Black History Month on Making the Flame continues with this interview of Ashli J. Washington, an unapologetic millenial and propietress of (among other things), an Etsy store featuring amazing headwraps that she makes herself. Fun factoid: I stumbled upon Ashli twice! First, I followed her some years ago on Instagram for personal style ideas (@itsmeashli). I loved how real she looked, her fabulous outfits, and the fact she was one of very few stylistas who wore glasses. Then I found her again last month, when I was looking for black indie designers to discuss Black History Month with (@ashlijamescollection). Her photos blew me away – so clear, so colorful, so perfectly styled – and her Etsy store wowed me even more with it’s crazy affordability. I knew I had to ask this fabulous creative if she’d do me the honor of an interview, and was beyond thrilled when she agreed!
What’s your name? Where are you from?
ASHLI: Ashli J. Washington, from Atlanta, GA. My name is pronounced like “Ashley” and my brand is Ashli James Collection.
How long have you been doing it? Did you do any other creative endeavors before it, or in addition to it now?
ASHLI: I started the company in 2014 after graduating from fashion design school the year before. I didn’t have a background in fashion, but after moving to Atlanta in 2009, I became very interested in fashion. I initially started styling a few friends (men mostly) and was very interested in men’s fashion. In the time since then, I’ve opened myself up to other creative outlets including photography, filmmaking and writing.
Who taught you your creative skills, and what was the context (age, setting, etc)?
ASHLI: I definitely learned the technique of design in fashion school, but I’ve always had a natural knack for style and knowing what looks good on me and others. I think I really learned I had a thing for that in college and it blossomed in my 20’s. Before design school in my mid-20’s, I graduated from Hampton University with a degree in journalism, which is where the seed was planted for my love of storytelling. Again, I learned the technical side of things at Hampton, but really came into my own in my 20’s and even now at 32, am learning and exploring new ways of storytelling that I never imagined.
Do you try to honor or represent your family’s story and Black history in your work?
ASHLI: The “James” in Ashli James is my dad’s first name. I wanted something to honor him because fathers (even phenomenal ones like my dad) don’t always receive the praise they deserve. The name also pays homage to my initial interest in men’s fashion. Ashli James also has a cool ring to it! I definitely honor my family and ancestors in my work. Each print in my first line of headwraps in 2018 were named after a woman in my family, my grandmothers (Sybil and Beulah) and two of my aunts (Diane and Rosie), who are all deceased. The final headwrap was named after my mother, Ester, as a way to honor her, while she’s still alive.
How do you feel DIYers and fashionistas can respectfully celebrate Black history?
ASHLI: I think we can celebrate Black history by learning more about our history and re-learning it again. We were fed certain facts when growing up, but what didn’t they teach us? And why? I think fashion is an art and we can pull inspiration from the way our ancestors dressed and incorporate it in contemporary ways.
How would you like to contribute to Black history in 2020?
ASHLI: I will contribute to Black history in 2020 by being my full creative and free self. 2020 is a year of no fear and I know that by pursuing the creative ideas God has given me, that I’ll be adding to our magnificent story of our people.
What do you have planned for your brand in 2020?
ASHLI: Expansion, innovation and DOLLASSSSSS$$$.
Thanks to Ashli for taking time to make this interview happen! If you want to learn more about all her endeavors, check out the links below. In addition to grabbing gorgeous headwraps, you can learn keto diet tips, get outfit styling ideas, and check out her irreverent podcast about all facets of life, including her love of Michael B. Jordan.