In 2006, Ashley Pittman traveled to Rwanda as a volunteer with the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative and fell in love with the people and the culture. It changed everything for her.
“I got this idea that the best way for me to effect change in the area and allow people to pull themselves out of poverty was to create jobs for them,” the Dallas native says.
After her work with the Clinton Initiative, she attended law school at Northeastern University and planned to take the bar exam the summer after graduation—the same summer she founded her eponymous jewelry company, employing Kenyan workers. Then Bergdorf Goodman picked up her jewelry collection. “It was immediately a full-time job.”
Pittman now travels to Africa four times a year, where she meets with artisans and finds inspiration for new jewelry designs and her own personal look. “African women have good style,” Pittman says. “They stack jewelry and bangles, and I’ve learned a lot from them on how to layer and have a little less structure when it comes to my style. I think that when you stack and layer things without discretion, everything looks more organic.”
Since she’s constantly traveling, Pittman stocks her closet with pieces that wear well on the go. “I definitely dress for comfort, and I like to play with mixing different textures and silhouettes,” she says. “I think people who look the most stylish are those who wear what makes them feel the most powerful and comfortable rather than what’s fashionable or in vogue at the moment.”
Ten percent of the company’s profits are donated to the Kamboo Dispensary, which provides basic healthcare for rural communities, and the Kathiani Primary School, helping provide students with clean drinking water and school supplies. And Pittman is trying to help in other ways, after seeing so many African craftspeople producing “amazing things” with “no access to markets or online stores to sell them in.”
“My first trip to Africa was such a transformative experience for me,” she says. “I want to help people there grow their business skills, along with their jewelry-making skills, so that no matter what happens in the future, I’ve left a better situation than when I got there.”
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