Ashley Wray.

Ashley Wray: Communicator and entrepreneur

Chilliwack's Ashley Wray, 25, as featured in The Chilliwack Progress Forty Under 40.

Ashley Wray’s gut instinct has never let her down.

Whether it be for a new job, traveling to a new country, or taking on a new career, her gut has always led her in the right direction. Just as it did last year on a 45-minute flight from Bali, Indonesia to Phuket, Thailand.

The 25-year-old co-owner of Mala Imports never imagined she’d one day be importing and selling jewelry; not when her dreams were planted so deep in the journalism field.

(She’s been employed by the Liverpool Free Press, The Chilliwack Progress, The Abbotsford News, Shaw TV, and Star FM.)

But that was before she met Soma Temple, creator of Aum Rudraksha Designs.

The meeting was the result of a six-month trip that was initially only supposed to take Wray and her fiancé, Matt Bateman, to New Zealand. The couple had spent months planning the trip, organizing housing arrangements, work visas, lining up interviews for jobs to sustain them through the year. But a last-minute gut decision two months into the adventure led them to explore other areas.

“We thought we could stay here and live a life similar to our lives in Canada, or take this opportunity and live for ourselves, continue on and see what comes of it,” said Wray.

They travelled through North and South England, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

On their flight to Thailand, the owner of Aum Rudraksha Designs sat next to them, drawn to their “beautiful aura.”

She had noticed the rudraksha beaded bracelet on Bateman’s wrist that he had purchased in Bali and informed them that she was maker of those bracelets. She told them about her company, which promotes sustainability and fair trade, and about the history of rudraksha beads, which grow on trees in Southeast Asia and have been used in varying prayer and spiritual rituals for centuries.

By the end of the flight, Wray and Bateman were so enraptured by the beads, they shook hands with Temple and became the official Canadian importers of Aum Rudraksha Designs.

“If you had asked us a year ago what we would be doing in a year, we never would have said we’d be spending every waking hour outside of our 9-5 jobs working with jewelry,” said Wray, a communications specialist at the University of the Fraser Valley. “It’s just not something we ever would have imagined to be in our future.”

Yet, they’re excelling.

Last month, Mala Imports attended  the Vancouver Health and Wellness Show, and next month will be featured in Vancouver Eco Fashion Week. They’ve also developed a partnership with La Isla, a California-based fashion house that’s interested in taking Mala Imports to Miami Fashion Week in July, as well as showcasing the jewelry with its brand in several fashion magazine spreads.

Mala Imports is also working on creating an exclusive line of jewelry for La Isla’s 2013 swim and beachwear line.

“We often say look where we were a year ago,” said Wray. “This time last year, we were in Vietnam. Who knows where we’ll be a year from now.

“That’s the thing, we don’t plan it. We let our instinct guide us.”