Richmond based stationary company Ash + Chess, run by queer and trans couple Ashley Molesso (she/her) and Chess Needham (he/him), is being celebrated by Skittles in celebration of Pride Month throughout June. Skittles selected the two to design one of five limited-edition, Skittles candy bags as part of its annual PRIDE Pack released during Pride Month supporting GLAAD.
“We honestly thought it was spam at first,” says Molesso about initially receiving a message from Skittles.
For many fans in Richmond, however, the honor comes as no surprise. The couple is a fan favorite in the River City and beyond for their colorful mix of greeting cards, patches, stickers and art prints with bold and retro color palettes. As a result, they have grown a steady following over the years for art that often makes clear political statements while always uplifting the queer community.
After further engaging with Skittles, Ash + Chess created a Queer World design for the candy company featuring a vibrant, colorful, and prideful world. On the back of each pack is a QR code that leads customers to a virtual studio where they can learn more about Ash + Chess, their work and the inspiration behind their illustrations.
“The Queer World concept came from the undeniable fact that queer people are everywhere. We exist in every state, every country, every continent on this planet, and have since the beginning—even if it seems queer history has been hidden for so long,” reads the artists’ statement in the Skittles virtual studio. “Multiple queer pride flags are represented in the sun rays behind Queer World. The Trans Pride flag and the original Gilbert Baker Pride flag circle the planet as rings, conquered by a waving Progress flag on top. We hope people will see this and know that if they feel alone in the world, they are not. We are everywhere.”
The themes presented in the duo’s Skittles collaboration can be found in their involvement in the art and LGBTQIA community in the City of Richmond since moving to the area from New York City three years ago. Although the two have only been creating art for a handful of years together, they have quickly made an impression far and wide, gaining over 34,000 followers on Instagram in a short period of time. When they’re not winning new fans over and appearing on candy bags, the artists can be found at their private studio at Studio Two Three in Scotts Addition.
Throughout their work it’s clear that Pride means more to Ash + Chess than just waving a rainbow flag during the month of June – or any other time. “Pride is not just about being able to be out, but being able to support people in the community,” explains Molesso. “So many things go unseen meanwhile people are celebrating with rainbows.”
While Pride Month is celebrated every June around the world as part of the ongoing pursuit of equal justice, many advocates argue that the celebration and commemoration has turned into corporations simply placing rainbows on products for a month without genuine attempts at supporting the LBGTQ+ community year-round. Skittles, a brand known for its rainbow colors, has temporarily removed its rainbow colors so that LGBTQ+ artists can share their own interpretation of the rainbow.
Needham adds that such an opportunity comes with both the benefit of increased visibility and the responsibility of creating a design for Skittles that resonates and makes an impact. “Knowing this was going to be seen by so many people, felt like a big responsibility, it was going to be seen by such a wider audience our brand would never reach,” says Needham.
Fans may follow Ash + Chess on Instagram and learn more about their work at ashandchess.com (make sure to check out the recently released Queer Tarot too). Pride Skittles designed by Ash + Chess may be purchased during the month of June and will support to LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD up to $100,000 through the Mars subsidiary.