Image courtesy Ashley Pittman
Interview

Ashley Pittman

11.07.16

Ashley Pittman fell in love with Africa when she first visited Rwanda with the Clinton Foundation in 2006. Using her experience gained as a lawyer and the finance industry and armed with her huge ambition to make a difference, Pittman launched a sustainable jewelry business in Kenya. Her company uses local resources and artisans to fulfill production orders while simultaneously donating 10% of all profits to the Kamboo Dispensary and Kathiani Primary School near her workshops in Kenya. The collection is a combination of statement making pieces with traditional African influences. And the result is truly something you can feel good about.

Interview

What was one of your most memorable experiences from your first trip to Africa in 2006?

My first trip to Africa was with the Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS initiative in Rwanda and one of the most memorable experiences was trekking to see endangered mountain gorilla’s on the northern border of Rwanda in the Verdugo mountains.

Do you have the opportunity to visit often?

The collection is produced start to finish in Kenya and I travel there three to four times a year.

Tell us about the Ashley Pittman Foundation – how did it come about?

The Foundation was created in 2007 to help support a primary school and health clinic in rural Kenya that had been hard hit by long-term drought. Through the success of our company, we’re able provide hot lunches, teacher salaries, books, uniforms, etc. and these projects continue to grow as our business grows.

What made you decide to enter the jewelry market?

I developed the jewelry line from a desire to build a business that would help create steady income and help people pull themselves out of poverty. I identified a gap in the market for high-end luxury goods created from horn and other materials native to East Africa. It was from this starting point that I began to design and create the jewelry collection.

What is a typical work day for you?

If I’m in Kenya, I start my day early and go for a bike ride. I stay close to the Ngong Hills, which is a beautiful place to walk or bike. The rest of the day is spent in the workshops in and around Nairobi working on developing new pieces, doing business trainings, talking about quality control, etc. On the weekends I like to go down to the school and health center we help fund, which is a few hours from Nairobi.

Where do you find the inspiration for your collections?

Inspiration often comes from watching how other cultures where and interpret jewelry, anywhere from Morocco to New Delhi. I’m continuously inspired by travel.

The re-purposing of Ankole cow horns is a key aspect to many of your designs, not to mention, awesome for the environment. Can you explain a bit of the process?

The horn we use comes from Kenyan Ankole cows, which are used as a food source by the local community and villages. The horn is essentially a byproduct of the agricultural system there. It is sold to artisans and others in the community who use it to create jewelry and various items, including tools and housewares. The animals are not hunted, they are livestock and are not harmed in order to obtain their horn, not even secondarily – it is a discarded item (albeit one of value to some) in the process. The horn is considered a sustainable product in the sense that livestock farming in a pasture-based system is a sustainable practice.

You’ve been featured in several editorials over the past year. Is there any particular celebrity that you hope to see wearing your pieces?

Beyoncé always and forever!

Is there one item from your new collection that you can’t live without?

Currently I’ve been stacking up cuffs on one arm and also wearing a lot of our statement earrings, they’re easy and lightweight and elevate any look.

What has been your greatest accomplishment thus far?

The process of seeing my designs and ideas come to life in backyard workshops in Kenya is incredibly cool—and then to see those pieces being worn and loved by our customers is rewarding and gratifying. But one of my proudest moments was seeing our bangles on the arm of Michelle Obama while standing with our President and the President of Kenya was a very proud, full-circle moment for me

Can you describe yourself in three words?

Curious, adventurous, and happy.