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Why Fe Noel Chose Brooklyn's Little Caribbean — Not SoHo, Not Even Manhattan — for Its First Store

When she was building Fe Noel‘s first store, a woman gifted Felisha “Fe” Noel a mango. That little act of kindness affirmed her decision to open up shop in Brooklyn’s historic Little Caribbean neighborhood, versus SoHo, the Upper East Side or other popular New York City retail destinations. 

At the launch party in mid-June, a crowd spilled in, filling the space in support.

Located at 1133 Nostrand Avenue and open six days a week (it’s closed Mondays), Fe Noel’s Little Caribbean shop features an array of limited-edition products, discounted pieces from past seasons and overstock, all hanging from sunshine-yellow hangers. Small blue tiles on the floor are reminiscent of clear beach water; palm tree fronds sway while standing upright in their pots in the corner. Outside, the scent of jerk seasoning perfumes the air and stirs a perpetual craving.

The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Finalist says both the store and neighborhood are filled with “memories of home.” 

“Where I’m from [in Grenada], things still have this very raw, untouched vibe,” she explains, as soca music plays over the speakers. “I’m raised here [in Brooklyn], so there’s this modern design that I like, too… I want this to feel like a Black Caribbean home, like my grandmother’s house. It’s not about trying to make it look exactly like that, but how do I envision it? And what are the Caribbean elements? We have to have the palms, the tiles and the colors.”

Fe Noel and friends at the shop’s opening party.

Photo: Courtesy of Fe Noel Little Caribbean

Building the store in the Little Caribbean is also about fighting for the neighborhood’s heritage. Before finding the spot, Noel met with Shelley Worrell, the founder of Caribbeing, a venture dedicated to preserving the area.

“I was just like, ‘I want to be a part of your mission. I want to be a part of what you’re doing here,'” Noel remembers. “It’s powers in numbers. Something told me that this is where I need to be.”

Allan’s Bakery is down the street, Honey Badger’s fine dining around the corner. Prospect Park is close enough for a stroll, too.

“I wanted to be able to walk out of this store and see these landmark places,” Noel says. “You have to start somewhere and build a community around what you’re trying to do. It’s not about going to SoHo — it’s about what feels like home…. I’m teaching my mother, ‘You deserve nice things. You deserve beautiful things.’ We [women] deserve to look good. I don’t even want to just say Caribbean women, but for all women, we need that. We need these things to push us forward, keep us inspired.”

Photo: Andrea Bossi/Fashionista

There are other designers carried in-store too, as part of Noel’s mission includes spotlighting creatives and businesses owned by Caribbeans and people of the African diaspora. (Some touches are still in the works, like building out the beauty and home corner, which already has candles by Terra-Tory and Tedd Bafaloukos’ book, “Rockers: The Making of Reggae’s Most Iconic Film.”)

Noel started her fashion career with a vintage boutique in Brooklyn, which served as the launchpad for her own brand and dressing the likes of Beyoncé and Tracee Ellis Ross. Opening on Nostrand Avenue was a full-circle moment for her, as she started on New York Avenue, which runs parallel.

“I often was working in the basement, behind closed doors,” she says. “We would invite people in, but it was if a customer was coming for a fitting to make sure the thing things fit right.”

Since starting her label, Noel’s held onto the idea of a physical presence — however, she seriously started thinking about it only in the past year, as Fe Noel celebrates its 10th anniversary. What would usually be an eight-month job, her team did in two, as the designer was determined to open during June, which is Caribbean Heritage Month. She didn’t want to introduce the store when everything felt perfect, she says — instead, she wanted people to see the “work in progress.”

Photo: Andrea Bossi/Fashionista

“That’s when they get to see the magic,” she continues. “It’s part of being able to fulfill any type of creative vision. You have to take everything as it comes. You have to work with what you get.”

Rather than a conventional store, Fe Noel Little Caribbean is more of a community space. Noel is exploring adding a bar near the front to give the store a rum-shop vibe. (It’s where people gather, talk politics and catch up back home in Grenada.) There’s a decorated backyard, equipped with a DJ stand and ready for parties. Space for sewing machines is being prepared in the back.

“I want to help people build their brands,” she says, while shoppers brush by in a beeline to the fitting rooms. “I want it to be a community space for creativity.”

The store is a “turning point” for Noel: “Sometimes, people will be like, ‘When do you feel successful? When do you feel like you’ve done something that solidifies your career?’ This is what Fe Noel Little Caribbean is to me. It feels like I made it somehow, to be able to become here and be embraced and loved and celebrated. I’m standing on my own two feet, with the name on the door and all of my authenticity and everything that I represent. Trials are going to still happen, but I got to really bring this vision to life. And that’s a dream come true.” 

Photo: Andrea Bossi/Fashionista

It’s been a busy year for Fe Noel, from a New York Fashion Week show to a sold-out Target collection to hitting a milestone anniversary. Next up is throwing something together for New York’s Carnival, the largest in North America, celebrating West Indian culture. 

“I’m so happy you can’t see my eyes right now,” she says behind angular, cat-eyed Celine shades. “For me to be able to do this felt like a powerful, powerful, powerful moment. It made me feel like everything was worth it. Everything it has taken me to get here was worth it.”

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