“My family is Italian – and [Bella Vita] means “Beautiful Life” in Italian. I wanted to stay true to that Italian heritage,” she says.
Bella Vita, now located in the Lafayette Building at 523 South Louisiana St. in Downtown Little Rock has been a long time in the making. McNair grew up making jewelry, and looks to her family as a solid source of inspiration.
“I come from a family of entrepreneurs, my grandparents on both sides had antique stores and gift shops. My grandmothers were always dabbling in cool antique jewelry and my interest was struck.”
She remembers going to the town square with her mom and stopping in the local craft store. “I would get random seed beads and make friendship bracelets, and I was obsessed with little charms and things like that as a kid.”
As soon as she could, McNair took a job in a Eureka Springs bead store, working there up until college. “I sold quite a bit of jewelry before I even graduated from high school, it was a nice little income,” she remembers.
When McNair went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville to study Interior Design, she took a bit of a break from jewelry making. When she graduated she moved to Little Rock, only to find she didn’t much care for sitting at a desk all day.
That, coupled with the market crash in the mid-2000s, lead McNair back to jewelry. She remembers, “I got a job waiting tables, and got hired on at the bead shop here in Little Rock. Then I started Bella Vita … basically doing any kind of art show or craft fair or farmer’s market that I could back then, still working part time.”
Since then, the line has flourished. Bella Vita has since now been in operation for a total of eight years, with the downtown shop being just over a year old. The line offers one of a kind runs of personalized and hand stamped charms, natural stones, hand cast bronze and sterling pendants, and vintage baubles.
Over the years, McNair has developed a various number of processes to get her wares just so. All of the customizable pieces sporting words are stamped in-house. McNair also casts her own pendants, although streamlining the process took a while. By doing that, however, she is able to offer really unique charms, as she says, “I want to offer things that are different.”
The unique beauty of the pendants show, and they’re pretty popular items, right behind the customizable pieces. McNair laughs, “I’ve done a lot of Wu-Tang lyrics, and Tupac lyrics. It’s pretty funny what people come up with.”
Currently, McNair is wanting to grow the retail side of her shop, with the goal of bringing in more local artists. A recent feature in Southern Living magazine opened her up to more regional customers, but she wants to make a mark in Little Rock.
She explains, “We also carry other local artists and artists that I’ve met at shows. Everything in here is either handmade, vintage, or fair-trade. … I want to become known as a destination.”
When not making jewelry or attending craft fairs, McNair tries to stay active in the local scene, getting out to various art events. She’s involved with Legends of Arkansas, and as a volunteer, helps them organize their craft vendors. McNair also spends a good deal of time at the Arkansas Art Center.
This much is clear, Little Rock is her home, especially downtown, which she loves. If you haven’t been in yet, stop by the shop and say hello.