If you don’t know what’s possible, you can’t reach for it. But at the same time, life has a way of unfolding in ways we couldn’t possibly imagine.
In 2011 Felisha Noel closed The Wagon, a boutique she co-owned and ran for four years. Devastated, she wouldn’t know that about eight years later the wife of America’s first Black president would be wearing a Fe Noel design.
At nineteen years old, Noel, known to many as Fe, was managing daily operations for the boutique she co-owned in Brooklyn, New York. The American born daughter of Grenadian parents, Fe was forecasting performance, tracking profit and loss and buying merchandise, all while pursuing a degree in finance at Marymount College. It’s easy to wonder how someone so young could undertake so much, or even know where to start. But the entrepreneurial spirit was in her DNA. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” she told I am Grenadian in a 2018 interview. Her grandmother owns a restaurant in Grenada and her mother, Sonia Noel, owns a daycare in Crown Heights. Noel watched her mom build her business from the ground up, and that example not only showed her what was possible, but showed her what it took to run her own business.
A Self-Taught Designer
Before closing The Wagon, the young entrepreneur began tinkering with the idea of designing her own line. Her partner, Julius Q. Benn, co-owned a clothing label called Cheese Wagon when they opened the boutique. Seeing her partner running his own line inspired Noel to start her own. By roughly 2012, Noel had a cohesive line of clothing called Simply Intricate. Having no formal design training, designing her first collection was a trial and error process. “I’m learning as I go,” Noel shared with Vocab Magazine in 2013.
And as I keep going, it gets better and better. …That’s how my foundation started. It wasn’t a straight, ‘I’m gonna do this;’ It was mistakes, trial and error. …For a long time I was uncomfortable calling myself a designer because I didn’t go to school for it. I just had this innate feeling that was just always there, that just pushed me towards fashion.
Over time Noel’s self-assuredness would grow even stronger. When we spoke with her this year she stated:
At some point, you have to make a choice about who you are and who you are not. Life can pull you in different directions but you need to set your foundation and never go against it. Everything is in the eye of the beholder; to one person you may be cool but to another, you may be corny. I’ve identified the type of person I am and even the person I want to grow to be. So, I try to keep my choices in line with that.
Although Noel had an innate drive toward fashion when she started, launching her own line wouldn’t be easy. Having no investors or a business loan from a finanical institution, she set up her production house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in the basement of her mom’s day care. Her mother and uncle, Dave George, loaned her some money for capital and Noel fueled her business by selling directly to consumers through her website. “If I had access to money, I wouldn’t have been so creative; I wouldn’t have had to think outside of the box to make what I have happen,” she told the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) in 2018.