“I am self-taught and there is no shame in that at all. I identify as being someone that wants to make a change in this world.”
This is Watch Me Work, an editorial series celebrating the limitless potential of Black, women entrepreneurs shifting and shaping culture through their work. La Colombe Coffee Roasters and Kno. Media have partnered to amplify the voices of Black women in our community because we know there’s nothing like the mind of a Black woman and because we know that there’s nothing that beams as bright as Black Girls Shine.
There’s a beautiful sense of structured fluidity in creator and jewelry designer, Ashley Jordan’s pieces. Each piece of jewelry from her Chicago-based brand AKIN Studio is “functional, sculptural, wearable art.” The brand which debuted in July 2020, produces handmade avant-garde jewelry that has already captured the attention of Chicago’s creative community.
Dedicated to her late mother Kriste and her late aunt Nellis, AKIN taps into the strength Ashley has witnessed in various Black women in her life. Below, we chat with Ashley about launching a brand amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, how her identity infuses into her work, and her advice for other women of color entrepreneurs.
As we all know, last year was really tough, physically, mentally, and emotionally — yet you managed to launch your brand AKIN Studio during that time. Can you talk us through the experience of launching a brand in 2020 and how you got your start as a jewelry designer?
2020 to be honest, was a lot. I literally switched careers and moved to a whole new state where I only knew my brother. It was during this transition that I found the downtime to focus on revamping the life that I wanted to live.
I kept seeing polymer clay earrings on social media so I started watching YouTube videos, searching for different products to use, and one day just decided to ride my bike up to Joann Fabrics for some polymer clay. I came home and tried making earrings. Initially, I was like, “I can’t do this, this is so hard. I’ve never really worked with my hands like this before, but I’m not going to give up.” After 24 hours, I started creating all these crazy amazing pieces. My brother immediately encouraged me to consider turning this into a brand so I decided that I would dedicate it to my mom and aunt Nellis who both passed away.
I named it AKIN as kin stands for related by blood or similar by character but AKIN also stands for Ashley, Kristie, Ingrid, Nellis which are my mother and aunt’s first cousins. With everything being handmade, they’re similar in nature but they’re also different. Then I named each piece after the strong Black women in my life and have a mini-bio for each name on the site.
I launched on my mother’s birthday, July 14th, and within two hours made $1,000. It was hard in the beginning because once it actually started happening, and people began purchasing, I became a bit overwhelmed. I was trying to balance my work schedule as a flight attendant then I got into a relationship that sidetracked me because I’d never been in love before. So I was hard on myself because I knew I needed to continue putting out new pieces and make sure my product was up to par.
Let’s dive into that a little bit, what you’re talking about here, striking this balance. You’re definitely not alone in that, so how are you keeping it all together?
My boyfriend and I have done this thing where we pretty much create our schedule for the day in advance. It’s been helping me a lot because I’m the type of person that didn’t really have any structure before especially when it came to AKIN. I would wake up at the crack of dawn and work all day without eating or just push everything off. Now with him, he’s allowing me to come up with a structure to make sure that I’m taking time to focus on everything else, instead of putting all my focus into one thing.
I’ve noticed in this process that it’s also important to listen to yourself. I’m the type of person where if not in the mood to design, I’ll still push myself to do it, then I get this crazy anxiety and I’m designing pieces that I don’t like. But when I listen to myself and take the time to sit still and relax, I can come back to designing and be on it.
How would you describe your brand’s aesthetic? How do you infuse your identity into this aesthetic?
I identify as a strong, ambitious Black woman who is literally learning how to own a business and is using all of my resources to do so. I am self-taught and there is no shame in that at all. I identify as being someone that wants to make a change in this world.
I would describe my brand as very funky yet minimal and within my personality, I’m very funky and a little spicy. I feel like my pieces speak through me. If I want to wear something dangly then that means that I’m feeling a little bit freer. If I wear something a little more structured, like the Nycole earring, which is my triangle hoop, then that means that I’m feeling a little bit more put together and a little bit more polished.
Tell us about a moment that being a Black female entrepreneur has made you extremely proud.
One day I was flying to Houston and when we landed I noticed 100 messages from my sister. She had given my number to a stylist in LA who loved my pieces and wanted to send some to a client. Turns out it was actually for the actress Tiffany Boone. She was in Midnight Sky with George Clooney on Netflix and needed pieces for the press release. I flew back home and within 24 hours, made all these pieces and sent them to her.
That was my biggest moment as I realized this is something that I’m doing and have to keep up with. The fact that it happened so naturally and that a stylist came to me made it way more special knowing that my work is being seen.
Very, very cool. If you could say anything to other women of color, looking to launch a business during this time, what would it be?
I would say to keep going, and to never give up, but also to listen to yourself. When you start and you get overwhelmed, take those breaks.
What’s in store for AKIN studio as you approach your one-year anniversary, how do you see the brand evolving?
I see it evolving by working with other models and continuing to work on new pieces and expanding beyond earrings. I’ll be releasing rings really soon and I’m excited about that.
I’ll also be getting more involved with the marketing and just really steering this in the direction I want to be. I want to start doing pop-ups and one day I hope to see myself having a booth at Essence Festival or in a store somewhere. Those are my plans and I’m manifesting and speaking everything to existence.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Words: Clarice Metzger
Photography: Provided by Ashley Jordan