Create Out Loud
with Jennifer Louden
18 | Ashley Sumner On Letting Roadblocks fuel rather than derail Your Creativity
In this episode:
- How to follow your signature themes
- What it means to shed an identity and why it's been crucial for Ashley
- How to quiet our souls to listen to our desires even when we are freaked out
- How Ashley's biggest professional setback led her to Quilt
Ashley Sumner is the creator of an app called Quilt — a non-tech founder of a tech company with a background in musical theater.
Ashley’s creative craft is running a tech company and building a community. I started by asking her how she discovered community building as your creative medium.
I think it's a combination of nature nurture...Growing up, I spent a lot of time in musical theater. That was my world. I went to a lot of summer camps where there was a lot of interactive, fun community building — like playing different roles and going really deep with one another in a way that when summer would end, and I go back into school, I'd wonder why we weren't connecting in a similar way.
It’s clear that there’s such a human hunger for connection, but as we get more digital, there’s even less of that. This is what motivates Ashley.
I think about the role that social media and other technology platforms have played. It's changed the way we talk to one another. When we think about the performative nature, when we think about what it means to create an identity to get liked, to not get liked. Even on-demand delivery and marketplaces.
All of this technology has just shifted our ability to interact and spend time with one another, to make eye contact with one another. And that's definitely a motivating factor. Technology is obviously not going away. So for me, creatively, I'm like, how can I use technology to bring people together in that way that I felt at summer camp?
I was curious about Ashley’s journey from musical theater to tech. A recent grad bartending and auditioning in NYC, she stumbled into a job at a matchmaking startup and eventually started her own matchmaking company. She became obsessed with all of the ways she could bring people together.
I felt so creatively inspired and aligned when I got to think intuitively about people I've spent time with — these people that were looking for love — and imagine them with someone. To be able to play that role...honestly, I kind of forgot about auditioning, because I was so lit up by this other thing, that it was not fun to think about dancing and singing and acting as the thing that was going to make me money.
She turned away from where she was encountering rejection and hurt and turned towards something she found that she was great at: bringing people together.
(Bringing people together. There it is! There's Ashley's signature theme, this idea that I'm obsessed with, that I wrote about in Why Bother? If you have the book, you might want to revisit that section.)
When she talked about the shift she made, it reminded me of my own journey from aspiring filmmaker to taking a different path. Shedding that filmmaker identity was so painful it felt like it would kill me. So I wondered about that for her.
Shedding identities has been at the center of Ashley's creative journey and her company. You won’t want to miss what she has to say about her experience with this — the patriarchy, wanting to be seen for who she is, not what she looks like (tall, blonde, and conventionally attractive).
The patriarchy is a system where we technically can get ahead based on our looks. I've often thought about the jobs and opportunities I had in my 20s, and if I would have had them or not because of how I look. I know I wouldn't have had them if I couldn't do the job. I know that I could sit down and talk and sell...and inspire people to say yes. But if I could just do that and not present as the part, would I have gotten it?
Grappling with this and judgment around it has been a wound she’s worked to heal, embrace, and empower her work.
So we talked more about her work. Where does Quilt fit into it all?
Quilt today is a social wellness platform. It inspires people to come together, to be in community, to create communities. People who are going through change, who are curious about new things, and who really can benefit, as we all can, by being in conversation with others that is welcoming, that is kind, that is authentic...
All other places we go out in the world, it’s about performance, about having an agenda, about coming together to get something and to get ahead. And this is really a space to be, to heal, to grow, and everything in between.
Quilt is a metaphor. It’s about mending human struggles, coming together, creating something, and keeping each other safe and warm. Cozy.
But like so many people, when we entered isolation during the pandemic, she had to change the company's entire focus. You’ll want to listen to what she says about grief and reimagining her model.
Like me, Ashley is committed to using her work to face the climate crisis without being crushed by despair. As we dive into this topic, it becomes crystal clear what’s driving her.
We don't live in a system that supports things like love and abundance and collaboration. We live in a system that's more about fear and scarcity and competition and getting ahead. And so in that mindset, we don't believe we are one with nature. We don't care about it. It's all about a culture of self and being super self-serving.
Quilt, for me, is reframing and training how to heal those parts of ourselves, come together, and build a culture of belonging — where we start to come up with new systems and bring that energy out into the world, and inspire others to do the same. A planet that is sick is sick because of the people on it, that are participating in or creating the systems that are hurting it.
I took a great deal away from this conversation with Ashley about self-acceptance, self care, connection, and so much more. I know you will too.
Join me as we learn how Ashley Sumner creates out loud.
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