"If we couldn’t buy them, we figured we’d just make them,” explained Ashley Cimone to Vogue’s Nia Porter during an interview with the magazine last year. The co-founder of Brooklyn-based accessories brand Ashya (pronounced “agh-shya”) was recounting how as long-time fanny pack lovers, she and her design partner Moya Annece had wished they could find something just as convenient but more sophisticated, and that it was bridging this gap that led to the launch of their travel-friendly label.
Cimone and Annece met while studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York before taking up positions with Opening Ceremony, Kate Spade and Net-A-Porter. But it was travelling through Kerala and Goa in India together in 2014 that sparked the initial idea for their own line. A 90s wardrobe staple, the fanny pack or belt bag had since fallen from fashion’s favor, but the duo recognized an opportunity to change perceptions by focusing on contemporary design. “We wanted to push past that negative outlook on the way this style of bag has usually been worn and presented,” explained Cimone. And fusing travel and style with global culture, Cimone and Annece released their first collection in February 2017.
Fuss free, it’s Ashya's striking silhouettes that define the line of hands-free, unisex accessories. And with function firmly in mind, bags have been designed to hold everyday essentials both easily and safely, and can also be worn multiple ways, depending on the owner’s preference. Recognizing their creativity and innovation, as well as their sustainable business model, Cimone and Annece were subsequently selected by the CFDA from more than 80 applications for the second edition of the Elaine Gold Launch Pad program, which supports business that have been up and running for less than three years, and the pair now benefit from valuable support, both financial and via mentorship, to develop their emerging brand.
Following last season’s Jamaican influenced Ashya collection – the country’s Blue Mountains served as inspiration – SS19 reflects the unique identity of Guatemala. “We’ve always been really curious about the ancient Mayan culture because it’s survived for centuries,” Annece told the CFDA’s Shyam Patel, explaining that she was in the country with Cimone last summer overseeing production. And she went on to say how while Guatemalan culture is often associated with bright colors, prints, and tapestries, it was actually the Mayan culture’s roots in agriculture and its personification of the earth that really resonated with them both.
This connection not only inspired the warm shades of amber and gray cedar that feature in the brand's latest collection, but gave rise to Annece and Cimone’s first experimental film, ‘Men of Maize’, which includes vintage reportage footage and traditional music from the region. The pair hope that the film will spark curiosity and encourage viewers to approach travel as a means of learning. “We want to give the lesser told stories a platform in Ashya,” said Annece. “Because ultimately, cultural connectivity is how we dispel prejudice and grow in appreciation for one another.”
Watch the ‘Men of Maize’ documentary, directed by Equator Productions founder Anthony Prince, here: