ASHYA is revolutionizing the travel goods market
Ashley Cimone and Moya Annece are two friends with a passion for exploration who noticed a major gap in the travel goods market: high-quality, durable, stylish contemporary utilitarian designs.
The need prompted the two to establish ASHYA in 2017, a New York-based label focused on crafting durable, unisex travel accessories. Although carefully crafted in New York, the brand sources the highest quality leathers from Spain and Italy to meet their built-to-last vision. Walking the fine line between upscale style and utilitarian functionality, their sleek, built-to-last leather pieces are designed to accompany your travels for years to come — and have caught the attention of icons like Beyoncé and Solange Knowles.
With a just-launched brick-and-mortar shop in the collaborative hub of Industry City, Brooklyn, the duo brings multicultural inspirations from their own roots to each collection inspired by their travel explorations and curiosities. Paying homage to Black and indigenous communities plays deeply into the brand's heritage, as they constantly reference traditional techniques of artisanship through a careful, small-batch process that uses top-quality leather and results in minimal waste.
As the pair says, “We’re very much not the typical handbag girls.” Scroll to find out why on part one of our exclusive interview with the co-founders.
When you were ahead of the curve in bringing back the belt bag, it was a provocative call for the market. What would you say the one characteristic of your work that makes you unique is?
A: What makes our work unique? Us! Us, as designers, and our shared minds — thinking about luxury design and being in the luxury leather goods space, being black women and entering into this space is still new in terms of representation. For us, it's important that that's reflected in the way we approach our brand and the type of content we create. Who we see using our products and how we storytell is a large part of our mission as a brand.
As far as design is concerned, we're very much not the typical handbag girls — so, we've always approached design in thinking about utility first. We want to encourage minimalism, which isn't necessarily the way of the modern world, through our designs and our utilitarianism approach. We're always thinking about the function of our products first, and creating things that feel gender-neutral because that is a reflection of our taste as creatives, as individuals, and designers. We approach our design with fluidity in mind.
With a design practice inspired by travel, as well as black and indigenous heritage, how do you go about understanding and evoking these places, these markets, these countries?
M: When we initially launched ASHYA, it was really important for us to do some deep diving into our own cultural heritage first. For one of our first collections, we traveled to South Carolina, which is where you can trace Ashley's heritage back. She's African-American, and on my side, I'm Jamaican — so, we created a collection around the botanical heritage in Jamaica. That's how we started ASHYA, in terms of doing research around our own different cultures.
We wanted to make sure that we spoke about our cultures and our understanding of the world first. From there, it's just been an intuitive thing. We don't necessarily have a very specific way of choosing these different countries or cultures, it's innately what inspires us within that moment in time. Shortly after we traveled to Jamaica, we explored Guatemala and created a small collection where we produced goods from there — and that led us on the path into Guatemalan heritage, specifically researching the craftsmanship and understanding the origins of those people.
In 2018, we wanted to do more material research around India. We ventured to the Southern Coast of India, during our explorations, and fell in deep admiration of a small indigenous community of snake catchers, the Irula tribe, one of India’s oldest indigenous communities. We were most drawn to the fact that their skills play a crucial but nearly invisible role in saving thousands of lives annually in India. We wanted to do our part in sharing these important narratives. There’s 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 these less frequently told stories.
It's very very much an intuitive thing for us in terms of how we go about doing research and deep diving into these cultures. Typically, what speaks to us as black women, are stories of black, brown, and indigenous communities. That's typically the guiding light in which we discover these new places.
What is the best part of the design community?
M: As far as community, it's an important pillar for us as a brand. We come from fashion business backgrounds, we've worked in these large corporations, and I feel so honored to be able to intentionally choose the people that we work with, as opposed to it being the opposite way around. It feels good to be able to provide opportunities, to be able to share and experience cultural exchange. I genuinely love that process.
A: For us, community is just so important, and so it's just innately a part of the way that we go about our brand. For instance, we haven't been able to travel much because of COVID, unfortunately — but, it definitely has allowed us to explore what community means in new ways. In early summer of this past year, we hosted a wellness series, which was our attempt to stay connected — and to also to extend some of the practices that were helping us just get through the pandemic, and social uprisings, and just the trauma of 2020. We wanted to share that with our community, it's just a part of our DNA and our fabric, as individuals, to be connected.
What are the main principles for good design today?
M: I definitely think one of the main principles of good design is that it has to solve a problem — it doesn't just exist for the sake of existing. It has to be filling a blank space, it needs to be a solution to a problem that's out there, big or small. I think that's really important in design and if you don't have that, you're definitely missing the mark.
A: It's important to be purposeful — I think that as designers, we have the ability to communicate through different mediums as artists. I think it's important that artists are reflecting the times and being purposeful in the messages that they put out into the world. So, I do think that as a designer, it's important to be purposeful — whether or not it's just to spread joy through your work, or if you have something more political or social to say through your work. I think it's important to be intentional in what you're communicating and how you're filling up space.
Purpose-driven, premium quality pieces — sign us up.
Keep going with a deep dive into Ashley & Moya's thoughtful use of leather here.