Meet Designer Ashley Little of Material Concepts
When I think about what I love most about starting this blog, getting to meet creative and inspiring women in our community is at the top of the list. I first met Ashley Little of Material Concepts last March at NWAFW. Among the designers featured in the show, Material Concepts' collection was one of my favorites. Ashley creates classically beautiful pieces with a sophisticated edge. She's not just talented, she is kind and a savvy small business owner—what we would consider the total package. I took a few minutes to check out her studio space and talk shop, style and what motivates her. Darcy Munoz: Briefly tell us your designer coming-of-age story. Ashley Little: I started sewing when I was about four or five; completely taught by my mother. My first wearable garment was a pair of red shorts with white stars which I made when I was seven. The first competition I ever entered was when I was eight and I made a wool plaid skirt. My mother didn't have me use patterns, I just measured myself and she told me what lines to cut on. It was amazing to see fabric turned into a design. I then pursued my design career at the University of Arkansas by earning both my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Apparel Studies. I then taught Introduction to Apparel Production, which are some of my favorite memories as a designer. Teaching others just like my mom taught my sisters and me was so fun. My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was twelve, then after fighting for two years passed away when I was fourteen. Having the opportunity to continue her legacy is an honor and helps bring purpose to my life. She is my inspiration as a designer. DM: What inspires your work? AL: That’s a huge question which seems to evolve each day. My passion for designing comes from my mother, but my inspiration for each design changes. Growing up I lived on a farm and didn't pay attention to fashion designers or magazines. Hand-me-down clothing was my style. With three older sisters, shopping meant going through barrels of their old clothes. Thus my inspiration has rarely been from other designers but rather nature, God and working with what you've got. Thinking outside the box to create a new garment from cloth which represents me is an adrenaline rush. I always approach each design with an open mind, no limits, anything-is-possible sort of attitude. My designs are more construction-based which means I try and find new and interesting ways to construct a garment. Some of the most beautiful aspects of a design for me are in the small details. It’s like looking at a beautiful forest: that beauty would be lost without each unique leaf and twig, or the lines a branch creates against the sky or the color contrasts in the fall. Designing is both micro and macro, and my inspiration is in the evolution of my life. DM: What made you decide to start your own business? AL: I wanted to stay in Northwest Arkansas which limited my design opportunities, so I decided I needed to create my own opportunity. But reality and a few business courses I took from the U of A taught me that if my dreams are to come true, first they need financial support. So I started an alterations and product development company. Working on others’ designs allowed me to continue developing my skills and learn more about the production process while working toward my own goals. In order to make my dream a reality, I continued working at the University and other jobs until my business was large enough to support itself. It moved from my spare bedroom to my garage and now we are in a space right off the Fayetteville square. We expanded our business to offer custom designs, which allows me to have more work focused on creating designs rather than altering others. My hope is as our alterations and custom design business grows, we will establish a sample room here in Fayetteville for my own label. It is a slow process and God is teaching me patience, but I feel blessed to have the opportunity to try. DM: Who are your favorite designers? AL: There is always the struggle for every designer to find their own voice or “who they are,” and for me it's hard to pinpoint one style or designer. The timeless style of Coco Chanel and the soft feminine touch found in Christian Dior designs have always impressed me, but my love for design first started with the joy of creating, not in the style of an end result. I wasn’t watching red carpets, but rather at the machine sewing my own creation. There is so much talent out there and each designer’s work I have seen has something to appreciate. I try and learn from them all but always design for myself. DM: Name three of your style icons. AL: Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn and…okay honestly I would only pick those two. My designs are more timeless and classic, but also casual and easy to wear. I love how they seemed to wake up looking great and never looked overdone or fake. There is beauty in simplicity and simple can be the hardest style to achieve as a designer. DM: What make you feel like your most beautiful, confident self? AL: Seven to eight hours of sleep, jeans, a sweater, hair fixed and light to no makeup. I am a girl of comfort and while dressing up is fun, I nearly always choose sleep over extra time to get ready. As a child I can remember someone telling me how their husband didn't see them without makeup until after they were married. Then, when he saw her without it, he thought she was sick. That left a big impression on me. While I enjoy wearing makeup or putting on heels, I never want my identity to be confused. I am 5’6” not 5’11”—deal with it. My eyelashes are not black but blonde—deal with it. I don’t have red lips—deal with it. My eyes don’t pop with black liner—deal with it. I am most confident and beautiful in accepting how God made me, but yes I find all the girly cosmetics fun as well. Ashley's business, Material Concepts is located off the Fayetteville square at 26 E Meadow Street Suite 11, and is your one stop shop for all things creating and sewing! She can create custom designs and just about any kind of alteration you can imagine. Ashley told me that even if you have bought something and you can think of a way it would be better, they can add that perfect touch to take the garment to the next level. Ashley created the skirt you see her wearing above, and her own wedding gown which is also pictured above. The girl has talent. Get ready to see some of her custom work here on Hello Luvvy over the next few weeks! Don't forget to check her out on Facebook and Instagram @materialconcepts.