FIELDTESTED | Ashley Johnson

Ashley is the founder of Mohala Eyewear, a Hawaiian brand that began with the belief that every girl deserves the right to an education. Made for women who want their sunglasses to represent more than just fashion but also empowerment, every purchase of a pair of Mohala sunglasses sends a girl to school for one week.

Tell us more about yourself.

I was born and raised in Hawaii. I love to dance and danced hula growing up. I love to travel and lived in Florence, Italy for one year in college and taught English to Junior High School students in Sendai, Japan for one year after college. I’ve been to 17 countries. I love meeting new people and learning and seeing how people live different lives around the world. My mother is ½ Japanese and ½ Chinese from Hawaii and my father is German, English, Irish, French and Swiss from Chicago. There were clearly two different cultures coming together in my household growing up and I love this about my childhood and my parents.

What inspired you to start Mohala?

It stemmed from the question of why we exist in the first place and what impact we want to achieve in the world.  I wanted to create something and to feel like I could make a difference. I watched the documentary Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and as gut wrenching as it was to see the stories of rape, sex trafficking, and the lack of value in educating girls the film was incredibly inspiring.  The women and men in the film devoted to helping these causes and who were making a difference made me want to do something too. I knew whatever business I started there needed to be a mission that would help the girls featured in the film.  

I saw a niche market opportunity in the eyewear industry that most founders, owners and operators of eyewear brands are men.  There was a target market of female consumers who were feminine, confident, ambitious and socially minded that were being missed.   I sought to build a brand that solely focused on connecting with this female consumer through four key brand differentiators: quality materials and craftsmanship, custom exclusive designs, creative and gorgeous packaging, and a social mission of every pair of sunglasses we sell one week of school is donated to Room to Read Girls’ Education Program.  

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How does your Cali lifestyle in Uni differ to that of your Hawaiian lifestyle?

I’m very glad I went away to college as it exposed me to a much bigger world outside of Hawaii. Hawaii to California is a complete culture shock. Everything was different the way people dress (much more skin exposure and brighter colors are appropriate in Hawaii than on my college campus), food (lots of Asian and Polynesian food in Hawaii as to my college campus was more pizza and hamburgers), weather (you rarely need a long sleeve shirt in Hawaii and you definitely need warm clothes in northern California), in Hawaii the mixing of cultures and ethnicities is very common as opposed to my University campus was pretty segregated by race. That was probably the hardest thing for me to adjust to but also a good learning experience.

How do you see change spark from brands like Mohala ?

Purpose drive brands or brands of social entrepreneurship help to start and build dialogues.  They bring voice to different causes and get people engaged in issues they may not have been aware of.  They help spread the word and build support behind a cause. Then the brand together with its consumers can help create powerful change.  

I’ve done a screening and plan to do many more for the film Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  I got a group of women and some busy mothers to watch a film they probably wouldn’t have made the time to watch or hadn’t heard of.  There were tears and hugs and every woman who watched the film was moved by it and wanted to help make a difference for those girls. Numerous women came up to me after and shared they had been feeling like they wanted to do something and seeing the film and me following my dream to launch Mohala Eyewear had inspired them to finally go for it.  That is where I first saw change spark from our brand.

#ChangeBeyondTextiles is…

Change beyond textiles means building a business that does more than purely sell something. It is bigger than just a business but also a vehicle for social change. It is a brand that inspires, enlightens, and impacts other humans with the goal of making the world better.

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What are some challenges you’ve faced starting Mohala?

I’m a brand-new business, we just launched December 2017.  I’ve found that when I personally speak to one person at a trunk show or an audience at an event I can connect with them and get them interested in the cause and Mohala.  But my challenge is how to get the word out to a larger audience. How do I create that same one on one, personal experience and get that out to the masses. My biggest opportunity of the moment is spreading the word of Mohala.  Which is why it’s awesome to have partnered with Matter Prints on this article!

How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as a human who was kind, loving, humble (I’m always working on all these areas) and helped lift others up. As a wonderful wife, daughter, sister, mother (someday) and friend. And as a social entrepreneur who sent millions of young girls to school and helped build their confidence, self-worth, and belief that their dreams were achievable.

We are inspired by Ashley’s intentions to move towards conscious living and are proud to have them as Fieldtesters, a group of inspiring individuals that test MATTER products in their everyday journeys of passion, to help us improve durability and design. Gabriella is wearing our Sideswept Dhoti + Trikora in Size 1 and Sandro is wearing our Lounge Lunghi + Falcon Footprint in Size 1.


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