Fashion designer and Tennessee native Ashe Cain is transforming the boundaries of lux, designer apparel by making fur coats out of roadkill.
Featuring photography courtesy of Jami-Lyn Fehr (roadkill) & Jacq Justice (beetle)
Ashe’s time at Elmore School of Design in Franklin, Tennessee, inspired an ambitious question for her senior collection — how does one create fur coats ethically and sustainably?
“Anytime I ever see someone in a fur coat, it’s just kind of magic,” she said. “I have to make fur coats. That’s what I’m meant to do.”
The fur industry is a controversial one. Traditionally, there are two methods of creating fur textiles. The first is to either farm or poach animals for the sole purpose of harvesting the furs, something that commercially has been deemed wasteful and cruel by the masses. The second is producing faux furs, which to the layman seems much more practical, but has its own harmful effects on the environment due to the synthetic and sometimes toxic materials used to create them.
“I was like, I really can’t make these real fur coats,” Ashe said. “But then when I was getting into faux fur; faux fur is actually incredibly unsustainable.”
Her desire to create exactly what she wanted kept her curious, however, and she went on to find her answer tucked away on the side of highways and backroads on cool, Sunday mornings.
“My mom tried — everyone in my life tried — to talk me out of it, genuinely,” Ashe laughed.
In 2015, the young designer started collecting and processing roadkill into textiles. With some help from her veterinarian sister, she’s learned a few tips for making unique and modern fur garments that give a new life to local fauna, rather than take it.
The process starts with collecting It has become somewhat of a tradition, she stated, to search roadsides for dead animals during non-busy hours of the day.
“People have just saved my number to message me roadkill stuff,” she said. After all, the third line of her Instagram bio reads: “DM ME YOUR ROADKILL SIGHTINGS.”
Ashe has found that there are animals she prefers to work with more than others. The squirrels are quite small, and deer are large, but their fur texture is not preferable. Among all her findings, her rarest to date is an albino bobcat that she has in collection currently. Her favorite to work with, however, is opossum.
Ashe works around the natural seasons of the animals to better preserve their beauty, and make the process easier.
“I collect all winter,” she said. “Their winter coat is thicker and more luxurious.” She also noted the importance of cold weather in preserving the specimens as they lie on the road.
There is something revering about Ashe’s road-to-garment method, she said, although it did not always feel that way to her. She discussed having to hype herself up for the job.
“I googled it for a very long time,” she said. “It’s not, like, technically that bad, but it is very emotionally draining for me.”
Roadkill is not Ashe’s only design inspiration, either.
Her “Mod-Alien” style, as she put it, is heavily influenced by nature, as well as the fashion of the 1960s.
“There’s a lot of references to the actual road,” she said in reference to her roadkill collection. “So there’s like, a lot of gray pleats and yellow stitching that kind of looks like the lines in a road.”
Her second collection, an array of textural, geometric dresses, are inspired by beetles with their color-shifting palettes and revealing, unfolding wings.
Ashe noted that donning her own garments in public and on social media platforms assisted her in finding her style and voice.
“You know, everything I made, that was my true essence,” she said. “I started wearing my clothes, and I started going out, and it was just kind of the most insane revelation and confidence booster.”
The internet found the same kind of revelations in her style alongside her. Her TikTok viewers raved over the unintentionally non-gendered style of her pieces.
“I picked beetles, and I was like, I’m gonna make clothes that remind me of a bug,” she said. “It really is so bizarre and so fantastic, especially as a fashion designer, to relate to so many different types of people.”
Ashe’s real dream is to make custom fur coats for celebrities, but the power her own designs have given her has expanded that dream.
“I also want to get my clothes on as many people as possible,” she said. “My clothes … they are my soul, for real. Every time I make something, it’s like I’m… infusing it with some sort of magic.”
To purchase Ashe’s latest bug-inspired collection or to check out more of her work, head to ashecain.com.