When it comes to describing Anya Ayoung-Chee, a lot of names come to mind. Beauty queen. Project Runway winner. Model. Social activist. Fashion designer. Daughter. Carnivalista. Sister. And most recently, wife.
But there’s one name she never expected to be associated alongside hers.
Photo by Wyatt Gallery | Retouching by Caribbean Retouch
Bodywear by Laura Narayansingh | Headpiece by The Lost Tribe/Sheena Ali
Necklaces by Willow & Oak | Earrings by Sheena Ali
Makeup by Josanne Young Sing | Lashes by Babe Cave
While most little girls grow up dreaming of their wedding day and what they’d name their first-born child, Anya’s were a little different. Instead of dreaming of growing up and starting a family — despite the fact that she was raised in a large one herself — she dreamt of starting and growing a career.
“I never dreamt of a wedding, of being a mother, of having a family — not that I had any issue with it, certainly not for other people,” Anya explained. “But for me, I dreamt of being a successful businesswoman, and being somebody who stands up for what they believe in and has a voice. And most of the time, marriage and children don’t fit into that.”
So for Anya, who had just come off of a year-long hiatus from fashion design in late 2017, seeing that positive pregnancy test was a shock – and definitely something she wasn’t expecting or planning for.
“I was definitely a bit thrown off, and I felt a little guilt,” she shared. “I’m very happy now, but in the beginning it was confusing — confusing that I wasn’t overjoyed, and that I was supposed to feel overjoyed.”
It’s not something that’s often talked about: the expectation that you should instantaneously feel this immense sense of happiness once you find out you’re expecting.
For Anya, who’s due in June, while she was always grateful for the blessing, it definitely took her some time to adjust to the idea of having a family.
“We sacrifice a lot of who we are to facilitate this, and as joyful as it is, I think it’s important that we take the room to navigate the wide range of feelings – sometimes elated, sometimes not,” the mother-to-be explained. “I gave myself enough time to work through that and come to terms with my own joy, and to allow myself to come to this place where I am genuinely thrilled — but it took me a little while to get here.”
And rightly so — especially because the narrative that’s spun requires mothers to put their lives on pause for their family. For Anya, who has worked the better part of her adult life to build the career she has now, that’s a terrifying thought. But at the same time, she takes inspiration from powerhouse women that surround her, and that have managed to do both incredibly well. Namely, her mentor-turned-friend Meiling Esau, and her own mother, Michele Jodhan.
“My mother had six children, and knowing that it’s a massive commitment, she still managed — and I don’t even know how — to have a career, own a business, start a foundation, do her Master’s, all of this, and still have six of us,” Anya added. “But we’re not all her, and I now have even more respect for her.”
For Anya, this respect means taking lessons learned through watching her mother and living by her example, especially as it means compromising on her own life and the life of her future child. One of the most powerful lessons she hopes to bring into her role as a mother is the balance between being willing to relinquish some of your own dreams, but also not giving yourself up entirely.
The idea of losing your identity or your sense of self once you get married or have children is actually one of the main reasons Anya resisted marriage for as long as she did.
“I’ve been much more petrified of what that means as a woman,” Anya explained. “What does it mean to be married in this day and age, and how does that remove my identity from myself?”
Photo by Andrew Gallery
It’s a natural fear, though – especially for a couple who have built a name for themselves separately the way that Anya and her now-husband Wyatt Gallery have, on both local and international spheres. In fact, Anya and Wyatt don’t overlap as much as one would expect a talented photographer and a beauty queen-turned-fashion designer to. They’ve always maintained a strong sense of self, even through various ups and downs in the 12 years they’ve known each other, but have learned to try even harder now that they’re married.
“We are individually ourselves and supporting each other to be that, but we’re doing it as a pair,” she mentioned. “I guess that’s really what I wanted it to be, and I didn’t know that was possible — because most of what you’re expose to is partnerships that merge and then your identities are no longer distinct.”
It’s hard to understand Anya and Wyatt’s love story without going into all of the details. In just about every fairytale we’ve read, the story goes something like this: boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl get married, boy and girl live happily ever after. For Anya and Wyatt, they get their fairytale ending, but their journey hasn’t been as easy as in a children’s story, though definitely just as romantic.
Their friendship progressed into a relationship a little while after they first met years ago, though neither were looking for anything serious having both just gotten out of relationships themselves, but their genuine love for each other shone through, especially after Anya’s brother Pilar passed away in a car crash in May 2007.
“That was such a massive life-changing moment, and without having even spoken to me, he flew down and was here for the funeral,” Anya recounted. “And that was that. After that, it was very hard to go back [to friendship].”
Photo by Kibwe Brathwaite
Wyatt supported Anya through her grieving after her brother’s death, through her decision to run for Miss Trinidad and Tobago Universe, through her representing the country at the 2008 pageant and through her stint (and eventual win) on Project Runway in 2011. But that’s not to say there weren’t challenges and hardships faced: notably living in the public eye, especially after both the release of personal videos made by the couple, and Anya’s rise to stardom as an international fashion designer. By 2012, the couple was engaged – but after not much longer, they parted ways.
It wasn’t until the tenth anniversary of her brother’s death in 2017 did the couple find themselves back together — but their story shows that when something is meant to be, it’ll find its way. But even getting back together was a journey in itself, and not necessarily one that was planned. In fact, after years apart and other significant others in between, the two started talking again in attempts to heal the wounds that were there, and try to see each other’s side in situations that they didn’t necessarily realize they saw so differently.
“That went on for a while: almost a year of just conversation,” she explained. “And then certain things happened and I realized this is somebody that I want to have in my life, and it was very hard to deny at a certain point.”
For the couple, taking the time to air their grievances and address situations in their past relationship helped to solidify their current one, and within months, they were expecting a baby, and Wyatt re-proposed. Three weeks later, they were married in a beautiful, very-private ceremony in Blanchisseuse. Present were no one but their family members, close friends of the couple, and a whole lot of love.
“We barely spent any money, and we did it super basic,” Anya shared. “That was wonderful because the first time we were going to get married was the complete opposite — it was going to be elaborate, and tons of people, and this was really down to what we actually wanted it to be.”
But after years of resistance and refusing to get married, she finally gave in. For the girl who never saw herself actually getting married, Anya has loved every second of her marriage to Wyatt.
“It’s hard to let yourself experience that much love, to receive that much love, to let my walls down,” Anya opened up. “Which sounds crazy now thinking about how long we’ve been together, but it has taken me that long to surrender to it.”
For someone who’s life is almost always in the public eye, Anya’s heard many opinions about her life. About who she’s dated. About what she’s done. About her choices, and her actions, and her movements, and about just about everything. And she’s finally learning to let it all go, especially as she prepares to bring her baby into her very-public world.
Photo by Andrew Gallery
“You start realizing that I am the one who has to live this life every day, and whoever has an opinion is not living in my skin,” she added. “If I have an opportunity to be this happy, then why would I push it away.”
And while she’s extra cautious about maintaining her life while preparing for her baby’s, she’s taken her due date as a challenge – to see how much she can accomplish before motherhood arrives. For Anya, that required being more creative about releasing clothing, which birthed her newest collection: Limited Edition.
Photo by Wyatt Gallery
Now, instead of releasing a full-fledged collection once a year, she’s able to release a few pieces month by month, available in limited stock and for limited time. This allows her to keep growing and keep going – and she’s not letting anything get in her way.
With her fashion collection, combined with several tech projects she’s working on at the moment, and her passion for social activism, there’s no stopping Anya Ayoung-Chee, even with a baby on the way. It seems that her mother’s strength, passion and hard work has passed onto Anya, and if Anya has anything to do with it, it’ll pass onto her baby as well.