Ashley Michele is a Mom and an Entrepreneur
Years ago, glasses were the one accessory that no one wanted. On television and in movies, the characters that donned eyeglasses were always portrayed as nerdy, clumsy and boring. Women that wore them were only seen as attractive when they took them off, and men that needed them were often referred to as “Four Eyes” or “Poindexters.”
Fast-forward to today, and glasses are now some of the most sought after accessories in the world. Glasses are no longer only used for medical purposes; they’re seen as jewelry for the face, the perfect finishing touch to any look.
However, as glasses start to get more stylish, the prices tend to increase as well. Prescription eyeglasses can cost as much as $600, and prescription sunglasses can cost even more.
Ashley Michele, founder of eyewear company Alley & Eye, specializes in curating affordable, unique collections of eyewear for all ages. The Detroit native and eyeglasses-wearer believes that people should be able to own multiple pairs of glasses, without breaking the bank.
Ashley Michele took the time to talk to Detroit Fashion News about her personal experience with glasses, what inspired her to start her company, and what makes her stand out from the crowd.
DFN: Can you tell me a little more about yourself?
Ashley Michele: I am a mom, I’m an entrepreneur. I started Alley & Eye about five years ago because of me being in the underground scene, and me being actively involved and things like that. I would like to say that I’m a motivational person and a creative individual. I don’t like to really judge myself. I’m just a person, I’m just here.
DFN: What inspired you to create Alley & Eye, and where did the name come from?
Ashley Michele: Alley & Eye came about while I was staying at Untitled Bottega, which was sort of like the Warhol House of Detroit at a point. While staying there, I just got in this creative rut, and I didn’t know what to do. I was like, “I’m not doing events anymore. Fashion has sort of always been a thing that I liked, so why not pursue that path?”
One day I was at a thrift store and while there, I just got a bunch of vintage frames. I would start wearing them everywhere, and people would be like, “Oh, where did you get those?” I was friends with a lot of artists at the time, so I would be like, “Oh, well I got them, and I like them. I don’t really want to give away my source.” So I started giving them to them and they started wearing them and then other people would come to me. After a while, it was like, “Whoa, hold on. This is turning into more than me just passing out glasses.”
Then I came up with the name Alley & Eye while staying at a loft. I moved around a lot in the early ages of my life. I was staying in this loft and I was looking at bowling bags, and I was like, “Oh my goodness, I love these bowling bags. I want to do the bowling bags and eyewear.” And from that, I was like “Alley,” like a bowling alley. So, Alley & Eye. We’re supposed to release the bags next year. That always was the original plan, but the eyewear took off.
DFN: So you find frames that you like and you refurbish them?
Ashley Michele: Some of them, not all of them. I originally started out in vintage. Then, I started painting frames, but painting frames were really intricate, and I’m a perfectionist, so it takes me a long time to paint. Then from there, it went to fashion frames. And I really started getting into fashion, and fashion sort of took off, so I sort of steered clear of the vintage. The painting, we’re bringing it back this summer.
DFN: The eyeglasses on your site are so unique. None of your customers have the same pair?
Ashley Michele: I can’t say that anyone does not have the same pair. What I specialize in is curating unique collections. I love different things. I feel like everyone should be able to feel like an individual. You want to look like Beyoncé, but you don’t want to look just like Beyoncé, you know what I mean? I want you to be able to go on my site and feel that. I want you to be like, “I can change this pair of glasses and look like a totally different person.” I like having different personalities. When you go out, you should be able to enjoy that.
DFN: Why do you think it’s important for people to have fashionable eyewear options?
Ashley Michele: I wear prescription lenses. Growing up, you’d look at that little group of glasses. My mom would take me [to the eyeglasses store] and be like, “You can only pick from this selection.” And I’d be like, “But those Diors over there look really nice!” My mom would be like, “No, that’s not in the price range, go over here.” So I want to be able to give that average person that’s looking at a magazine and wants to dress like an Olivia Pope, or wants to look like that girl on the runway, that look, and be able to switch it up a lot. Most people only get one pair of [prescription] glasses a year. If you buy sunglasses, you try to hold onto those sunglasses because you just spent $150 on them. In most cases, to be quite honest, people break, lose, or have their sunglasses stolen. So you should have an affordable option to be able to choose from.
DFN: What sets Alley & Eye apart from other eyewear or lifestyle companies?
Ashley Michele: I think, one, is the fact that we’re really involved with our customer base. I know a lot of customers. The only customers I don’t know are my online customers, and even some of them, I’ll meet them randomly at festivals or at things like that. Also, we work really hard to keep things unique. Even though there are some brands that will carry maybe one or two of the frames that we have, on an overall basis, if you were to compare us to the majority of the sunglass companies, you’re not going to find any similar frames. Also, we’re friendly people! All my pictures that are on the Instagram outside of maybe five, everyone took those pictures themselves. I never do photoshoots. It’s all about the people, and I think that’s what’s big about it. Sort of like what America is going through right now. You have to focus on the people; don’t focus on trying to sell things.
DFN: Do you have a team that works with you?
Ashley Michele: So, in my head, I have a bunch of people that help me, and we’re “we.” But in reality, it’s just me. I work with a lot of different photographers, different artists, I work with a couple of bloggers and influencers, but other than that it’s me. Hopefully one day soon, it won’t be. But right now, I’m comfortable with it because it’s like my baby. It was my baby before my babies.
DFN: What do you think inspires you the most?
Ashley Michele: I love people. I’m kind of socially-awkward, actually, but I love watching people and seeing them. I’ll sit in the Shinola Café all the time and just be staring at people and be like, “Look at what that person’s wearing. Look at them!” Every person has a unique personality, and I think a lot of people don’t give it a chance to notice that or get that about people. I feel like that would be the best thing for America. If we could all just sit and go, “Hi, I’m such-and-such, and this is what I do,” you’d realize that person is just like you.
DFN: I’ve been wearing glasses since I was five, so I definitely understand when you were talking about only being able to pick out one pair of glasses.
Ashley Michele: It sucks! Our full-range optical is going to be coming out in April, but the reason for it is that people are spending $350, $650 — even $250 is really pushing it to me on spending on glasses — something that you’re going to break and lose. And then you have insurance, but then you have to pay for that insurance. There are so many added things. When in reality, I could sell someone a pair of glasses like that for $100, no problem. Sometimes lower than that depending upon the frame it is. I could take that $100 and buy five pairs of glasses throughout the month and be like, “Hey, look at me. Yes, I do have on a different pair of glasses.” On your Instagram, you want to be able to wear your glasses. A lot of women take their glasses off on Instagram because it’s the same pair of glasses in every picture and it starts to look redundant. You don’t want to have to do that.
DFN: I also think there’s a stigma that glasses aren’t sexy.
Ashley Michele: I know people that have made love connections off of the pictures they’ve taken [wearing my glasses]! Glasses are sexy, they look amazing. It really used to irk me when I was a kid. I would get called “four eyes,” or people would make jokes, and I would be like, “Whatever.” So it’s funny that I ended up doing this out of all the things I could’ve done.
DFN: Would you ever want to open up a storefront to sell your products?
Ashley Michele: The next goal is actually to open a collective space in an area that cannot be announced right now. It’s in the works and it’s going to be huge once it’s up, and Alley & Eye will be included in that. Next year, after that has launched, I want to put focus on an Alley & Eye optical shop. We probably will join another collective space at some point soon. We are available at Detroit Clothing Circle, Zarkpa’s, The Hi Hat in Ferndale and Blue Velvet Vintage in Eastern Market. We are available at a couple different places. We also do personal shopping. That’s something that we don’t advertise as often, but we will in the future. We can come to your house, or we can meet you, we can have a selection of 20 to 30 different glasses that you’ll select from. It’s cool because once again, we get to know our customers and really understand them and what their likes are so we can continue to build forward.
DFN: What is the average price range for your products?
Ashley Michele: Most [frames] online tend to go from about $25 to about $50. If you catch me on a good day at a pop up shop, you might be able to get a $15 special.
DFN: Is there a particular frame that is the most popular amongst your clientele?
Ashley Michele: The flip-ups and the reflectives. I adore them and I think they’re cute, but they’re not my particular taste. But people love them. Like, they’re obsessed with them.
DFN: What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment or proudest moment thus far?
Ashley Michele: My proudest moment has not happened yet. I think that I’m constantly doing great things, but I’m always evolving. I never want to put a ceiling on myself, so I won’t say that there’s a proudest moment. I will say, something great that has happened has probably been the pop up shop that we did at the Baltimore Gallery; we were there for quite a while. It was a very interesting moment and actually sort of shaped the future of Alley & Eye and what’s going to come. It was a big step for me.
DFN: Were you nervous when you first started your business?
Ashley Michele: I never get nervous about things. Somehow, if you really want to do something, you’ll make it happen. It’s just a point of being like, “OK, what do I have to do next? Where’s the next hurdle? Let’s get over it and keep it moving.” I always tell people that you should always be in forward motion, no matter what happens in life … You can do anything.
DFN: What can people expect to see from Alley & Eye in the coming months?
Ashley Michele: In the coming months, we have a really amazing spring collection coming. We released some of it. And then the Alley & Eye optical full-range line. People will be able to order online as well as at the Detroit Clothing Circle. You can go in the Detroit Clothing Circle and get Alley & Eye optical and give them your prescription and then go back in and pick them up. We work with a private lab in Michigan to do that.
DFN: Is there a theme for your spring collection?
Ashley Michele: I’m really focusing on the super bright, pop colors. This summer, I see it being super sunny and hot, and I want those colors to reflect off of the skin. I really have been inspired a lot by Beyoncé. I love the colors in particular that she’s been using in a lot of her sets, and I sort of want to be reflective of that. And even though my client base is all cultures, colors and ethnicities, I love seeing those colors pop off of Black skin. Growing up, I was told, “Oh, you shouldn’t wear that color,” but no. Golds look really good on me, or blue really works for my skin tone. I really want to embrace that.
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Written by Evann Webb