Kazakhstan Native Dasha Simpson Bridges Two Homes with Bespoke Arrangements and Handmade Ceramics
- Written byTanya Monaghan
Born in the foothills of the majestic mountains near Almaty in Kazakhstan, Dasha Simpson grew up surrounded by natural beauty. This setting would become both the source and product of her art and creativity.
Kazakhstan was the last of the Soviet republics to declare independence during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Following World War II, Kazakhstan became a melting pot for Germans, Jews and Koreans seeking refuge. Almaty benefited from this mix of cultures and became a cosmopolitan, hip destination.
Dasha thrived in her hometown, first with a career in advertising before taking a surprising turn to pursue floristry. As part of her training, Dasha completed floral design programs in London, Paris and New York. The design studio and flower shop she cofounded in Almaty has been in operation for over a decade. There she styled flowers and composed installations for Louis Vuitton, Van Cleef & Arpels and Saks Fifth Avenue, among other notable clients. Inspired by the history and landscape of Central Asia, Dasha’s artisanal practice is deeply connected to the earth.
It was also in Almaty that Dasha met her husband, Tommy Simpson, a musician and South Bay native who was visiting the area while en route to a show in Iceland. Taken by Dasha’s exquisite beauty and charm, Tommy returned to Almaty eight times before finally moving there.
Together they expanded Dasha’s flower store to include records and books. They were married in a small fairytale wedding with just a few friends and family members, high up in the majestic mountains of Kazakhstan overlooking a pristine glacier. The newlyweds lived in Almaty for a few years among an amazing community of artistic friends.
“It was a special time for us to do our little project together and for Thomas to be involved in some really cool art projects too, including making music for an experiential theatre,” shares Dasha. The Almaty phase came to an end when they made the bold move to Los Angeles to be part of the music industry and return to Tommy’s roots.
The couple settled in Manhattan Beach, and Dasha soon became pregnant with daughter Alma. When the pandemic hit, the new family cocooned themselves at home, complete with a music studio where Thomas could compose and a ceramics studio where Dasha could fine-tune her newfound art form. She had picked up ceramics as a creative outlet, fell in love with it and joined a community of beautiful souls. Her art became a refuge from the challenges of being a new mom in a new country.
For Dasha, ceramics and flowers made perfect sense together—the clay being from the earth created a perfect home for her incredible arrangements. Inspired further by fine art, fashion, architecture and design, Dasha founded Umay, a brand that produces floral compositions and ceramic vases made in-house and in collaboration with artists and designers. She partnered with Yana Lee, who brought her experience in global event management to help run the business side of the brand.
The Umay studio is based in a historical part of Downtown L.A., just a few steps from the flower district. This was key in helping them optimize daily access to the best and freshest flowers.
Dasha loves working in the quiet of her home studio as well as in the hustle and bustle of Downtown L.A. “I get the best of both worlds,” she says. “I love being in this peaceful, perfect heaven where everything is safe and nice and beautiful at home. And then going downtown feels almost like you are going into New York.”
In Turkic and Mongolian mythology, Umay is the Earth Mother—the oldest deity of fertility, the protector of women and children. “One can feel her love and presence all around as she watches over and supports communities,” Dasha explains. “We preserve her spirit and materialize it in our work with the utmost care and sensitivity. Through our floral compositions, we aim to provide a story and sense of home.”