When we started Beauty Dummy our vision was to create a place not just to share knowledge, but to share wisdom and experiences. Every month, we feature a human that inspires us, sometimes in the beauty world and sometimes beyond. This month, we had the privilege of talking with model, artist and activist Ashley Chew. You may recognize her from runways everywhere, and as as the brains behind #blackmodelsmatter - a movement she started in 2015 with just a tote bag and some paint, that has since become a fashion revolution. We caught up with Ashley about her inspiration, her commitment to diversity, and of course, her favorite beauty tips.
BD: First, tell us about your background! How did you get your start in fashion? What were your early experiences like in the industry?
AC: My grandmother went to school for fashion design and as a child she would let me play with her mannequins, one which I still have; and I always thought I would be in Fashion somehow some way. I started a degree in costume but ended up in fine arts, then I started modeling randomly. I still feel like it’s kind of random. People think I have planned this out, and yes I have worked so freaking hard, but you still never know the outcome! Never saw any of this coming. Ever.
BD: In addition to modeling, you’re also an activist and an incredible painter. Do you feel that your work as a model, artist and activist are all connected?
AC: My objective has always been to depict women of color in a positive light and beauty. I feel a lot of mainstream media depicts us so negatively, movies, music, tv, blogs; we are all flawed but we can be great, we are great. So my art, activism in fashion diversity, and being another ethnic girl booking a job, they were bound to cross paths and hold hands at some point. Holding on to each other very tight!
BD: You started the #blackmodelsmatter movement in an effort to raise consciousness of, and ultimately improve, fashion’s serious lack of diversity. It gained such momentum that Essence even named you one of the “30 Black Models That Revolutionized NYFW.” How did the movement come about?
AC: I painted the statement on my bag after a casting and it has taken legs of its own in the past two years. Even to Paris Fashion Week last season. So many people, public figures, publications, brands, and time overall contributed to this change. It’s still changing. The most recent season of New York Fashion Week had at least two models of color on every runway. That is huge.
BD: You walked the Maki Oh show this past NYFW, where all the models were women of color. What did that feel like? Do you get the feeling that fashion overall is headed in a more inclusive direction?
AC: The show was beautiful, but to me the casting of women of color didn’t seem out of the ordinary. They have been ahead of the game, or “trend” [as some designers would unfortunately call it.] The brand is Nigerian. Maybe because I have been fortunate enough to travel Nigeria and South Africa I have seen all black castings before, and a lot of Black models at once. New York City has been very behind, but getting better. Baby steps. But I almost hate that I had to help start something over models…think about it, designers were not casting models based on the features they were born with. How small minded. That ties in with any industry in the world. People aren’t given opportunity in their respected field over what race they were born into.
BD: As a model, you're constantly getting your makeup done, and we know that can take a toll on one's hair and skin. What are the most important parts of your beauty routine that you never skimp on? Any current favorite products we should try?
AC: I am beyond serious about my skin. I RARELY skimp on face masks, serum or face mist. I get booked on my crazy hair so people rarely touch it which is great. I have 4c type hair so it's always going to look really wild. I don't wear foundation or even bb cream, I just take really good care and let it breathe. Some of these products on sets you have no idea what’s in them, so I’m the person scrubbing my face as soon as possible afterward.
Some of my favorite products:
FORM Beauty - Define Curl Creme I'm a FORM hair ambassador :)
Amalie - Wink Organic Lash and Brow Oil If you scroll through my IG, I love HUGE unplucked, gnarly natural eyebrows.
Amalie - Shine Face Oil I actually mix this with eyeshadow for a glossy look
Discover Found - Green Tea & Apple AHA Nighttime Gel. They have NO parabens! 99% natural. As I mentioned, I like my skin to breathe, so I use this every single night.
Innisfree - Intensive Hydrating Serum I drown in this every morning. 3 bottles on hand.
The Ordinary - Caffeine For Your Eyes I spend a lot of nights painting so this reduces puffiness very quickly. I spent 3 weeks stalking 2 websites for this to get back in stock.
BD: The release of Fenty Beauty has gained a lot of recognition because it offers such a wide range in complexion colors. We've heard from other models of color that it can be frustrating getting makeup done because many makeup artists' pallets are so limited. Have you had this experience yourself? Are you hyped about the conversation the line has started?
AC: I am lighter toned but with yellow undertones, so when I wore bb cream I used to mix two shades or make my own with foundations and lotions. Ethnic people tend to have more yellow or blue undertones and makeup on set usually has pink undertones, which makes us look washed out or "funeral ready,” (yes I just said that). A lot of MUAs now do have color wheels on sets, or just invest in many shades. Fenty Beauty made shades for those undertones. I have so much respect for Rihanna.
BD: We know a lot of millennials and creatives want to make a change in the world and don’t know where to start, or worry their voices won’t be heard. What advice would you give someone who might want to start a movement of their own?
AC: Don’t “try” to go viral. I NEVER wanted to go viral, it’s terrifying. I thought maybe I would end up on street style blogs, that’s it. I don’t mind articles, but in social circles people still give me huge anxiety when they’re like “she’s done this & that.” I don’t even carry the bag. Haven’t in 3 seasons. I’m just an artist that reflected the times that day during Fashion Week. Live your truth. If it goes viral, cool, but if it doesn’t it does not mean your message does not hold weight.
BD: What’s next for Ashley Chew? Where can we find more of you?
Cover photo by @baldwinner on instagram.