Coming off of a month’s worth of fashion shows filled with trends that will shape style in the next six months, one might chalk up the continued popularity of belt bags to the major labels that showed them on the runways (see: Zimmermann, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, and Gucci). However, Brooklyn-based ASHYA is here to prove that belt bags are actually not a trend, but an evergreen accessory. One worth wearing every day, as evidenced by the brand’s co-founders, Moya Annece and Ashley Cimone.
The two initially met when they were paired together during a class at FIT, but the idea for their brand came years later when, like many recent grads, they spent time traveling. “Traveling really helps you understand people in a holistic way,” says Cimone, who recently returned from her second trip to India with her co-founder. “Moya and I grew up in certain places, experienced things in a certain way, and until we expose ourselves to cultures different from our own, we don’t understand the world.” Out of a need for a stylish way to navigate travel, both far and near, ASHYA was born.
Since its launch over two years ago, the line of belt bags can now be found at Opening Ceremony and has been spotted on fashion editors’ hips at New York Fashion Week. Annece and Cimone have also recently completed the CFDA Elaine Gold Launch Pad, participating in the program’s second ever round of cohorts. “They essentially provide us with mentors and workshops and throughout the residency there are micro awards,” explains Annece of the program, which offers around $200,000 in total to participants based on challenges that are completed.
Now, with the brand’s spring line already available—a collection called Men of Maize, inspired by the team’s trip to Chichicastenango, Guatemala last year—Cimone and Annece took a moment to tell us more about how the functionality and beauty of a belt bag have inspired their whole business, how they’re changing the perceptions of what an everyday handbag looks like, and what that means for their personal style too.
Where did the idea of creating a brand that specializes in belt bags originate?
Ashley Cimone: “A couple years into our friendship, as we started getting into our careers, we decided to start traveling together and went to the Southern West coast of India for two weeks. While we there, we wore belt bags the entire time, just because of the convenience. When we got back home, we looked for sleeker versions of what we were wearing and realized we couldn’t find anything that spoke to us, s we thought it was a great opportunity for us explore designing and fill a void in the market. That’s how ASHYA came to be.”
Belt bags have been so popular over the last couple years, but they’re often referred to as a trend, or something merely tied to nostalgia. Why do you see their existence as something more long-term?
Moya Annece: “After that trip, it clicked to us that this was a necessary piece that needed to be part of our closet. Being hands-free worked really well for the trip, and it segued very easily into our New York City lifestyle and the way we get around. Until this day, we wear a belt bag every single day—not only because it’s a beautifully-designed bag, but because it has great utilitarian value.”
You’re still traveling a lot, like with your second trip to India earlier this winter. How does travel continue to play a role your company?
AC: “We both joke that we call ourselves investigative journalists, because when we go somewhere, we’re always asking a million questions—we’re always looking to do things that aren’t considered tourists things, and we want to learn about what’s happening in cultures that aren’t our own. That’s inspired us to go further with the brand.”
How will we see your travels within the designs themself?
MA: “It varies from season to season. For Spring 2019—the Men of Maize campaign, which was inspired by our trip to Guatemala—the colors were representative of the agriculture of the birth of a people in earth colors and moody tones.
“For Autumn 2019, which was inspired by our recent trip to India, we take it a step further by honing in on some distinct details that will be reflected through the bag styles.”
Tell us about becoming a part of the CFDA Elaine Gold Launch Pad program. What does that mean for a young brand like yours?
MA: “We weren’t aware of the program before because it’s very new, but we met with the CFDA and it led us to applying for this residency and getting accepted into the second round of cohorts. It’s been very challenging in great ways because it’s pushed us towards the growth we need as a business and really straightened us out in the way we operate, from being able to connect with Camp David for the use of their office space—before we were working out of our apartment—and providing us with mentors. It feels like we’re heading in the right direction.”
What’s been the most significant part of this program?
AC: “We’ve had a really supportive community around us since the launch of this brand. The CFDA actually caught wind of us because a friend of ours really pushed for us to be featured in Vogue. The programs have been extremely instrumental in the way we approach our business operations. Moya and I co-design and co-creative direct. The mentorship has really helped us fill some voids. It’s been the epitome of an accelerator because it’s helped us move quickly through some roadblocks as young designers and business owners.”
Coming off of your experience with the CFDA launch pad, how does ASHYA plan to evolve going forward?
MA: “I definitely see ASHYA evolving more in the travel space. We started with belt bags and are now expanding into smaller accessory pieces. Over time, we’ll continue to explore different types of accessory products that are definitely travel-oriented.”
Since ASHYA’s start, what’s been the biggest change in how you think about fashion—as designers and entrepreneurs, but also as consumers?
AC: “Being an entrepreneur, you work becomes your life; I’ve invested a lot of money into this business, so I shop less. I’m not wasteful and, in a way, that’s really helped me understand the value and quality of making things. It’s become much more important in my personal style. I want to invest my money into things that are going to withstand time and grow with me. It’s helped me to refine my eye because I just really want to refine myself as a creative.”
MA: “On a typical day, my schedule is quite hectic. It’s Ashley, myself, and an intern. It’s mostly a lot of grunt work and I don’t have the time to labor over how I specifically am going to style every outfit. That’s really allowed me to become more refined in my everyday selects and has pushed me to appreciate independent designers and the work that goes into every piece. I feel morally connected to where I’m spending my money and will spend my hard earned dollars on a really great quality items knowing I’m supporting the people who are making them and their brand ethos.”
Finally, tell us about your own personal styles. You both wear belt bags every single day. What’s your advice for styling it?
MA: “I was a young immigrant girl from Jamaica when I first came to New York, and my introduction to fashion was very much from the street style grit and culture. I still love streetwear, but as I’ve grown older, there is more of a sophistication [to my style]. At the same time, I love my prints and colors. I think the belt bag seamlessly made its way in my daily style. Most days I wear it as a crossbody, but it really depends on what I’m doing.”
AC: “I used to be very wild with my style. I think it speaks to what I’m attached to: things that go against the grain. I think of ASHYA bags as my last piece of jewelry when I’m getting dressed. We even design that way. There’s utilitarian value, but you can use it for specific things, like carrying a passport or if you don’t want to walk around with a wallet. At the same time, we design them because they enhance as outfit, not just act as a utilitarian bag.”