During a visit to Houston, TX, I was expecting to spend time with Devi Brown. While I briefly chatted with the author and radio personality during an empowerment brunch where she was honored for her “SuperBold” career, Devi and her award were en route back to Los Angeles. So she graciously opened her rolodex and suggested several of her friends in the area that she thought I should meet. One friend in particular was Fashion Stylist and TV Personality, Ashley Dunn.
With Devi’s co-sign, Ashley and I met at Toulouse in Houston’s swanky River Oaks area. This wasn’t your typical “cafe”, Toulouse is in the center of the high end shopping center and had three “$$$” on Yelp. The way my budget was set up, my plan was to have water, with lemon. “They have the best brussel sprouts here” said Ashley. I should have known to still dress the part, I didn’t have on a stitch of makeup and I felt embarrassed standing next to Ashley who was “on” and I was in awe. I immediately wanted to know everything from where she had purchased her jean jumpsuit to what brand of red lipstick she had on because she was flawless. While I admired how much she looked like a Barbie doll, I also had the opportunity to watch her be vocal about a potentially racial situation.
While there were several tables available on the patio, we waited to be seated while a group of Caucasian women walked in and were given a table immediately. Ashley asked to speak to the manager and in a calm but very stern voice she brought to their attention what had happened. The manager tried to reassure us that there was no racial bias, the group of women just so happen to have had a reservation. Ashley wasn’t buying it and requested the card for the owner. We were then promptly seated and the manager profusely apologized and he bought out an appetizer and a dessert on the house.
Despite the fact that we were the only women of color in the restaurant and we could have easily gone somewhere else, Ashley said to me, ‘I’m not going anywhere, we belong here just as much as they do.’ The way she handled the situation with so much grace and poise truly resonated with me. It reiterated that there will continue to be instances where you have to refuse to allow people to treat you like an afterthought, if you’re in the room, not only do you deserve to be there, your presence will be felt and your voice will be heard. And Ashley speaks volumes through her fashions.
While some of her nearly 20,000 Instagram followers may simply love her style, Ashley is also a survivor. Having recently shared that in her twenties, she overcame an eating disorder as well as an abusive relationship, her unyielding spirit transcends when she’s on camera. So it’s no surprise that she’s a regular contributor on the KPRC Channel 2, NBC affiliate series, “Houston Life”. The Style Expert has also been tapped for features on BET, FOX, ABC, CBS. In a candid conversation the 34-year-old who somehow doesn’t look a day over 19, shares her journey to self-love.
ZD: Was there a particular age and/or turning point in your life when you truly felt beautiful?
AD: I wouldn’t say there was a particular moment, but more so a journey to it. There was a time when I decided to let people and strongholds go. It was during this time that I also I began a relationship with God that completely changed my perspective of myself and my life. That jump started the journey to where I am today.
“…You don’t have to be completely perfect to be loved, but you must be in a place to receive it..”
ZD: In looking at photos from earlier in your career, you can definitely see how your fashions have evolved. When the “Stylist” title was still relatively “new” and there weren’t as many opportunities in the field, how did you create opportunities for yourself?
AD: After leaving corporate America, I thought I had it all figured out in terms of how my life was going to play out and boy was I wrong!
I realized that I needed a plan that would get me out of my comfort zone and force me to take more risks. I put myself out there and began hosting monthly style parties for free at local boutiques. Then I began doing on-air segments at the local news station which further helped me to build my brand. As you’re working on manifesting your dream, you never know the directions that will take you in so just be ready for the ride and enjoy the journey.
ZD: You mentioned in the Houston Chronicle that when you met your husband you were still battling your eating disorder and working at a health insurance company. For young women that aspire to be married, what advice would you share on trusting the timing of when someone comes into your life?
AD: I would say, you don’t have to be completely perfect to be loved, but you must be in a place to receive it. You must first be completely in love with yourself. You must be present, aware and in the moment in order to receive the love that God has for you through your significant other.
“…You belong in every room you’re in, never doubt the fact that you deserve a seat aT the table…”
ZD: Who were positive examples within your life that helped to build your self-esteem?
AD: My mom played a major role in me developing self-love and confidence at an early age. She was “Black Girl Magic” before the hashtag. She just wanted me to know that I was just as beautiful internally as I am externally. I am forever grateful to her for loving me unconditionally.
ZD: Was there something that you previously viewed as a negative or a ‘flaw’ that you’ve learned to embrace and work to your advantage?
AD: Growing up I used to hate my forehead, my big butt and my big calves. But as I got older, I learned to love every aspect of my body. Once you fall in love with yourself, things that you once perceived as flaws will no longer bother you because you know it’s a intricate part of what makes you, exactly who you are.
ZD: With nearly 20,000 followers on Instagram, what does it mean to you that other up and coming designers look up to you? What gems do you want those that aspire to be in the fashion industry to learn from you?
AD: I’m always grateful to meet and learn from new talent. It means a lot to me that designers, stylists and fashion enthusiasts in general look up to me, I don’t take this platform lightly or for granted. What I want my mentee to take away from me is the importance of having faith, self love and self confidence; even if you feel down, pull it from somewhere! Always be brave and fearless; you belong in every room you’re in, never doubt the fact that you deserve a seat a the table. Lastly, be kind and find ways to give back and be of service to others. You don’t have to be rich to do any of these things.
ZD: How did you learn to disregard people’s comments about your complexion?
AD: Peoples comments about my complexion happened all throughout grade school and into high school. I was called “Oreo” in elementary school which was a reference to my complexion and my speech being “proper”, as the kids would say. That hurt really bad and it was something that I would cry about. Of course my mom would tell me how beautiful I was but it didn’t matter at the time because I didn’t feel that way about myself. It took me years to fully embrace all that is me and it’s definitely a full circle moment that speaking “proper” has helped me in my career as a stylist and TV personality.
“…Have faith, self love and self confidence; even if you feel down, pull it from somewhere..!”
ZD: What was the difference in your life between age 25 and 30? What do you wish you would have known about yourself when you were 25 that you’ve learn in your 30s?
AD: When I was 25-years-old, I was in the middle of an abusive and toxic relationship, I was battling an eating disorder, working in corporate America and pursuing my dream career on the side. This was all the while believing that the grass was actually greener on the other side.
At 30-years-old, I was pursuing my dream career full time, building a new relationship with God and I was newly married. At 34, my life is still unfolding and I’m ready for the start of my next chapter.