Rebelle Yell: Jamenda McCoy is doing it her way

Bellē Up Boutique

Jamenda McCoy of Bellē Up BoutiqueBusinesswoman Jamenda McCoy will be the first one to tell you that she doesn’t always get things right, but at least she does them her way.

Just like a good little Rebelle.

“It’s important to be able to live your life without regrets and doing it your way,” said McCoy, founder and CEO of Bellē Up Boutique (pronounced “Belly Up”), a trio of chic clothing and accessory stores in Chicago. “Some paths have already been traveled hundreds of times, I’m interested in blazing my own.”

It’s true. The native Chicagoan doesn’t have a background like many clothing boutique owners. Not only was Bellē Up her first business venture, just five years ago she was a labor and employment lawyer for an international firm. (And before that she was a heptathlete and trained to be a Missouri state trooper.)

While at the law firm, she became pregnant and quickly found there was a dearth of options for trendy maternity wear. Her job called for business suits on the daily, and oftentimes there were galas to attend, which of course meant she needed maternity evening gowns.

“I didn’t just need denim that I could go buy at the GAP,” she said.

The local maternity boutiques weren’t much help either.

“At that time I was a size 10 or 12 going into a boutique for size 2 women,” she said. “Nothing against them, but they catered to a different demographic. A lot of the time I’d be faced with a young person at the store who’s never been a mom and looking at me like, ‘What am I going to do with you?’”

And online shopping was a joke because once the maternity item arrived, her body had changed from when she ordered it, and the outfit looked all kinds of wrong.

Then in 2009 McCoy decided to open Bellē Up in Beverly. At the time it was the only maternity boutique between Orland Park and North Michigan Avenue, and it still is.

The next few years were very hectic for McCoy and her husband, Joseph McCoy, who is a partner at a Chicago law firm. After she put in 10 to 12 hours at the office, she would come home, spend time with her family, tuck their son and daughter in bed and worked on cases. Finally, she’d turn her attention to Bellē Up around 10 p.m. and wouldn’t go to bed until 4 a.m.

“It was crazy. Now Joseph and I look back on it and we’re like how did that happen?” she said laughing.

With a supportive partner, in-home child care and a talented Bellē Up team, McCoy was able to juggle the heavy load for a couple years. Then her day job began to require her to travel.

“That’s where we had to say that this just really doesn’t make sense anymore,” she said. “I was seeing my family less and less, my business was doing fine, but I knew it could do better with me.”

And with that, she left.

McCoy dove into Bellē Up and it ballooned, growing beyond maternity and into a chic boutique for all women. More people began to take notice and leasing agents approached her about opening more stores. One was a pop-up agreement in Hyde Park, and the other store was a retailer’s dream: The Shops at North Bridge on the vaunted Michigan Avenue.

“It’s humbling and it feels good,” she said of her stores’ successes.

“She works harder now than she ever did as a lawyer,” said Joseph McCoy. “She is up all hours of the night and most mornings before the kids wake for school. She is relentless in pushing herself to become a better and better CEO.”

Many find her dedication inspiring.

“I admire her thoughtfulness, strength, and willingness to go out of her way for anyone. Not just from a business standpoint but in life,” said Kate Vandergroef, store manager of Bellē Up in Beverly. “Her work ethic both inspires me and makes me feel tired at the same time. Emails at 3 a.m., musings on a text message around midnight, there is no stopping her.” 

As for what’s next for Bellē Up, McCoy says she plans to keep growing the brand. She wants her children, especially “my daughter to see and know that there will definitely be challenges, but you break the hell out of those ceilings.”

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Melanie Coffee is a freelance journalist in Oslo, Norway, and founder of She'sWrite.net.

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