Featured Designer - Ashley Balding of Ona Rex

Designer Ashley Balding, portrait by Brett Warren

Designer Ashley Balding, portrait by Brett Warren

How did you get your start as a fashion designer?

Fashion has always been something I've loved, but it took me some time into my twenties to realize it could be an actual career path. Once I decided it was the direction I wanted to go, I went back to school to get my Bachelor's in Fashion Design and haven't looked back. I gained experience with brands like Otis James and Ceri Hoover and started Ona Rex in 2014.  It's been an incredibly hard but incredibly wonderful journey so far!

Where do you get your inspiration?

Inspiration can spring up from any where for me. Sometimes its a particular scene in a movie. Sometimes its a time period that all the sudden forms stories in my head. Sometimes it's a splash of color on a wall. It really is quite serendipitous! I usually start with a mood from there and work my way into shapes, fabrics, and colors.

What do you enjoy about the Nashville design community?

Nashville is pretty unique in its community. With literally any industry, there is competition, but in Nashville there is a greater desire to learn and grow from each other. I am always amazed at the amount of collaboration that goes on here. It's so encouraging to know that others are going through similar situations and that we can always learn from each other.

What resources do you wish Nashville had more of for designers?

I think I am always on the hunt for new and interesting raw materials. We have some great places here, but there is SO MUCH out there that we don't even know about! I am obsessed with strange textures and saturated colors. Sometimes it can be tough to find exactly what I see for my design. But Nashville is constantly getting more well-rounded, so it's exciting to watch!

Who is your number one fashion icon?

As far as designers/brands go, my major icons are Prada, Miu Miu, Stella McCartney, and Marni. They will always, always be my number ones. I also recently have become obsessed with Molly Goddard. Her take on pretty party dresses is pretty insane. If I had to choose a muse to wear my clothes, it would be Elle Fanning or Linda Rodin.

What has been a collaboration you’ve really enjoyed?

I'm always blown away by my shoots with Brett Warren. He has most certainly helped shape my brand. Our Fall 2015 campaign together was definitely one for the books. Brett created a whimsical plastic world for my cushy clothes to exist in. Also, within that shoot, was my collection which was a collaboration with Allison Volek-Shelton of TN Textile Mill. She painstakingly wove yards upon yards of waffle weave for most of my collection. Those garments would not have been what they were if it weren't for her incredible textiles. Collaboration exists for reasons like this! So much of the time, others are able to flesh out your vision in ways you never imagined. It's incredible!

Ona Rex design with fabric by Allison Volek-Shelton, photo by Brett Warren

Ona Rex design with fabric by Allison Volek-Shelton, photo by Brett Warren

What is a goal you have for your business?

I want to continue a steady growth -- I want people outside of Nashville to experience Ona Rex. I also want to always hold on to the whimsical nature of where it started. I love using my imagination to create stories within my garments. I truly hope I never lose that aspect of what I do. I think it gives each piece character that then empowers its wearer.

What’s the hardest part about being a fashion designer?

It's hard to always be tempted to be keeping up with what others are creating. With social media, it's a little too easy to peek into others processes. Sometimes it just brings on unnecessary pressure. I think we all struggle with seeing others experiences through rose-colored glasses. But also, running a business simply in itself is tough. You work all day and all night. You have no life. It can be isolating at times. But that's why it's so important to keep our little community together. We have to experience things and know that someone else is right there with us.

Are seasons important to you as a designer?

YES. And no... Recently there has been so much hoopla about brands going seasonless. For the most part, it makes me sad. I love the cycles and the fast paced tradition of what we do as designers and taste makers. It's a little irrational at times, but it's my form of adrenaline. I love designing for the individual seasons and knowing that I can get really experimental and tack onto a trend, but that in a few months everyone will be ready for something completely different. It keeps you on your toes. I do understand the concept of having seasonless brands, however. I see the value in having a more consistent wardrobe. I think it just depends on what lifestyle you lead and what you are looking for. BUT, I will always be enchanted by the revolving door of fashion...

What three words describe your style?

Colorful, fresh, and curious

Why is it important to buy local?
I think we can all recognize the importance of supporting our communities. Nashville is a special place and the more we feed into our local economy, the more we will be able to accomplish for this city. Never a bad thing!

See Ashley's designs and her collaboration with photographer Zachary Gray at the next Fashion Happening on October 15. Get your ticket here.