Growing up, I was really interested in fashion design. There weren't a lot of options to intern or take classes here in Wisconsin, so I think all of us who did have an interest in fashion ended up at Fashion Ninja at one point or another. Fashion Ninja no longer exists, but it was a great business owned by Erika Ikeler – she had her own line of clothing and offered sewing and design classes and an internship program (side note: Erika is now in California and owns a sewing school called 8 Limbs!). I met so many cool people with similar interests to mine. One of my favorite people I ever met there was Ashley Kolln - she was hard-working, super nice, and always at the head of the class.
Fast forward to about a month ago when I was at a Hyde Park pop-up event in Milwaukee. I bought the coolest pair of earrings and didn't notice until I got home that they were designed by Ashley! Her name was on the back of the packaging. I immediately emailed her and learned all about her line of jewelry, Ri.volt Accessories. We grabbed coffee soon after. It was great to catch up and see her jewelry in person – everyone in the coffee shop was enamored, including a barista who kept coming over to try on all the beautiful pieces.
Check out my Q&A with Ashley to learn more about her and Ri.volt Accessories:
My Midwest Is Showing: What's the history of Ri.volt Accessories?
Ashley Kolln: I started off in 2009 making feather headbands and earrings. At the time, feather accessories were all the rage, and I just like to create, so my first line, Atomik Bomb, was born. I sold in two shops down in the Third Ward of Milwaukee and also on Etsy. A couple years later, I moved to Chicago and worked on Michigan Avenue managing a multi-million dollar concession collection of jewelry for both men and women. While tending to the stands, I would have customers asking me for body chain jewelry and flower crowns, which we did not have in stock. Seeing the high demand of these items, I went to my local craft supply store, and Ri.volt Accessories launched. I made custom body chains and flower crowns for my friends to attend summer festivals. Today, I still create custom designs in addition to my collection.
MMWIS: How did you learn to make jewelry?
AK: I didn’t have a ton of money growing up, so I improvised and learned to make my own version of items I wanted from the store. I also became obsessed with learning how to fix the broken jewelry at work. I watched a lot of YouTube videos to learn how to wire wrap, which is how I attach most of my stones. I also went to fashion design school, so I frequently use my adjustable body form to free hand some one-of-a-kind designs.
MMWIS: Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
AK: I get design inspiration from a bunch of different places. California bohemian style is really interesting to me. I also like to see what people wear to large music festivals in order to create versions that would be inspiring for the everyday person to wear. I love looking for new stones – find a giant bead store, and leave me there for the day. All of my work is done using semi-precious stones, so I usually find a color story that I like and create a full collection of items around that.
MMWIS: What's your favorite design you've ever created?
AK: A few years ago, I made a crazy wire replica of an Indian headdress to use for my photo shoots. I printed this line drawing of a single feather, then started shaping and wire wrapping it by hand. Last year, I donated the headdress to a charity fashion show, and it was auctioned off for over $250. I was really sad to see this piece go because it took so long to create, but it was for a great cause.
MMWIS: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
AK: If you want to do something, give it your 100%. Work really hard to be an expert at what you do. Don’t be afraid of change, and network with all of the creative people around you. A lot of people in every city are truly talented, even if it’s not their day job. Your network will only help your business grow stronger, and you may meet some pretty amazing people in the meantime.
MMWIS: Greatest business accomplishment so far?
AK: Last year I was featured in Milwaukee Magazine for my collection, along with the launch of my wire wrapped ear cuffs. I am truly lucky to be selling inside of Hyde Park because Sydney, the owner, is so motivating, and being there has really expanded my brand's exposure in the Tosa area. Lastly, even being considered for this article is really exciting! I do all of this jewelry designing as my side job, because I really enjoy every second – it is my creative outlet. I also love being able to help somebody who is looking for a custom piece that they cannot find out on the market – that really keeps me moving forward.
MMWIS: Where do you see yourself in five years?
AK: I love the Midwest, but I don’t know if I see myself here in the next five years. I have spent my entire life living here, and I think it’s time to check out another spot, even if it is only for a little while.
MMWIS: If someone was visiting Wisconsin for the first time, what would you tell them to do first?
AK: I would tell them to visit Milwaukee, Madison, and Crivitz (a tiny town where my family has a lake house). Milwaukee, for the obvious reasons - be ready for the beer culture. Madison would have to be on a summer weekend when they have the Dane County Farmers' Market around the Capitol. Crivitz is fun because it’s a small town, but I have so many memories growing up and visiting there.
MMWIS: Favorite thing about the Midwest?
AK: By far the people. The people in the Midwest are kind and genuine with strong family values and a great work ethic.
MMWIS: How does your Midwest show through your personality and/or what you do?
AK: The Midwest is for sure in my personality. I may have gone to fashion school, but there are days where I can relax by a bonfire, drink a beer, and listen to country music. I am genuinely interested in other people and would love to connect with anybody reading this article that may like to collaborate.
Be sure to check out Ri.volt Accessories, and stay up to date with Ashley on Instagram and Facebook! You can purchase pieces from Ashley's collection on her website, at Hyde Park, and at Plume MKE this spring.