Ashley Cimone and Moya Annece met at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and soon became friends. Beyond their love for fashion, they found another common interest, travel. During several trips to the southern coast of India, they had the brilliant idea to combine their two passions. During two years, they conceptualized a line of travel accessories they sold first at The Shop at The Standard, High Line hotel in NYC, which would later become officially ASHYA. By combining their two names, the designer duo has offered since 2017 a selection of unisex, elegant and multifunctional belt bags and travel accessories made from noble leather, inspired by their many trips together around the world.
Meet the Founders of ASHYA, Ashley Cimone and Moya Annece
Based in Brooklyn, ASHYA has reinvented the “fanny bag” and today the brand is worn by A-list celebrities like Beyoncé. For sale mainly in their online store and a selection of concept stores in America, ASHYA is part of the rising American brands created by African-American women.
For All The Pretty Birds, we chatted with Ashley and Moya, co-founders of ASHYA, about the importance of friendship and what it’s like working with your friend every day, the difference between a casual ‘fanny bag’ and their fashionable belt bags and the great exposure celebrities like Beyoncé can bring to a small business.
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: When was the first time you remember wanting a career in fashion? What’s your earliest fashion memory?
Ashley Cimone: I honestly can’t remember when I didn’t want a career in fashion or design of some sort. From a very young age I’d been drawn to the arts, constantly sketching and painting, but as I grew older there was something special that appealed to me about the applied arts, translating a colorful vision into an accessory, or furniture piece… or bag, of course. That was very intriguing to me.
Moya Annece: Just over 15 years ago when I migrated from Jamaica to Brooklyn, brands such as Baby Phat, Enyce, Apple Bottoms, and Jordans were so highly coveted in my community at the time. I would say that was my initial touchpoint to fashion and style, through New York’s grit and streetwear culture. I’m still a lover of streetwear, colors, and interesting prints, however since then it has evolved tremendously into a more sophisticated yet still fun approach to my style.
AWK: You have been friends for more than ten years. How did you meet? How did you decide to start a business together?
AC: We met in class at The Fashion Institute of Technology (NYC) – when we realized how well we collaborated, then it was easy for us to form a friendship. That same energy of collaboration bled into our lives post-college and we continued to support each other’s professional journey with advice and sharing our entrepreneurial dreams with each other.
MA: Once we felt we were ready, it was something of a no-brainer to launch a brand together. We’d gained complementary work experience and shared very aligned ideas around what a brand together would look like.
AWK: Working with friends can be hard. What’s something that you both do as business partners to help maintain the friendship and intimate relationship you had before the business?
AC: This is something we’ve made a point to discuss, and carve out time to spend as friends and not business partners, whether it be dinner with friends, mini getaways, or just taking time to step away from the office to talk and catch up on personal life.
MA: We’re friends/chosen family first, which is why we’re in this business together, so it’s important that we continue to nurture that part of our relationship.
AWK: What was your first trip together? What did you learn from each other?
AC: Our first trip together was to Kerala, India, one of the most impactful trips we’ve experienced to date. This later inspired many other journeys together to destinations including countries throughout Africa, Central America, the Caribbean, and more.
MA: What we’ve learned the most is that we’re deeply aligned in our values and to never stop exploring, experimenting, and dreaming.
AWK: You’ve talked previously about a specific trip, the one on the southern coast of India, and the moment you’ve realized that fanny bags could be ‘a thing’. How did you come to this conclusion?
AC: We prefer to refer to them as “belt bags”. “Fanny pack” reminds us of the things we weren’t very fond of about the style in 2015-2016. At the time, it was challenging to find an elevated yet well-priced, contemporary belt bag that wasn’t made of nylon or bohemian in aesthetic. There was a seeming white space in the market. We searched and couldn’t find something that we wanted, so we decided to make it ourselves. This is of course no longer the case. Many brands picked up on this shortly after our launch and now we see a belt bag every season on every runway.
MA: Consumers are moving throughout the world more fluidly, and need clothing and accessories that speak to their evolving lifestyles. We’re hoping to fill some gaps with our brand, bridging both the travel and fashion space with thoughtful accessories that can be useful and elevated aesthetically.
AWK: Your products are inspired by your trips around the world. How do you translate all the memories collected together or individually into your work?
AC: Our travels are woven throughout our designs in the colors and textures, the shapes and the finishings. We also reference our travels when considering the way that the pieces will fall on the body.
MA: We’re in the process of researching materials to incorporate outside of leather as well. Whatever we land on will be directly tied to the locations we’re exploring.
AWK: Could you describe your aesthetic?
AC: Playful yet polished.
MA: Same, playful sophistication.
AWK: Who’s the more practical or the more creative in your team?
AC: We both straddle the line. We have a great balance of both business savvy and creativity. Moya is definitely more organized and decisive: she has a very clear vision creatively. I’m a dreamer and tend to think big picture, about the business goals and the creative vision of the brand.
MA: Together, we are so aligned that we finish each other’s sentences and have a deep level of trust in our creative process. In the future, we definitely intend to grow our team, bringing on production and other business support so that we can focus more on the big picture and creative direction of the brand.
AWK: You took two years to conceptualize the brand before the official launch in 2017. What did you learn during that process?
AC: We were keen on launching the brand with clear intention and were conceptualizing ASHYA while both working full-time jobs. We learned so much during that time, about our world views, our design eye, etc.
MA: We’re still learning and always will be, especially in the process of creating leather goods from concept to finished product, as new innovations and development processes are consistently surfacing.
AWK: Your belt bags were worn by Beyoncé. You were CFDA award recipients, the height for young designers. You made a collaboration with Opening Ceremony. What is your state of mind right now? And what’s next?
AC: We feel very young and green as designers and have only scratched the surface of our vision for the brand but are extremely grateful for all of the genuine and organic support we’ve received to date. We found out that Beyoncé had been spotted in our bags via an Instagram DM – a gaggable moment for sure! We have so much admiration and respect for her as a multifaceted talent, so it’s an honor to have created something and see it beautifully worn on her.
MA: Opening Ceremony was integral in the early positioning of the brand and we’ll be forever appreciative of the chance that the team took on us in our very first season at market. The bag we designed for them exclusively is actually the same bag that Beyoncé wore on her birthday!
Image credits: Anthony Price