts. “Because we were the two youngest and the wildest, we were experiencing the challenges of growing older and we knew it was time to mature.”

 In 2009, Telisa had two children within a year, but she had to send them to Chicago with her grandmother for a few months because she couldn’t afford to care for them at the time. Later, she got them and she and Courtney moved into a house leaving the duplex while asking Telisa how were her and her sisters connected. Over the years, the sisters improved in their business and found someone who helped them with promoting their business and helped with the clothes. She said, “It was difficult to communicate with each other because we all had different plans and ideas and we always ended up fighting about it so we wouldn’t talk for weeks,” but weeks would pass and they eventually realized they had to reach a consensus in order to get this business up and running. 

Things were looking up for the sisters after Kowanna  and Telisa got married: they all graduated from community college, and they had enough money to support themselves, so they decided to open a pop-up shop in Minnesota. They nervously invited everyone they knew and handed out flyers, not knowing if the pop-up shop would be successful. the sisters had great success, but something caught their attention when a customer inquired, “Do y’all sell hair?,” saying that at first there were two groups of people who arrived before many more began to arrive. and the customer suggested selling hair because it is always a hot issue, and the sisters initially replied no because they had never considered doing so. Nevertheless, after giving it some thought and acting on their decision, they eventually began selling hair and apparel. 

 The business was successful in 2020, and Dominique made the decision to move to Texas. When asked why she moved, Dominique responded that Minnesota wasn’t for her any longer and that she wanted a fresh start somewhere lovely. “I loved Texas when I always visited there, so why not, and my family loved it as well.” The sisters encouraged Domonique’s decision and wished her well, but even after Domonique moved, she continued to provide customer service for Bella. In 2020, business began to suffer as a result of declining Covid sales and fewer orders, which led to a rift between the sisters and their lack of movement, but Telisa wasn’t deterred. She found a way to continue promoting the company by participating in fashion shows.  They regained their power and made the decision to carry on, saying that “honestly, everything was hard, it took a while to get packages, none would come out because they were afraid, money was tight but we still had to find a way.” As a result, the sisters worked tirelessly to further develop the business.

 In 2022, they received a significant offer to open a store in the Mall of America, which was a ground-breaking opportunity. They accepted the offer, of course, and were only able to operate their store alongside others in a place called Community Commons for 6 months during which time they were present every day while others intermittently came to work. When asked how the experience was, the sisters responded, “Honestly, it was amazing getting this experience, and yes, others probably didn’t care as much or work that hard. We weren’t worried about them – we had to make sure we provided for our company and our employees.” The sisters continued to work on their business and look for new opportunities after leaving MOA.  They want to make a huge comeback in 2023–2024, and they want everyone to keep an eye on them.