By Tomboy KC | Photography by SUKILYNN
Ashely Pittman is a force to be reckoned with. And it’s not as simple as her company’s humanitarian work in Africa or her recent acceptance into the CFDA. It’s her very being – confident, driven, and as smart as a Chanel suit – that has taken her investment from the villages of Kenya into the likes of Neiman Marcus, all while changing the lives of those she employs. That captivating spirit is present in her Dallas studio today, as we laugh about living in Rag & Bone leather pants, contemplate the differences between life in Los Angeles versus Dallas (she recently made the same move we did), and practice our layering skills with her self named jewelry line. Which is gorgeous, by the way.
We have developed a recent friendship with Ashley, after an introduction by a mutual friend. We visit her office, overstay our welcome and find ourselves craving the conversation after we leave. She’s a sharp and engaging woman who surrounds herself with other sharp and engaging women. And we like that about her. Creative and business minds don’t usually mix but, when they do, the combination is insanely balanced and pretty magical. When they come together in a person who also has a heart for making a difference, well, we think you’re beginning to see why we’re starting to gush.
TKC: Your work in Africa started in 2006 while volunteering for the Clinton HIV/AIDS Foundation in Rwanda. How did your heart for Africa evolve into a jewelry line?
AP: My experience working in Rwanda was transformative—I fell in love with East Africa and knew I wanted to start a business there. I traveled back and forth to Africa often during law school, working on various investment projects and seeking out artisans with exceptional skill.
I began to dream of creating a line of hand made, sustainable goods. I found such natural beauty in the horn we use in the jewelry, and I started from there by seeking out horn carvers. I trained them in quality control and sizing. I then found the artisans who do our work in bronze and gemstones.
TKC: What aspect of your work is the most meaningful to you?
AP: I’m extremely proud of what we’ve built and that we’re able to produce our collection from start to finish in Kenya. Training and employing the craftspeople who make our jewelry creates a way for them to grow their businesses and pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty. The artisans who produce our jewelry make goods of a proper standard, on time and to order in a very challenging environment. It is extremely gratifying to create something from nothing and see the jewelry come to life.
Through the success of our company, we’re able to support a primary school and health center in a remote village in Kenya. We provide hot lunches, teacher’s salaries, books, uniforms, etc. and these projects continue to grow as our business grows.
TKC: It’s amazing that each piece of Ashley Pittman jewelry is entirely handcrafted in Kenya. Explain the process that goes into creating one of your pieces.
AP: I design the pieces and work with the Kenyan artisans to produce them. I don’t believe there needs to be a contradiction between pieces that are sustainable and conscientious, and high-quality good design. The process of sampling and developing new techniques is extremely labor intensive. Different artisan cooperatives and individuals craft the horn, gemstones, and bronze, so each piece must visit multiple workshops in and around Nairobi.
TKC: If Ashley Pittman Jewelry had a motto, what would it be and why?
AP: Be bold!
TKC: When you design a piece of jewelry, what are you inspired by? Are there any themes or images that you are drawn to in particular?
AP: I am so lucky to be working in a part of the world where the local materials are incredibly beautiful. My interest in making jewelry in Kenya began with horn, because of its variation in color and striking natural beauty. It has been really interesting and inspiring for me to play with combining the horn with other materials –gemstones, metals—and I think these combinations will continue to inspire me.
TKC: What does your work “uniform” look like (i.e., what would we find you in if we popped in to your office)?
AP: I have a casual everyday style. At the moment, my favorite items are slouchy leather pants, Birkenstocks, oversized button downs, big chunky knits, and boyfriend jeans. I’m thrilled the fashion crowd is on board with my beloved Adidas soccer sandals these days.
TKC: How much jewelry do you wear on a daily basis? What’s your favorite piece?
AP: Lately you’ll find me in long, layered necklaces—I particularly love our 40” hammered chain layered with a more delicate charm necklace. Most days, I stack up a few cuffs and throw on earrings. The gemstone cuffs look amazing worn together, and what I’ve learned is that they can really be stacked without discretion-the nature of the horn is such that it all goes together and really looks cool and easy.
At the moment, my favorites are the multi-stone cuffs (like our Macho cuff). I tend to dress primarily in neutrals, so I really like the pop of color from the gemstones.
TKC: Name one beauty product you couldn’t live without.
AP: I’m addicted to Yon-ka Serum which is a natural, preservative free oil made in France containing all kinds of nourishing vitamins. It’s amazing on the airplane or to mix in with your moisturizer.
TKC: Coffee or tea?
TKC: If you could collaborate with one artist or designer, who would it be?
AP: Johnson Hartig from Libertine and I have been talking about collaborating—he is a creative genius and I’m really looking forward to working with him.
TKC: Is there one moment that stands out where you felt like you finally “made it”?
AP: There’s not been one particular moment—but this has been an incredible year for us. The invitation to join CFDA was a true honor and validation of our work. Additionally, seeing our bangles on the arm of Michelle Obama while standing with our President and the President of Kenya was a very proud, full-circle moment for me.
TKC: What advice would you give to 22 year old Ashley?
AP: Your comfort zone does not serve you.
TKC: What can we expect to see from Ashley Pittman in the future?
AP: My hope is to expand the brand into more lifestyle categories and broaden our reach. There is a huge opportunity to bridge extraordinary craftsmanship with good design and the global marketplace.
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