Traveling to new territories almost always refreshes one’s perspective. It’s the unfamiliar landscapes and associated cultures that move the beholder’s eye to see their home base in a new light upon return. But what’s more beautiful than traveling the world? Easy, nothing can really top the beauty of our world’s most natural creations besides getting the chance to travel with a friend. Speaking from experience, embarking on a trip also usually sparks new ideas – there’s something about being in a completely new place that sets off those light bulbs. Take Ashley Cimone and Moya Annece for example: the two best friends experienced a joint ‘aha’ moment while on a trip to India that resulted in creating their luxury accessories brand, ASHYA. “ASHYA is a love child from Moya and I’s friendship,” Cimone tells ESSENCE. “We met as classmates at FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] and over the years through sharing dreams and aspirations, traveling the world together, and searching for careers in fashion, we found commonality.”
Like any other aspiring fashion entrepreneur, the two female founders were searching for an untapped market to differentiate themselves from the beginning. While in India, Cimone and Annece found a white space in design, specifically among accessories, and that turned out to be fashionable belt bags. They were inspired by their needs to move freely in style, which led to creating accessories that spoke to the modern day explorer. “Exposing ourselves to Black and brown cultures around the world influenced us in a way to want to honor them through our design sense,” says Cimone. “Ashya is an ode to exploration.”
Prior to entering the field of design, Cimone started in fashion with operational roles and Annece worked in PR and project management. However, beginning their careers on the business side of things laid a great foundation for running their own fashion brand. “I’m happy we came from a fashion business background before we dabbled into design because it allowed me to sharpen my skills, develop a strong business acumen, and understand how a conception comes to life,” says Annece. Typically, when two people decide to run a business together, one leads the business front and the other takes the wheel on creative, but that’s not the case for the ASHYA team. “On a day to day, Ashley and I co-creative direct, co-design, and co-manage production. We have junior level team members that support us, but we manage the day to day together,” Annece explained. “It’s very collaborative, and there’s just a certain level of trust we have with each other that I appreciate,” Cimone expressed.
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Since launching the brand in 2017, following their own rhythm has not steered them wrong yet. ASHYA has been recognized several times as one of the leading fashion accessories brands, received awards from the CFDA and Harlem’s Fashion Row, and been spotted on some of the most stylish celebrities including Beyoncé. And speaking of moving to their own beat, ASHYA is also one of the few brands that still use genuine leather as vegan leathers become more prominent across the industry.
However, the founders of ASHYA are not behind one beat, but they are being more intentional about ensuring quality and tracking the environmental impact of new vegan leathers. “I’m excited about the innovations happening in the material space in general, and it’s definitely something we’re thinking about as we evolve,” says Cimone. “Vegan leather is tricky because there are different types. There’s what we knew in the past as pleather or plastic based alternatives to leather, which while they present as being more eco-friendly, there are still components that are not. Then there are materials being created using apple skins, mushrooms, and vegetables, and with vegan leather moving away from plastic based alternatives, I’m excited to explore the innovations in the future.” Until then, customers can enjoy ASHYA’s fresh offering of genuine leather in all of the brand’s innovative shapes and sizes.