Designer Dossier: Ashley Harris, Don't Let Disco
The jewelry designer talks bead bars, hunting Hermes, and finding inspiration on Kenyan soil.
Ashley Harris is a walking telegraph of her brand: vivacious, colorful, modern…but with a very old soul. By the most straightforward description, she’s a bead collector. But a more elegant way of saying it might be that she’s gathering memories. She travels the world, befriending artisans who fashion beads from things like fired clay or legos, hunting vintage accessories, and blending them together into something altogether new.
She hosts popular beading bars where the brand’s devotees gather convivially over wine and nylon satin cord. But Don’t Let Disco isn’t a chop shop or a kiddo crafting table —this is high-end stuff. She is selling whimsy and sentiment, strung anew into something chic.
I love how writer Charlotte Collins tells the story of Ashley’s own creative adaptation:
“The idea behind Don’t Let Disco started to take shape while she was working as the marketing director at Sotheby’s auction house from 2016 to 2019. The job exposed her to the kind of remarkable pieces that would entice a clientele list of the world’s most highbrow collectors: centuries-old works of art, classic furniture, rare manuscripts, and carefully preserved documents. Working with valuable cultural artifacts so often, including everything from Renaissance paintings to an original copy of the Constitution, Harris found herself cataloging the special moments via an Instagram account she named Don’t Let Disco — a punny reminder to hold tight to the meaningful happenings of everyday life: don’t let this go.”
Eventually, Ashley’s online mood board cascaded into her own beaded creations, iterating on strung baubles from the disco epoch of the 70s — a time she recognizes for vaulting Black creative culture forward. Her jewelry is playful but not adolescent. Made by hand, but not folksy. Cheerful and irreverent, but still restrained — the kind of thing you stack with a diamond tennis necklace or a Foundrae pendant to punch up navy cashmere.
Below, Ashley talks bead bars, hunting Hermes, and finding inspiration on Kenyan soil.
JG: How would you describe your personal style? AH: My personal style can be defined as an eclectic fusion of retro, classic, and funky elements.
Have you seen any inspiring exhibits lately? Yes, although not recent - the visceral impact of Wangechi Mutu's summer show at the New Museum still resonates, her alchemy of Kenyan soil and avant-garde magazine clippings confronting societal divisions while tantalizing a future devoid of discrimination. A perfect symphony of matriarchy and surrealism filled three galleries, bronze masterpieces, and immersive audiovisual landscapes. Her artistry is a true testament to the joy in diversity and freely playing between the real and imaginative.
Who is your current Instagram crush? Without question, Jake Fleming—a sartorial alchemist with humor effortlessly oscillating between the serious and the absurd. He conjures chic from trousers styled as a top, to a skirt, and then a hat – like how, right? Go see for yourself! His charm and innovative style is irresistibly inspiring and refreshing.
What is your favorite holiday tradition? The Italian Christmas cookies my mom picks up every year from a long-standing and family-owned Italian bakery in Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up.
What's in your cart right now? Not necessarily in my cart but I’ve got a cover bid (or two) out on a few Kermit Oliver Hermes scarves. For the novices, Oliver broke barriers in 1984, becoming the first and only American—explicitly, African American—to pour his artistry over Hermes scarves. His story is as fascinating as it is enigmatic; Oliver downplays his artistic prowess, suggesting he paints just for the joy of it. He keeps 'real life' very separate, diligently pulling night shifts, sorting mail at the post office, and crafting his masterpieces during daylight's stolen moments. The resonance of his tale is personal. My grandfather, a stalwart of USPS, ascended from mail carrier to the corporate echelon and boasts an unmatched collection of Black stamps—a historic chronicle of celebrated Black trailblazers, many of whom were not recognized or honored on stamps until the late 80s. Inspired by this celebration and preservation of Black history, I am compelled to connect with Oliver's vivid Hermes works. This will be my second Kermit Oliver scarf for Hermes if I win.
What should be in my cart right now? As a textbook libra, I must name a few…
THESE Tommy John MEN’s undershirts, thank me later!
THESE Dubie High-knee boots.
THIS Don’t Let Disco Cosmic Crystal wrap.
THIS Masha Tea Classic Herbal Set.
You do a great job building community around your brand with events like your beading bar, and inside products like your bag charms. Why do you think IRL is so important in an online world? Buying jewelry online indeed requires a particular kind of trust due to its intimate and personal nature. There's nothing quite like holding a piece, sensing its weight, and observing how it captures light before deciding it's worth adding to your style statement. At Don’t Let Disco, we wholeheartedly understand these dynamics. While we may not have a brick-and-mortar store, we are deeply committed to offering our clients a real touch-and-feel experience.
To appreciate the true quality, craftsmanship, and thoughtful sourcing behind our practice, twice a month, we invite clients to our open studios and beading bars. These aren’t just intimate opportunities to examine our work, seek our guidance in building out a meaningful stack, or create your own personal piece from our curated selection of beads, but are also vibrant platforms where one can connect, share, and grow in their love of jewelry. As you interact with our pieces, you'll understand we are not just another beaded jewelry brand in the market aiming to capitalize on margins.
The essence of our work lies in the profound thought, diligent sourcing, and the countless hours that go into creating each item in our catalog. Our processes may appear easy-going and light-hearted, but there's a well of depth and dedication behind each bead, each string! And this is the moment we observe a beautiful transformation – strangers become familiar over shared 'luxuries of connection.' And we believe that this, indeed, invigorates the spirit of our brand.
Join us at our next open studio and beading bar this Sunday the 17th by RSVP-ing here.
How do you overcome a creative block? Art and people watching (IRL), even better if they’re paired together.
Who do you love to collaborate with? Who is your dream collaborator? Dries Van Noten or Loewe, a swoon-worthy prospect. Major bonus if we create something exclusive for our loyalist clients, a.k.a. “the disco dolls”.
What's the last thing you read that you loved? Killers of the Flower Moon.
What's the best advice you ever received? Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.
What's your advice for someone who finds entrepreneurship difficult or lonely? Accept the tribulations and solitude of entrepreneurship, but cultivate a supportive community of kindred spirits.
Drop an unpopular opinion. It’s okay to gate-keep some things. Not every trend needs to be trivialized on TikTok! Let's safeguard those authentic pockets of culture from overexposure and value depth over width in our engagements. Because remember, when everything becomes mainstream, nothing will be.
What do you collect? Fragrances. Fragrances are not only mood-altering for me but serve as transitory portals, taking me from sun-warmed Italian tomatoes to Tunisian orange blossom season, signaling the arrival of spring. They’re also inextricably linked to my sartorial decisions.
Describe your perfect Sunday. A cozy dinner party with my fiancé and our friends that spills into tarot card and/or astrology readings.
The Tear Sheet:
Beauty secret: Morning shot of olive oil
Gateway piece: Talking Heads bracelet
Big girl investment: Cosmic Crystal Connection wrap