Ashleigh, where are you from, and how did your hometown shape you?
I was born and raised in Arlington, Texas, but moved to Grand Prairie when I was 12 years old. I didn’t like living there—it felt very sterile, and I never really felt a sense of community. I began to notice that there weren’t any kids there that looked like me, and I didn’t really feel like I belonged there. I left Grand Prairie when I went to college at University of North Texas, and moving out opened up my eyes to how Texas isn’t just one big state. I began to meet people who actually looked like me, and it was truly an eye-opening experience. In school, I double majored in Fashion Merchandising and Digital Retailing, and minored in Marketing. I had always wanted to design clothes. At 8 years old, I was designing clothes that I wanted to wear in sketchbooks. Even at an early age, I wasn’t able to wear the same clothes as my friends because I was larger than them.
I realized that in New York City, there were many opportunities to pursue what I was studying rather than being in Texas, and I found that it would be easier to apply these skills in New York than in Texas.
How did your studies in college lead you to working in New York City?
I came to NYC my senior year of college for a sales internship at Autumn Cashmere, a luxury cashmere sweater and accessories retailer. I begged my parents to let me move to NYC to do this internship, and they reluctantly helped me. After the internship was over, I decided to stay and within the first 6 months of living here I was educated heavily in fashion—I was actually speaking with buyers, working with the sales team, meeting many people and even became friendly with the designers in the office. It was a very important learning experience for me, and it solidified that I had chosen my correct career path.
How has your career path transformed now living and working in the city?
After graduation, I worked many internships in the city, including Wunderlich Kaplan, Monif C, Dream The End Studio, and a short-lived stint at Anna Sui. I’ve been doing freelance work mostly, since a lot of my internship positions were unpaid.
Since I wasn’t making any money and needed to support myself, I decided to work as a Dominatrix in a BDSM dungeon at night. I was apprehensive at first because I’d never done sex work, but I was trained and everything was fully explained to me, which made me feel more comfortable. I was able to compartmentalize my domme life and my fashion life according to my schedule. Working in the sex industry, I learned how to be more assertive, more cognizant of my time, and I realized that my listening and communication skills were incredibly valuable. Coming from the South, I was taught to be very warm, accommodating, and to always exude Southern Hospitality.
In the dungeon, I was able to use that to my advantage and learn that, as a woman, you have to be aware of what you consider valuable. Working there helped me be more confident in the skills that I have, and how they’re valuable and applicable across industries. Working in various internships, I felt eager yet not very confident in my skills because I was constantly proving to myself and employers that I belonged in these spaces. I was not being compensated—the dangling of the possibility of a full-time position upon completion of the internship was supposed to be enough—but it wasn’t. What people don’t tell you about most internships is that your bosses don’t have time to teach you, so you have to self-teach and seize as many opportunities as possible. And I learned to be more proactive with my education as a result.
What does it mean for you to be powerful and confident?
For me, being powerful and confident is knowing that when I show up to different situations and spaces, I won’t have to turn down any part of myself to make others feel comfortable. I’m very tall. I’m fat. I’m a black woman with a loud voice. And all my life, I’ve been taught to silence these qualities. I don’t want to silence those things about me anymore. If you can be in spaces and not let those things affect you, that is the epitome of power and confidence. Being yourself wherever you go is hard to do but that is the ultimate goal, and if you are okay with yourself and embrace who you are, no matter where you are, that is power.