Ashley B. Chew is a visual artist and fashion designer who caused a ruckus in the fashion world during the NYFW Spring 2016 runway shows when she painted ‘Black Models Matter’ across her handbag. Here she speaks about why Black Models do in fact matter, how she got her start in artwork and fashion and what’s next for her.
Tell us a little bit about your background; Who you are and where you’re headed?
I was born in Chicago, IL, but raised in Indianapolis, IN. I am a painter, commercial model and student based in Indianapolis, IN. My artwork and fashion production work has fortunately taken me all over – New York City, Miami, East London, South Africa. As of now, I am a few weeks shy of graduation. Every week has been hectic and is subject to change, I know what I want, but it’s all about timing. I can’t say where I’m headed. God is my planner.
How does your modeling intertwine with your artwork?
My modeling intertwines with my artwork because it’s a matter of representation. Depicting women of color in a positive light, we end up the butt of memes and jokes all over social media, especially from our own men. Maybe someone will look at my work and it’s one less joke about “nappy hair.” For me specifically it’s hair. I make a lot of work based around hair. I’ve had men make horrible remarks to myself and others about natural hair. My work is kind of like a “hush & go away” to them.
When did you create the “Black Models Matter” bag and what were your intentions during conception?
The inspiration behind this bag was me leaving a casting frustrated. I knew that this particular designer did not cast girls of color. My best friend and I are signed to the same agency and went to the same casting. We left in disappointment. We were the only Black girls there. I knew I wanted to paint a bag since at work I have to dress in black from head-to-toe. My friends poke fun at me since I always have paintbrushes and swatches in my purse. At that point, I freehand painted “Black Models Matter” across my bag. I had no idea it was going to get that much attention. I am artist, I wear my statements all the time.
Who were the Black models that mattered to you growing up?
They still matter to me as I’m still growing. But, of course there’s the vets: Tyra, Naomi, Iman, Brandi, Veronica, Noemie, Tyson, Pat. I’m also a big fan of my generation’s girls. I’m obsessed with Anais Mali, Joan Smalls, Riley Montana, Shaun Ross, Chanel Iman, Maria Borges, Jourdan Dunn, Anissa Von Busse, Grace Mahary, Aube Linda, Adonis Bosso is ureal. Also, my friends Ebony-Oliva Wallace and Tyrie Rudolph.
What opportunities do you see within the fashion industry, and how do you intend to positively influence this realm?
Just overall diversity, openness and equality. Fashion should be the easiest place for acceptance. There are so many horrible things going on in the world – clicking on an article about discrimination in the industry shouldn’t be one of them. The industry has endless opportunities from models, to bloggers, editors, designers, any job, but it’s about representation. The next great thing could be sitting at home not even wanting to try because they feel their ethnicity is not welcome.
What message would you give millennial women of color trying to break into your field?
Build your own door. When people tell you no, tell yourself yes. Many people are going to tell us no already, based alone on being female. We have to work twice as hard and sacrifice twice as much to even get in a door. Have confidence in your crazy ideas. People sense fear. People sense doubt. I don’t care if no one likes what I’m doing. I’m kind of hardheaded because I will keep going. Just because 99 people told you no, your “yes” is out there. I am still on the journey for that one yes. Keep going.
What can we expect to come from Ashley B. Chew moving forward, and how can we be of support?
I will be around for the next season of NYFW and since my weeks constantly change, I am not sure under what circumstance and opportunity. I am actually going to take a rest, all of this has happened in my last semester so it’s been a bit crazy. The interviews, papers, appearances. I made shirts for Midwest Fashion Week. I’ve been asked to speak at various places and am working on philanthropy for women. So, this holiday season, just a little recharge so I can try and take over the fashion world again. 🙂
In the end, how do you want your story to be depicted? What is it that you ultimately want people to see with the brand that you are building?
I just want people to love each other as they are. When you look up the origin of melanin – how skin tone is dispersed and why- it’s really silly how people treat each other based off the color of their skin and the texture of their hair. People treat this world like we have another place to go. I don’t hope to build a brand. I hope in the next few seasons this won’t even be an issue anymore. I’m actually not happy about it until I see changes on the runway.
Just for kicks:
Erykah or Lauren: Mama Erykah
J. Cole or Kendrick: Where is Frank Ocean…
Wang or Balmain: Tina Knowles coordinating designs for Destiny’s Child and H&M