We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley Alves and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ashley, how do you think about risk?
I think risk is really a matter of perspective. I’m naturally a pretty anxious person, but I know never venturing out of my comfort zone is risky in itself if I ultimately want a full life. When life confronts me with a pivotal moment, I often have an intuition about which path to take, because it’s usually the scary one and the one that demands the most faith. It’s the choice I call, and I’m laughing nervously as I say it, “walking on water”. It had been a life-long dream to combine my passion for fashion design with my desire to make an impact in underserved communities. It would also turn out to be one of my biggest risks. In December of 2015, after several years in corporate fashion, I suffered my 5th lay-off just two weeks before Christmas. This moment was the moment I came to the conclusion, that I could and would create my own “dream job”. Within three and a half months, I built my own sustainable luxury brand, Ashley Alves Collection. This brand was my freedom, and a means to giving my ideas a voice. One year after launching Ashley Alves Collection, I launched Love Is An Art Organization. Its mission would be to promote educational advancement, quality of living, and control of destiny for marginalized communities, locally and globally. I was new to entrepreneurship and trying to gain a presence in a niche market – sustainable handmade luxury goods. On top of that, I was trying to implement a business model that would work with local and global nonprofit organizations. I created Love Is An Art Organization to manage a percentage of sales from Ashley Alves Collection for that purpose. Looking back, it was definitely the most insane task to take on at the time, yet it is the most rewarding work I have ever done. I literally cried tears of joy when I completed my first mission to Cabo Verde, Africa on behalf of Love Is An Art. I still find it amazing that my hands created a product that funded a blessing for someone else. The world needs more businesses that care and give back daily without reservation. I love every bit of the work I do, and I think entrepreneurship and philanthropy can go hand in hand. The business world is full of risk. We can get caught up in reading the “gospels” of successful people before us, but sometimes to advance your business and your life, you will have to confront a bit of “walking on water”, “water” that only you can navigate.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’ve designed and handsewn every piece of Ashley Alves Collection since 2015. I search markets in France, Spain, Mexico, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Portugal, India, China, and Japan for vintage textiles and unique accessories. From vibrant African wax fabric, 19th century French brocade, block print kimono, to volcanic rock, Portuguese marbleized cork, pineapple leaf fiber, I weave together a theme for each year’s collection. The history of life on this earth and people’s relationship to it, inspire my themes. By upcycling materials that have a long cultural or biological history, I feel like I’m retelling a story, and also reinterpreting it. For instance, the inspiration for the Ashley Alves Collection mark was the scarab beetle. For thousands of years, this little beetle has had a huge role in the ecology of Egypt, helping to keep the land fertile, and for the ancient Egyptians, the scarab embodied the power of resurrection and transformation. This is how human history and natural history intersect. My whole design process of finding discarded or overlooked pieces and creating new relationships between the parts, is a process of resurrection and transformation. I want to tell the story that our culture is not set apart from nature, and nature is just as much a part of our culture. That’s why I obsess over the materials I use. I’m always on the hunt for innovative plant-based materials that make a positive impact not just on the environment but also on human societies where they are produced. Pinatex is a strong non-woven fabric produced from pineapple leaves that were often discarded and never produced any additional income for farmers. I saw it as a perfect substitute for leather which has very negative impact not just with animal welfare and deforestation, but also in terms of a toxic environment for workers and the water quality of the communities where they live. Finding the right materials can be challenging, but it’s extremely important to me because it’s part of that story I’m trying to tell with each bag or dress. I think that’s what sets Ashley Alves Collection apart. In the past year, I’ve expanded my base of production from Atlanta to Paris. Having a site in France has made it much easier to source vintage original European fabrics and hardware or even Portuguese cork. The proximity to Cabo Verde is also convenient for seeing family and scouring one of the best markets for African wax fabrics. 2020 is the year that Ashley Alves Collection will officially adopt the “Made in France” label, which goes extremely well with my customers back home in Atlanta. It is pretty incredible to me when I look back at the past 5 years. What was once a middle-of-the-night hobby, while holding down a corporate day job, is now a full-time self-employed passion!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
A week-long trip in Atlanta is barely enough time, but I have a few non-negotiable spots in the city. First, if you can’t go to Naples Italy, then go to Antico for the best oversized pizza of your life. I love, love, love their sweet and spicy tomato peppers that they ration like gold. Second, Grindhouse Killer Burgers is the home of my secret addiction – the Impossible – their vegan burger that still manages to make me feel guilty. Third, you can’t leave Atlanta without paying due respect to the Chattahoochee, and there’s no more charming spot than Canoe restaurant. It has the most elegantly chic porch and lawn waterfront to sip my favorite dark & stormy. Fourth, the Swan Coach House, tucked away, is perfect for teatime in a historic and artfully Southern context. My last but definitely not least foodie experience is dinner at Herban Fix, where my nirvana is the Crispy King Oyster Mushroom entree, a cocktail, and for dessert, the best vegan chocolate cake, hands down. Saturday morning is the perfect time to take a tour of the amazing Egyptian palace we know as the Fox; you will swear you went back in time or at least to another kingdom. Later in the afternoon, walk or bike through Piedmont Park and meander down the Beltline where you can wrap up the trek at Krog Market. An evening at the Painted Pin will take billiards and bowling to an elevated but cozy level, often with a live band. On the last night of your Atlanta visit, enjoy a champagne toast on the Ponce City Market rooftop and take in the skyline. Finally, start planning your return.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
In Start With Why, Simon Sinek asks simple questions with a powerful punch: “What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief?” When I made my first bag, it was for myself. I was in the middle of a lot of lifestyle changes. Using plastic grocery bags and consuming animal products didn’t make the cut. I wanted a bag that I could use at the grocery store and still look stylish wearing. Early on I decided to only use sustainable and animal-friendly materials. Then when I started marketing my designs as Bolsa Verde, I knew that giving part of the profits to aid social assistance programs would become part of the reason for producing each bag. All of these motivations were moving targets for my business. Start With Why confirmed that my desire for a business model that seriously took to heart it’s place in society and the natural world was my WHY. It was the reason I started making bags in the first place. Along the path of pulling Ashley Alves Collection together, I was fortunate enough to gather a team of friends and volunteers. They offered their gifts and talents without hesitation or pay. My co-founder and design sounding board, Hector King, keeps me encouraged, balanced, and motivated. Kunal Mehta’s magnificent location photography helped give Ashley Alves Collection that global element we wanted to convey in branding. He dedicated three weeks in Africa away from his family during the holiday season to create brand content. Dru Phillips volunteered to shoot our initial product photography in studio and at Atlanta’s Botanical Garden. Meanwhile, Tomesha Faxio documented in photography and videography the entire experience of getting ready for each season’s runway show. I also relied on Erin Sierra for impeccable marketing design work. By reconnecting with my alma mater SCAD, I was able to meet the best studio assistants I could ask for — DeAndria Evans and Jennifer Ortiz (Jengie). Jaesi Sierra for always working past her fears with modeling to support the productions. Morgan Christopher for always delivering the best attitude and effort as an intern. Clark Potts for being the youngest yet the most advanced intern. Greg Foster for amazing announcer personality and support by providing creative mixes and an energetic DJ (or MC) experience. Hannah Wilson for gracing us with her undeniable model presence. Diamond Bradley for her stylist assistance and model prep. Theo Tyson for her stage organization and impeccable event coordination. But most recently, my husband, Redon Malanda, has provided so much support in my transition from Atlanta to Paris, in addition to providing marketing photography in a pinch.
Redon Dublin Malanda | Brand Photographer (Paris, France)