Tell me a little about yourself…
My name is Ashley Alexis McFarlane. I’m from Toronto, Canada, but I went to school in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. I studied Communications and I’m a Pisces/Aquarius cusp. I make clothing and accessories from African fabrics, gemstones and crystals and other natural eco-friendly objects. My business’ name is Asikere Afana. It means “sugar- water machete” in the Twi language. Twi is a language spoken by the Ashanti people, who have roots in Jamaica, where my family is from. My work is very much connected to my heritage and culture.
How’d you get started, or what prompted you to begin crafting in your genre?
I have always been a crafter. I would modify my clothing when I was younger and make books and jewelry. I really began sewing when a friend of mine gave me my first sewing machine. I was coordinating a project on gender-based violence at the time, pretty heavy stuff. Sewing allowed me to focus my mind on something else and create beautiful things that I wanted to wear and that I thought my friends would want to wear. Some of my first jewelry pieces were named after my friends. It was really about creating my own image and not having to rely on what was presented to me in stores. That’s why I’ve always crafted.
How long have you been an artist/crafter? When did you first discover your artistic/crafter ability?
I’ve been an artist/crafter since I could remember. I first discovered my sewing abilities though when I took a sewing course as an adult. I made skirts and tops and in a few months I was doing my first fashion show and getting orders. I would like to say that I have a natural eye for style, but really I just make clothing that I would want to wear and wish was being sold in stores.
Where can we check out and buy your work?
Best Evening Gown – Miss AfriCanada 2012 http://asikereafana.com/2012/08/12/best-evening-gown-miss-africanada-2012/
What do you think sets you apart from other artists and crafters?
I have a keen eye for beautiful fabrics and lux materials. I hand pick all of my fabrics and am constantly scanning fabric stores, and online wholesalers for prints that I love. I also make sure to stack up on fabric when I go to Ghana/Nigeria and New York. I don’t make costume jewelry. I make pieces out of real gemstones and natural objects so they carry a natural energy. They are pieces that you will have for your whole life and hopefully be able to give to your children. They are also crafted in ways that are unique, but have just the right amount of familiarity that people will love wearing them.
What do you get out of being an artist or crafter?
I love being able to create. I don’t only make clothing; I’m also a published poet and filmmaker. Making clothing and accessories allows me to express myself in a way that is immediate. What you wear really does create who you are. There is nothing like making clothing to enable you to project your image of women into the world. I want people who wear my clothes to feel funky and unique, to feel chic and cultural. To feel happy about the skin they’re in, and the rich cultures they are part of. Being able to do that for people out of something I’ve crafted together is a great experience.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I am inspired by the fashions of ancient cultures and contemporary designers. I love wrap styles of Ghana and Nigeria, the beauty of Ancient Egypt. I also love Alexander McQueen and Maki Oh. I love pieces that make people look like goddesses, like women. I love when my models put on a piece and you can see this regality about them. I love making that feeling accessible and seeping it in modern design with ancient fusions.
What’s the weirdest or most astonishing and controversial craft or artwork that you have ever created and how so or why?
When I was beginning, I would make clothing that fit me. So, all my sample sizes were my size. I’m pretty small so it meant that models would have to squeeze their way into my clothes at fashion shows. Well I became uncomfortable with supporting the thin ideal of beauty and made sure that my other collections could be worn by women of all sizes. I make a lot of wraps now and my collections now all include my sample size, and a plus size sample size. It feels great to be able to have clothing that can fit every model and every woman. Everyone deserves to feel that they are beautiful and African fabric looks great on curvy ladies. So I’m glad to have been able to add that to my repertoire.
What do others seem to love about your crafts and art, as far as feedback you have gotten?
People love my fabrics and materials. They touch, they gawk, and they always ask me where I get it from. The patterns are bright and vibrant, and often not available for purchase in Canada. I also think that women love the fit. I make custom pieces, so I work from people’s individual measurements. This is particularly important for women with unique proportions. I often have clients that are a size Large up top, and a 1X in their hips and thighs. For these ladies, dresses bought in the store would never fit as they should. However, by making something unique to your proportions you have something that is made just for you. I love hearing back from these clients with glowing reviews. It makes me feel good to know that I’ve made something someone feels great wearing.
What is your advice to fellow crafters and artists?
My advice for fellow crafters would be to focus on your passion and not on the sales right at the beginning. You may not be making a lot at the beginning, but covering your costs when you start is just as great. Also know that your talent, style, and crafts will only keep getting better and better. I remember the jewelry I was making at the beginning to what I am making now. Though people loved my earlier pieces I definitely see growth. Because of this I would say to keep experimenting, especially at the beginning. Some say that you should master one thing well, but I think that it’s just as important to express yourself and broaden the range of what you will be mastering over your life time. Remember we have our whole lives to be creative. It’s a beautiful thing.
How would you describe your style, or form of artistry?
My style is a mix of ancient beauty and contemporary designs. I make clothing that plays off of elements of traditional ethnic fashion and combines it with more current looks. This includes current clothing cuts and styles, as well as prints that are in season. I like to take timeless fabrics like the mud cloth fabric, and mix it with edgy and sophisticated elements like making a clutch with clean wooden handles, or using coyote teeth, gemstones and brass amulets from Ghana. A designer I like said that she wants her work to look like it was just pulled out of an archaeological dig. I have a similar aesthetic, in that I love timeless, lux statement fashion.
Do you have any future plans for your artwork and crafts?
I recently purchased an Electroforming/ Electroplating machine so I am really looking forward to working with metals to make gemstone rings, bracelets and earrings that are not just beaded. I love gemstones and crystals so the more I can work with them in different fabrications, the happier I am. I also have a collection of wrap dresses, shirts, and skirts coming up for the spring so make sure to check that out.