Travel accessories design label, ASHYA, opens its first retail location in The Makers Guild. Co-founders Ashley Cimone + Moya Annece have created a design studio–meets–retail space with their brother company Equator Productions. We spoke to ASHYA about the importance and responsibility of running a woman and Black-owned business and leading a team of females. 

ASHYA is a CFDA award recipient, which granted them space within Camp David—then expanding #UpstairsAtIC before opening their retail space at The Makers Guild. The Travel accessories brand seeks to encourage thoughtful post-tourist exploration and is accompanied in-store by a curated selection of objects and gift items that speak to the cultural influences and curiosities of its founders. 

Who is the most influential woman you know? How does she inspire you?

It’s challenging to attribute it to just one woman. We’d say the day-to-day women in our lives are the most inspirational and influential. You are the company you keep and these boss women have motivated us to continue to walk in our truth and purpose, to push forward with business during our hardest and most challenging moments, and simply by being themselves have inspired us to fully understand our worth and see the value within us and in our environments. 

After the past year, what are the biggest challenges women are facing in our current environment?
For as much progress we’ve made in the past fews months in an attempt to establish equity within our communities after a global awakening due to the pandemic, as Black-female founders, we still have significant years ahead before we can truly see equality. As business women, we’d note one of the biggest challenges women are facing in our current environment is funding—being granted the capital we need to seed and sustain a business and see the growth and success it is deserving of. There’s still a huge disparity that exists with funding for black female founders. 

Do you have hope for positive change over the next 10 years as a result of the past year?

The pandemic has most definitely shook the infrastructure of our communities to its core and unveiled the grave disparities that exist in our society. We are hopeful as we see thought leaders of today rise more now than ever in our lifetime because of our access to media and ability to build global community. We are collectively combating old systems and reimagining the future, creating hopefully lasting change—a vision of justice and equity for 10 years to come and more.  

How much does your identity influence your work?

Our identity influences all that we do. As two women of color, we find that it is our distinct cultural origins that inform the way in which we view the world and our innate sensibilities in wanting to cultivate thoughtfulness in the travel space and diversify narratives. There is a constant threat of erasure of culture in many places around the world, and as we travel we hope to use our brand as a vehicle to share less frequently told stories. 

Why is it important for all genders to be represented in a number of different fields?

Representation is not only important so that we can see ourselves but so that we can be seen and valued!

How did you feel when starting your business as a woman? What pressures did you feel that you believe men wouldn’t have?

The honest answer would be that we entered into this business as naive young women, ripe with excitement and enthusiasm to bring change to a white space we saw at the time of its inception. If we knew all the challenges, heart ache, significant disparities and inequities that existed within the space we operate, we probably would not have started! Nonetheless, despite it all, the lessons have been invaluable and shaped us into agile and nimble women we had not imagined. Nimble enough to pivot during times of adversities and still sustain our sanity and business 😉  Don’t know that we can definitively state the “pressures” that are exclusive to women, because gender is a spectrum and entrepreneurship is most definitely challenging for anyone, but what we do know is that the world asks much of women, casting much doubt on our abilities, however we are ripe to defy the odds, leaning on powerful women along the way up.

What traits do the women in your family share? How have they informed your opinions of what women should be like?

The women in our families are all so diverse in their paths, however what is shared is that they have all done their best in life, a cardinal rule that we keep. As long as you go to sleep every evening knowing that you’ve done the best you can, you should sleep peacefully knowing you’ve done well.

How has your experience at IC shaped your women owned business?

Our experience at Industry City has been life-changing—this may sound dramatic but it’s true 🙂
We were first introduced to Industry City by way of our fellowship, the CFDA & the Accessories Council Elaine Gold Launch Pad Residency Program, where we were initially awarded a membership to the creative co-working space, Camp David. Since then, we transitioned into one of IC’s Creative Workshops and now a retail-meets-design studio at the Maker’s Space. The support we’ve been given is the kind of support we need as women-founded small business owners. The idea of launching a retail shop had always seemed further down in the trajectory. IC made this goal a reality, providing us with the opportunity to expand our business channels with a brick-and-mortar shop, introducing our design label to new customers, and ultimately supporting the growth of our business.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Listen to your intuition, walk in your purpose, believe in yourself,  don’t be shy to ask for help and what you need because closed mouths don’t get fed.

How do you see the opportunity you have been given to lead a team of females, and how do you empower them day to day?

We’re very deliberate in working with mostly female and POC teams. This is true for us in front of and behind the scenes of our work as the ASHYA brand is led by a creative team of women of color. In our past careers we rarely had the opportunity to work in diverse spaces even though we live in an extremely diverse world. Part of our mission is to use the brand as a vehicle to diversify cultural perspectives and we feel it is necessary for this to be reflected in all aspects of our business.

We have a small team and because we are a small team, many of us wear varying hats. For this reason, it gives us and our team the advantage to feel empowered in our daily work. We work very closely and lean on each other to problem solve and dream up new ideas and strategies as a small business. Each member is making decisions and taking ownership of projects that play a critical role in our success as a team and a business. 

What lesson / teaching was passed down to you that you now offer your team?  

Lean on your peers, and seek out communities and organizations that support creatives of color and women within and beyond the fashion industry. There is much power in solidarity and your peers’ collective wealth of knowledge.

Why is it important for women to support and raise other women?

Because we have a long way to go before we can see true equity. It’s not until we embrace each other and move in solidarity that we will see progress. 

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