Designer Ashley Ciriaco (@madebyciriaco) believes that fashion should feel luxurious while also helping people feel like their truest selves. That’s why she started the accessory brand CIRIACO, which makes iconic, instantly recognizable handbags that manage to be chic, playful, and totally functional all at once. Along with her close friend and collaborator, Amani Nowell (@theitgir1), Ashley works hard to create cutting edge fashion that’s perfect for all occasions.
Ashley has dreamed of becoming a fashion designer since she was a child, watching in awe as her grandma hemmed and repaired clothing, making it good as new again. “What actually pulled me in the direction of designing was seeing my grandma sewing little things like a hole here, or helping my mom hem pants,” she recalls.
The designer was also inspired by television shows like That’s So Raven, which showcased fun, funky fashion with a Black woman as the lead. “That’s So Raven really inspired me because you don’t see a lot of Black women being the main person for the show,” Ashley notes. “It was mostly like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait to dress like that.’”
Ashley stumbled upon her iconic bag design by accident, while absentmindedly doodling. “What influenced that shape was actually the crescent moon,” she says. “So, literally, I was just drawing the moon and I wasn’t paying attention, so I just drew a full circle. After that, I was just like, ‘Oh, might as well keep going.’”
Ashley designed the bag to be funky and functional—and it immediately took off. “I came up with the Ashley bag to fit on your shoulder so it doesn’t slip off,” she notes. “We started off with 15 bags and from there it went viral on Twitter. I received a call saying my brand was on Beyoncé’s website. I was just like, ‘Wow! She actually knows who I am.’ Thanks to social media. It’s honestly why I’m here today.”
Amani describes the Ashley bag as “fun” and “sophisticated.” “The Ashley bag is my favorite,” she says. “You can use it in every outfit.”
Amani has been working with Ashley from the start, and recalls how emotional the duo felt looking at their first shipment of handbags. “At our storage unit, we were opening it up for the first time and I just started crying, because it was so exciting,” Amani recalls. “I was so happy for her. I just love her so much.”
Sometimes, Ashley still can’t believe CIRIACO has become as successful as it is. But other times, the designer feels like it’s fate. “[I’m] still in shock to this day. Obviously I’ve had little moments where I cry with excitement, but it’s also surreal because this is what I’ve wanted since I was a little girl,” she concludes. “Things happen for a reason.”
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