Mom of six Alissa Bertrand was frustrated with the clothing options available for her three youngest daughters. “I was getting really tired of screen-print shirts, cutesy prints, and poor-quality fabrics that only last one season,” she says. Though Bertrand could find fun, vintage outfits for herself at places like Park Avenue Thrift and Value Village, the stores didn’t offer similar styles and fabrics in children’s sizes. So, about three years ago, the home sewer started creating dresses, jumpsuits, and separates for her girls using curtains, bedsheets, and other thrifted textiles sourced from Etsy and shops around the city.
“I never really intended on being a sustainable designer, but thrifting is cost effective,” says Bertrand, who learned to sew as a child with cross-stitch kits that her aunt gave her. “Fabric is $15 per yard or more, and if you’re making a little girl’s dress, you need three yards, times three kids, and that gets expensive.”
Encouraged by her 21-year-old daughter, Abigail, Bertrand started snapping photos of 11-year-old twins Jada and Jayla and eight-year-old Ella wearing her playful, retro-cool designs, such as ethereal prairie dresses, delicate ruffled collar shirts, and lush velour coats. Then, dubbing her brand Jabella Fleur—a mashup of her daughters’ names, her initials, and her love of floral patterns—Bertrand started uploading pictures to Instagram in January 2019. Shot with an iPhone in grassy fields and other rustic locations, the images exude a sense of magic and nostalgia.
Her daughters are “natural models,” says Bertrand, whose posts look more like magazine features than social media. Not expecting her account to draw much attention, she mostly wanted her girls to feel empowered and “to show other BIPOC girls you have an outlet to dress how you want and to be photographed in a way that we weren’t before, which is a fashion editorial sense.”
Last summer, Bertrand participated in the #VogueChallenge, a viral contest in which thousands of Black creatives uploaded their visions of Vogue covers to reimagine a space in which they historically have had little representation. After Vogue shared her submission on Instagram and published an online story about her work, Jabella Fleur’s Instagram account swelled and now boasts more than 40,000 followers.
One of those new followers was Stacey Fraser, creative director and founder of Pink Chicken, a New York–based children’s company. She reached out to Bertrand and asked her to design two pieces for the spring line. With muted blush and jade patterns, tiered skirts, puffed sleeves, and ruffled details, the matching mommy-and-me dresses retail for $265 and $88, respectively.
What’s next for Bertrand, who sews on her Singer Quantum Pro at night after homeschooling her girls? She’s in preproduction for her own line of children’s clothing, to bring her self-described “eclectic and vintage” aesthetic to a broader audience.
This article appears in our May 2021 issue.