24-year-old model Ashley Chew never thought she’d hit the headlines with her iconic ‘Black Models Matter’ bag during New York Fashion Week. But by the end of those seven freakish days, she had gone viral and her fans included activist Bethan Hardison, designer Zac Posen and model Shaun Ross.
But as well as designing iconic bags, Ashley has walked for Yeezy and South African designer Hendrik Vermeulen. She also an artist and muse. She tells us about how the bag came about, how she wishes black women were portrayed in the media and which fashion trends are working for her right now.
Tell us about the story behind that bag
The inspiration behind the ‘Black Models Matter’ bag was the lack of diversity I had noticed on the runways, working as a production assistant and runway model each season. Seeing the industry from different angles can really give you insight on how things work and what’s really going on. Being on both sides of the runway is so conflicting and frustrating.
Season after season, you start to notice a trend or decline in the lack of diversity or representation. I had left a casting frustrated that my best friend and I were the only models of colour, later to find out that the designer did not even cast any models of colour.
Did your roots played an important role in your life ?
My roots have always played an important role in my life. Aside from modelling I am a Fine Arts graduate. My paintings have always depicted women of colour, our different textures, colours and features.
I paint women as I wish society would see us: more powerful, strong, beautiful, creative.
I paint women as I wish society would see us: more powerful, strong, beautiful, creative, instead of the butt of the joke or latest internet memes men create. Especially including hair in my work, a common theme. I don’t see ‘nappy’ as a bad thing. All hair is good hair.
What’s your favourite trend right now ?
My favourite trend right now is nothing I’m really seeing in the streets. Honestly everyone is starting to dress alike… Well let me rephrase that, social media has a lot of people dressing alike. shopping from the same online boutiques. I don’t mind that. I’ve bought a few things myself, but add your own flair to it!
Someone’s ‘no’ doesn’t mean it still isn’t your ‘yes’.
I would love to see the glamorous Studio54 look to comeback (again and again) big hair, off the shoulder dresses, more colour, big jewellery: think Pat Cleveland. On the runway I am loving the ladylike details coming back!
Any advice for the next generation?
I still need advice myself, but someone’s ‘no’ doesn’t mean it still isn’t your ‘yes’. Many people that told me no years ago are asking me for a yes now 🙂
What’s next after your bags?
Haha, I never reveal. Life is full of surprises.