Interviewer: Taylor Teutsch
Interviewee: Ashley Kubley, Associate Professor, DAAP Fashion Design Program
Ashley Kubley is an Assistant Professor within the Fashion Design Program at the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). Within her work and ethos, she has a clear focus on the preservation of traditional craft cultures and the impact of globalization on developing artisan communities. She has 10 years of experience in the realm of design, textile work, and production.
I recently chatted with Kubley about her last excursion to Mexico. During this trip, she furthered her work and relationship with a local group of women who take part in weaving as well as other unique artisanal practices. Kubley understands the value in the knowledge these women possess. As such, she has established workshops to help them find mentees to therefore continue this powerful skillset’s cultural tradition to generations forthcoming. She has also placed focus in fostering the profitability of their work.
Kubley’s interest in this realm began in college through an anthropological research project. From there, the desire to start her own research endeavors through travel continued. Kubley informed me about her work in Yucatan, and the backstory behind the community. In pre-Mayan years, the plant known in Mexico as henequen, commonly known now globally as Sisal, flourished. It was extracted, combed, and beaten to get the fiber out of the leaves, and was a widely traded commodity. More recently, the women that now know how to work with this fiber practice niche skills, such as weaving and embroidery, as more of a personal endeavor.
Through her dedication and frequent visits, Kubley has gained the community’s trust. This trust has proven to be integral when working in partnership with them and has allowed her to build long lasting relationships. While there, she works with a translator that is native to the country. Kubley hopes to foster the importance of the community embracing their cultural heritage and capabilities. Her goal is to help them market their work and elevate their niche skills. In collaboration, the women relay their interests and desires for their designs to Kubley, and together they work to produce artisanal goods that serve to support their livelihood. With each visit, Kubley is eager to learn how they are utilizing and developing upon these new skills.
Additionally, Kubley spoke a bit on how the United States’ consumption greatly impacts the community she works with, and how their societal norms have been influenced. In the U.S. we tend to be oblivious to how our personal consumption can directly impact others. For designers and crafters who make and sell their goods using tools such as Facebook, Instagram, and Etsy, selling a pair of earrings is unlikely to create lasting change.
For the artisan communities in Mexico, the stakes are much higher. It’s about social intimacy. The competition transcends into success or failure, ultimately dictating living quality and social mobility.
Therefore, in a small society like their own, selling one pair of earrings can end up putting food on the table for a week. These kinds of activities can end up changing a whole community. Within such a close-knit society, greater competition can cause riffs between artisans, affect family dynamics, and how they market their work.
Correlating with consumption, we spoke about cultural impacts playing a role within Yucatan and the United States. What the U.S. consumes directly affects the people who have had a hand in making such work in this community. When we decide to buy artisanal work, it is likely we will not question where it has come from or who took part in its fabrication. Do we realize it is artisanal work to be appreciated for its cultural significance? There is a need for an adequate marriage between the conservation of local environments and the cultures that the U.S. seems to be greatly influencing.
It is common within Yucatan for its population to have the tendency to look to western culture for inspiration, but lack a sense of self-value in the crafts that are inherently Mayan. Therefore, Kubley strives to ensure their artisanal practices are held in high regard, thus allowing them to create positive transparency within their own community.
After having been immersed in not only Kubley’s work, but also the backstory behind it, I was curious as to how she implements her aspirations at home in Cincinnati, Ohio. It has become apparent that her local endeavors are just as impactful and valued as her pursuits abroad. Kubley and I transitioned into a conversation regarding the Fashion Technology Center’s new labs at DAAP; touching on how she led the efforts for their creation and what kind of impact they will bring to the Fashion Design Program. Funded by the generosity of alumni families and other organizations, these labs are comprehensively outfitted. Currently, they include machines such as a digital textile printer, heat press, embroidery machines, plotters, weaving looms, digital pattern-making technology, rendering software, soldering irons, and a variety of sewing machines. Additional implementation of even more equipment is also in the works.
Now that these labs are in full force, I was interested in how she believed they would enhance students’ design abilities and future opportunities. Kubley spoke on the importance of transitioning fashion technology knowledge to students. By having the ability to develop designs and to encourage focus on fabric choice and manipulation, naturally, students will have a more advanced knowledge of what is possible. Encouraging future collaboration within different disciplines is also among the forefront of Kubley’s goals. Recently, design faculty worked with UC’s College of Arts and Sciences to research and develop smart textiles that use carbon nanotubes to aid in thermal body regulation. This is presumed to be just the beginning of many more partnered projects to start challenging and exhilarating students creatively.
Here at the Sustainable Fashion Initiative, we are on the edge of our seats to learn what is next for Ashley Kubley!