2 Minutes With … Ashley Rudder, Head of Creator Partnerships at Whalar

Creative adventures from watercolors to Clé de Peau's Martha Stewart campaign on TikTok

Ashley Rudder is head of creator partnerships at creator commerce company Whalar. Creators are the heart and soul of Whalar, and Ashley finds new ways to reach the creator economy online, offline and in places people don't even think of. No matter the platform, Ashley refines the best talent to help brands stay culturally relevant and ensure diversity is in every aspect, from the equity in pay to keeping humanity and heart throughout the experience. 

Prior to joining Whalar, Ashley was assistant VP of strategy and content at Lashify, where she led and managed digital content operations for print, streaming, and events. Before that, Ashley had a long career at M·A·C Cosmetics, eventually overseeing the brand's global digital presence across all global social platforms.

We spent two minutes with Ashley to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations, and recent work she's admired.


Ashley, tell us...

Where you grew up and where you live now?

My father was a major in the AirForce, so we moved around a bit. My formative years were living near the Air Force base in the central valley of California, Merced specifically. It was a sweet and nature-full life filled with orchards, fresh fruit trees, and bountiful gardens in everyone's backyard. My Montessori memories are vivid and filled with fun experiences in local art classes throughout my elementary school years. Then off to Fort Worth, Texas, I went! What a culture shock, yet I found my creative outlet by playing the cello, running track, and being on the school pep squad. I wouldn't trade my boots, cowboy hat, or my Texas twang—that you may catch after a few dirty martinis—for anything.

How you first realized you were creative?

I took watercolor classes from age 6 to 9, and a few weeks in, the instructor asked me to pull my easel to the area where the older and more advanced painters would get instruction. I was excruciatingly shy then and never liked ANY attention, but this felt different. I loved the class and didn't care who looked or saw my progress. I just wanted to absorb the technique and express myself. I cherished those two-hour classes after school; watercolor changed how I saw the world.

A person you idolized creatively early on?

Halston.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life. 

One spring day, it became clear that my college experience wasn't aligned with my purpose. I was being called to serve my community to celebrate everyone's glorious beauty fingerprint as a makeup artist, so I withdrew from school to work full-time in that field while my parents were on vacation. It was the most liberating thing I had ever done, and the euphoria afterward was something that words can't express. It was the first time I had listened to my intuition and ran, not walked into my purpose. From that day forward, I learned to listen to my intuition, that it was to be my "purpose thermometer."

Even though I had to endure the shock and disappointment from my parents, that decision led me to an illustrious 20-year career in that field. Makeup artistry is my side hustle now, and I still love to design a gorgeous makeup look for my clients, friends, and family. Just in case you're wondering, I eventually got my degree (whispers ... six years later). Once I understood how formal education would fortify my purpose, it became an exhilarating experience that I could put the same dedication and zeal behind my career. For me, "the why" behind everything I do is essential.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

There are so many, but a few of my favorites are Jimmy Hendrix, Clint Black, The Linda Lindas, and Gretta Van Fleet.

A book, movie, TV show, or podcast you recently found inspiring.

Everything Is Better with Creators podcast—might be because I am one of the hosts. Movie: Licorice Pizza, TV Show: My Brilliant Friend on HBO Max.

Your favorite fictional character. 

Daniel Plainview from the film Their Will Be Blood. The "I drink your milkshake" scene is my favorite!

Someone or something worth following on social media.

@tibetanbeautyy. If you love learning more about different cultures through breathtaking visuals, this one is for you.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally

Even though Covid-19 overcame my beloved and thriving 90-year-old grandfather in 2020, I am still thankful for the lessons it's taught me. His death, and the pressure the pandemic placed on Manhattan, were the catalysts for me to fast-track the pursuit of joy for my tribe. I left my beautiful Sugar Hill apartment (shout-out to PS90) and moved my family to quarantine at the base of Zion National Park in Utah. It was there, in the bosom of nature, I realized that my career had to change to align with an evolved creative purpose and that helping others was still at the root. That revelation is what brought me to Whalar.

As head of creator partnerships, I have the unique opportunity to research and find incredible creators, match their storytelling to brands, and ensure they are paid equitably. Through this work, my team and I find countless creators that garner loyal followings—nano to macro—and help them leverage that influence and understand its full value. It's also such a blessing to work for a brand that is supportive of my "side hustle" as the co-founder of a digital creative collective, HAUS OF SÔS (pronounced house of sauce). Who knew a pandemic would lead me to my purpose, and my family and I have never been happier.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 

Martha Stewart was introduced to me by my mother via her cookbook Entertaining in the early '80s, and this powerhouse of a woman has remained a muse to my mother and me to this day. When Whalar brought on HAUS OF SÔS to produce a series of TikTok assets for their client Clé de Peau starring Martha, you would have thought Ed McMahon and the Prize Patrol had knocked on my door. This project was a dream to work on, and I couldn't be more proud of the viral success and conversion it's garnered for Clé de Peau and Martha.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

As someone dedicated to unlearning harmful societal norms, the "Imagine" campaign challenged me to think about and contemplate the visuals my mind conjured around these prompts. This campaign is a beautiful example of how art can be a catalyst for change.

"Imagine" is a campaign that asks us to think about our unconscious biases. The Imagine poster campaign, supported by Creative Equals, Goodstuff, Assembly and Open Media, is running across the U.K. on social media, OOH and cinemas. It is accompanied by a coloring book. The money raised goes to Beyond Equality and the Young Women's Trust, which encourages parents to talk to their children about gender roles.

Your main strength as a creative person.

I am an unbridled dreamer.

Your biggest weakness. 

Perfectionism. I grapple with it constantly, as it slows down my progress, yet the quest for it is something that I find exciting … OMG … am I the drama?!

One thing that always makes you happy.

Gardening. Yes, it really does.

One thing that always makes you sad.

Puppies that aren't mine.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

I'd be a flower designer.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a senior broadcast journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a contributor to Muse by Clio.

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