Exclusive: Ashya launches its AW19 campaign with Nataal, a story dedicated to the Irula tribe of southern India


With their bag label Ashya, New Yorkers Moya Annece and Ashley Cimone are dedicated to thoughtful designs for adventurers and explorers. The duo met a decade ago while both were studying at Fashion Institute of Technology and since launching Ashya in 2017, have spearheaded a new and understated approach to unisex belt bags and body bags that imbue their wearer with freedom, ease and panache as they go about their journey, whether that’s to work or into the great unknown. This approach has recently won them the 2018-2019 CFDA and Accessories Council Elaine Gold Launch Pad Fellowship.

Ashya is also vehicle for storytelling and for AW19 [which launches on The Helm today) Annece and Cimone travelled to the rural area of Kancheepuram in southern India to shoot with British photographer Ronan Mckenzie. The images celebrate the spirit of the Irula tribe, renowned for their relationship with the region’s venomous snakes, and feature the young community leader, Thangaraj.

How did you come to focus on the Irula tribe for AW19?
The Accessories Council invited us to participate in the Chennai Design Fair in India, and so we researched nearby regions as an extension of this trip. This is how we stumbled upon this brilliant yet marginalised community of snake catchers in the state of Tamil Nadu. We are always curious about the roots of each community we visit, the origin of a people, and in this instance were eager to learn more about this underrepresented group’s mysterious and ancient knowledge of the most venomous snakes in India. Their skills play a crucial but nearly invisible role in saving thousands of lives annually in India. A significant portion of the Indian population dies of snakebites each year and the only reliable treatment is antivenom. The Irulas capture the snakes to extract their venom for the purpose of creating antivenom serum.

Please describe the shoot experience.
Our shoot occurred in two parts, the first in Kancheepuram featuring snake catcher Thangaraj, followed by our shoot in New York with South Indian model, Nidhi Sunil. The creative process with Ronan Mckenzie was synergetic and explorative and we were very much aligned as the shoot unfolded. We also worked with the local Chennai-based creative Radha Rathi to art direct in India and help bring the visuals to life in an authentic and respectful way. We were first introduced to Thangaraj as the son of one of the most prominent Irula snake catchers and were instantly captivated by his mature energy. After spending a short time with his family, and being welcomed by their warmth and willingness to share time and space with us, we were sure we wanted to incorporate Thangaraj into the project.

How do these inspirations translate into the AW19 collection, Irua?
We leaned on the distinct colours and textures of the venomous snakes of the region to inform our design choices. We introduced pebbled cow leather for the first time and embossed prints for a play on texture. The palette for the season includes Indian Green Viper. We have also introduced two new styles, a passport bolo and book alongside iterations of our previous silhouettes in new colourways and materials.

How did you first decide to launch the label?
Our initial meeting was in class and started to share our aspirations with each other, which organically evolved into becoming business partners. An integral aspect of our relationship has been our shared curiosity and desire to explore globally. In 2015, we travelled to the southern coast of India and that experience was evolutionary for us. We searched for a sophisticated, contemporary fanny pack to use for travelling and found very few options. This void in the market presented an opportunity that we felt inclined to respond to. Thus Ashya was born to address a category needing some well-deserved attention. We have large aspirations for our brand’s expansion beyond belt bags and look forward to growing together.

What is the Ashya philosophy?
Ashya exists as a vehicle to diversify cultural perspectives through our broadly researched narratives and designs. As we explore global partnerships and inspiration for our collections we are particularly drawn to indigenous people and places of origin. As two women of colour, we find that it is our distinct cultural origins that inform the way in which we view the world and our innate sensibilities in wanting to cultivate the travel space. Representation is not only important so that we can see ourselves but so that we can be seen and valued. There is a constant threat of erasure of culture in many places around the world, and as we travel we hope to use our brand as a vehicle to share less frequently told stories.

What makes an Ashya design unique?
The accessories market is quite saturated with traditional bag styles and recently belt bags have been reintroduced in very familiar silhouettes and materials. We look to explore sleek and thoughtful design approaches to utilitarian and minimalist accessories. We bridge the gap between function and style, creating unisex designs that empower our customers to move more fluidly.

Congratulations on the CFDA fellowship! What does this accolade mean to the brand going forward?
Thank you! The CFDA + Accessories Council’s Elaine Gold Launch Pad residency program was a pivotal moment for our brand. To know that such a well respected organisation believes in our vision and the work that we’re doing has been very encouraging. The mentorship and the new support system we have received has helped to demystify our pathway to longevity as a brand. We’re now applying all the skills and networks we’ve gained through the program to propel us forward.

Ashya’s AW19 collection is available for pre-order on The Helm, a new e-commerce platform dedicated to women-founded companies

Photography Ronan Mckenzie
Models Nidhi Sunil, Thangaraj Sadaiyan
Art direction Radha Rathi
Styling Jessica Willis
Hair styling Evanie Frausto
Make-up Raisa Flowers
Production Equator Productions
Words Helen Jennings
Special thanks The Irula Snake Catchers’ Co-operative, Romulus Whitaker, Ajay Kartik

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Published on 08/07/2019