By Ashley Dunn
On May 16th, 2018 I boarded a one-way flight to Los Angeles, California from my hometown of Dallas, Texas. It was a full-circle moment in pursuit of furthering my career in fashion and television; a journey I did not begin that day, but one that I believe I have been on since the day I was born.
Over the years there have been ups and downs and everything in between. To make it to the moment when I stepped onto that plane to fly toward the future I had been building for decades, I was living the mantra I adopted: “If one door is closed, I will kick down another door… and another, until they let me in. Why? Because I belong here.
Although at my core I am strong and confident, it took time to build up to this, and many factors played a role in shaping me into the woman I am today. I am sharing my story of hard work, resilience and persistence in the hopes that it might inspire others who can see themselves in my challenges and in my victories, and to illustrate that our stories are more universal than we think, and no matter what…we are never alone.
The youngest of three girls, I felt very early on that I had a purpose. I just didn’t know what it was. I always knew that my career choice would be unorthodox and not the norm, and that life would unfold and ultimately show me my path. My dad was a successful attorney and my mom was a customer service representative, and they both taught me different lessons. My dad taught me about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and my mom taught me about how to overcome adversity with strength and grace. They both pushed higher education for each of us, and we had no choice in that.
After graduating from high school in 2001, I attended Prairie View A&M University. I graduated in 2006 with a B.A. in Communications and a Minor in Fashion Merchandising. At the time, I was obsessed with the images of young Hollywood…primarily Lindsey Lohan, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton. I was fascinated with their looks and discovered that the stylist behind the starlets was Rachel Zoe. It was then that I decided I wanted to do what she did. I collected dozens of fashion magazines so that I could study and learn the designers they wear wearing (this was before the age of social media). That was the beginning of it all for me. It was the start of a long road, but I was determined to make my dreams a reality.
Before graduating in May of 2006, I had been applying relentlessly to fashion schools in both New York and LA, and even to internships and jobs, but I had no luck. Living in Houston then, I decided to take the next best opportunity, which was a job in retail. It would provide me with just enough income and the means to learn, even though it wasn’t my ideal situation. I only did that for a few months. Soon thereafter, I was offered a job in corporate America complete with a nice salary, a 401k and more benefits. I did what I had to do, and I worked that job for the next six years.
While there, I mapped out a plan to start my own styling business because I was determined to bring my dreams to life. I would pass out my business cards to colleagues, friends, acquaintances and anyone else who would listen to my pitch. Even though I was working in a corporate position that others would envy while I was pursuing my fashion passions on the side, I was struggling. I was struggling because I knew I wanted more out of life. I had to work to the root of this unhappiness in order to ultimately find my joy, and in doing so I realized that part of my issue was that I was pretending to have everything together on the outside, but on the inside I was completely broken. I was at the end of a very unhealthy relationship and I was suffering from an eating disorder that was triggered by it. I had to make a choice: to live and to thrive, or to allow these challenges to make me a victim of my own circumstances.
I chose to live. To thrive. To rise. I began to open myself up to love and I started embracing myself and my work. In that space of self-love and filling my days with things I was passionate about, I met my husband. We married in May of 2012, and a few months after being married we found out we were pregnant. My dreams of having a family were coming true. Unfortunately, we suffered a miscarriage a few weeks later. I was completely devastated–I had so many emotions during those months, and it took some time for me to understand them all, but looking back now I see why God allowed this setback to happen (that’s what I believe).
After the miscarriage, I decided to completely refocus my efforts and throw myself into being a stylist full-time. By the beginning of 2013 I had put in my two weeks’ notice at my corporate job, and I started the new year as a full-time entrepreneur. However, as much as I thought I had prepared to venture out on my own, I did not understand the business of consulting. Much of that first year was trial and error while learning what worked and what didn’t. A lot of money was being spent in an effort to build my business, but I wasn’t making any in return, and it was putting a strain on our marriage…so, I had to get creative.
I had few clients, but one of them was a regular guest on the local news. I enjoyed styling her for those segments, because it allowed me the opportunity to be in a studio setting, which I had always been fascinated with. I was able to learn quickly what clothes and styles worked on camera and what didn’t. I loved working behind the scenes, but I could feel a desire brewing to work in front of the camera.
Prior to meeting this on-air client, I had been actively pitching my styling services to several local TV shows, but I never heard back. All of a sudden, one day I was asked to style a fashion segment very last minute (ten-minutes-until-air-last-minute). They needed me on-camera to talk about the looks I styled. I said yes in an instant to the opportunity, even though I had no idea what to do. I made it through, and I loved every second. That day in December of 2013 was my first time talking about fashion in front of the camera, and it was the big shift in my career that quickly led me to becoming a Style Expert and Correspondent on-air.
For the last five years now, I have worked in front of the camera as a regular Style Expert and Correspondent, and behind the camera as a Stylist and an Influencer. I have had the opportunity to work for some of the biggest networks including NBC, CBS, ABC, BET and for notable brands including Beauty Blender, Sally Beauty, Fossil, Differin, Kendra Scott, J.Crew, Verizon and more.
I turned 35 this year, and even though it has been a long and winding road to get here, I feel like I’m just getting started. I know I am just scratching the surface of the opportunities and adventures that are in store for my life. I am pursuing old dreams and new dreams at the same time, and I am using my social media platform to uplift and encourage women and girls to be their best selves, and to address social and political issues that continue to affect the African American Community.
I am proud of how far I have come. It is important to me to share the message with other women that we must celebrate ourselves and our milestones–whether big or small. Life throws so many things at us, and we can easily choose to give up when we are challenged. Everything we are working for will eventually happen, in due time. We all must remember to never give up, because we are only a miracle away from the dream we have always been fighting for.
A journalist and stylist, Ashley Dunn has appeared as a regular contributor on various news outlets including BET Networks, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS and The Livewell Network, with regular segments ranging from fashion to lifestyle. Named by Black Enterprise as a 2015 Fashion Icon to watch, Yahoo’s 2017 Inspiring Bloggers To Follow, Top 100 Professionals in Houston, and many more, Dunn has been recognized both locally and nationally for her contributions to the fashion industry. Not one to shy away from opportunities, she has added Brand Influencer to her list of positions, in which she partners with reputable companies such as Verizon, J.Crew, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Kendra Scott, Shoe Dazzle, and more to promote their products on social media, ranging from tech to fashion. When Dunn isn’t styling, talking trends on television, or influencing others on social media, she lends her leadership and expertise to panels, fashion events, community and tech events. Connect with Ashley Dunn on Instagram @iamashleydunn.