This week on Profiles, we have the privilege of sitting down with fashion historians and the hosts of Unravel: A Fashion Podcast. We talked to them about their paths into fashion academia, how the art world should change, and how we can get there.
Jasmine Chavez Helm is a host and Unravel’s resident amateur sound engineer. She grew up in La Puente, CA and New York City and has studied fine art, art history, fashion, and museum studies on both coasts. Jasmine has also worked as curator and archivist in Los Angeles and New York. She is passionate about exploring the cross-cultural intersections between history, art, material culture, fashion, and people. Her current research focuses on the dress and textile culture of the Afro-Indigenous groups in the Bluefields coastal region of Nicaragua.
Joy Davis is the sometime host, producer, and social media manager for Unravel Podcast. She gains strength from working with a subject matter that is underdeveloped in academia and with the public. Her work transcends many fields of study which include: fashion, history, art, media, and performance among people of color through history. She is currently working on opening her own art center and gallery in Baltimore, MD that focuses on artists of color.
Dana Goodin is a host and researcher for Unravel Podcast. She works as a fashion and textile conservator and archivist. As an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation (Numunu), she is committed to researching, communicating, and preserving the material culture of ignored and systematically underrepresented communities. She is currently pursuing her Phd. in Apparel, Merchandising and Design at Iowa State University.
Edited by Morgan Moore & Tiffany Chan
|Q: What is your story? How did you fall in love with your current field of work/study? And what are the different paths that brought you together?|
|JD: My story starts so long ago working with my dad. He was a proud antique buyer and he taught me the importance of history and material culture. I fell in love with fashion history because I found out there were places, like our alma mater FIT, where I could learn more. I will let Jasmine and Dana discuss our origins as a podcast.
DG: I initially wanted to be an actor – basically because all other jobs I was aware of as a child (lawyer, doctor, teacher) seemed to be staffed by adults who were miserable. I initially went to college to study that but dropped out after my freshman year. After working for a few years, I went back to school to study Fashion Merchandising and took the one required fashion history course – and that was it. I then went to FIT (where my fashion history teacher had earned her M.A. as well) for graduate school, and there I met Joy and Jasmine.
JH: I’ve studied art since I was a child and seriously from when I was 14 to 22. My mom also loved fashion and vintage. She initially went to school for fashion merchandising, so fashion and clothes always surrounded me. However, when I attended Cal State Fullerton, I took an exhibition design course and changed my major to art history. During that time, I was interning at Gallery Nucleus and they offered me the opportunity to curate a fashion illustration exhibit. I discovered that there was a whole world of fashion history and curation that connected all the things I loved: aesthetics, culture, history, and theory.
|Q: What were your professional paths like before podcasting?|
|JD: I have been a freelance archivist going on 4 years now. I have worked in theater, performance art, and project management.
DG: I went directly from undergrad to graduate school and right after that, to podcasting. During our grad program I focused on conservation and have worked as a textile conservator and corporate archivist for the last two years. Before finishing my bachelors, I worked in a lot of retail and serving jobs.
JH: I’ve worked in museums and/or galleries. Two years ago, I made a transition into archiving and I’ve been working as a full-time archivist in the fashion industry.
|Q: What were your quirkiest side jobs?|
|JD: Security guard at Macy’s… during Christmas season. Also a nut seller at the Renaissance festival in Maryland, where I am from.
DG: I don’t know if it’s quirky, but I managed a Barnes and Noble Cafe during the recession. That was more hellish than quirky though.
JH: My first job was by far the quirkiest job I ever had! I worked as a the personal dog groomer to a champion chow breeder. I groomed all of her female chows. I was not permitted to groom the male dog. He was a Westminster show champion, so God forbid anything happened to his fur.
|Q: What is the origin story of ‘Unravel’?|
|DG: After I finished the coursework for the master’s, I had started working as a textile conservator and spending a lot of time listening to podcasts. I got really frustrated there weren’t any fashion history podcasts, and told Joy I wanted to start one with her that focused on non- rich white lady fashion history. She had other commitments at the time but knew Jasmine was starting one and connected us. The following May, Joy headed up the Costume Society of America Symposium interview series and officially joined us the following fall.
JH: After graduate school at FIT and working professionally as an archivist, I listened to a lot of podcasts. Like Dana, I noticed there weren’t any podcasts focusing on fashion history. Then it clicked, I realized I had all the recording equipment at home (because my husband records music) and I could start one. I worked with Joy at the time, and she and Dana were having similar conversations. Joy linked me up with Dana, and we started Unravel. A year later, Joy was able to fully come on board.
|Q: What does a normal day look like for you? What is your team’s workflow?|
|JD: Our workflow has changed quite a bit over these last two years: we decide content well in advance of recording. Recording happens well in advance of posting. Some episodes take a month to research, because we are all working full time. Dana and I usually help with editing and Jasmine makes it sound good! I look forward to the day when we all work in an office together and make Unravel our day-to-day priority. We all have bills and student loans, so we make the most of our time on the podcast.
DG: Usually the night before we record an episode, I’ll still be trying to find more information – I have a bad habit of not knowing when to stop researching.
JH: Recording and researching is the fun part. The editing is where we put in a lot of labor, which many podcast listeners may not realize. Each episode goes through many technical steps before it gets released. One of us will edit a.k.a trim the episode of dead air, extra ums, and chatter, etc. Then the week an episode is released I focus on mixing the sound. This is a completely new skill that we have had to learn— especially because we value good sound quality.
|Q: What are the greatest rewards of your job?|
|JD: Meeting fans from our podcast and Instagram. They are so knowledgeable, and they know they can school us anytime on something we have missed, or have a debate. We don’t shy away from the challenges of fashion history narratives, and our fans and colleagues appreciate that. Learning new skills like editing and social media has been so rewarding too!
DG: I think just having an excuse to go down research rabbit holes and having a chance to talk about the fashion history no one teaches.
JH: Having the opportunity to meet new colleagues and connect with other podcasts has been so exciting and enriching! It’s helped us and our listeners learn new things. We now are part of a network of scholars, fashion historians, and podcasters that are working on great projects, support each other’s work, and try to uplift each other.
|Q: What are the biggest challenges you faced at your job?|
|JD: Communicating to a growing audience and social media. We are working so hard on the former that it is paying off. The latter is always a challenge, especially when conveying niche ideas while expanding.
DG: Being generous with ourselves – allowing ourselves to make mistakes or not be perfect. Also trying to edit three different vocal tracks and keep them all synced up – I’ve failed miserably at that.
JH: For me, personally, it’s balancing my full-time work schedule with the work I do for the podcast. I focus on a lot of the post-production for our episodes, so I’ll work on that in the mornings before work and on the weekends. For the podcast, as a whole, it’s increasing our outreach; it’s grown fast, but we’d like to expand our audience even more. Finding ways to make fashion history accessible to everyone is a fun challenge.
|Q: What inspires you? What motivates you? How do you work out of a creative rut?|
|JD: Jasmine and Dana inspire and motivate me. We have all become really close through the podcast, which has been such a huge gift. I can say I never have a creative rut on the podcast, because there is so much to be done and so much that we are passionate about doing!
DG: What Joy said! I definitely get in creative ruts or just really low moods, and talking to them definitely energizes me or at least makes me feel less crazy. In general, I know this can be seen as really negative, I’m driven by my anger, which I try to channel, with varying degrees of success, towards changing the things that make me angry.
JH: Me three! Talking to Joy and Dana is always beneficial. We text all the time and just shoot ideas around for Unravel or chat about everyday life. It’s awesome having two other people to share your random creative/fashion thoughts with, because Joy and Dana give me different perspectives and are super supportive.
|Q: What has been your favorite episode to work on so far? Why?|
|JD: This is hard! We pour a lot of effort into our episodes and interviews, so it is very hard to choose. I will say my favorite episodes are when we talk about non-white contributions and narratives in fashion.
DG: I loved doing the Hidden Figures episode, and also our Halloween episode – I really like movies. Also it was really fun to to talk to Karen Kramer and Regan de Loggans about Native Fashion, since that’s really close to my heart.
JH: I love our collabs with other podcasts like episode 23: Fashion & The Body In Casta Paintings With Babelito from Latinos who Lunch and episode 24. Unravel x Locatora Radio: Favorite Wardrobes with Locatora Radio. Also, I love any episode where we get a little silly, like our Roundtables and the film focused episodes.
|Q: What has been the funniest/snarkiest/most memorable response someone has had to your work?|
|JD: We have a woman on our Instagram who shall remain nameless who is constantly throwing us shade but doesn’t want to have a dialogue. I think it is hilarious, and we do engage at this stage of our growth as a podcast and brand entity. We want to engage and discuss with everyone. There are limits though.
DG: There’s also been some mild tone-policing on our Instagram posts, like it was suggested we not say the word “stolen” when talking about cultural appropriation, but actually I think the fashion history community is so amazing and so loving and so supportive of us that we actually receive very little negativity ever. I just couldn’t be more thankful for them.
JH: We are lucky that we have a very encouraging and engaging audience willing to have conversations. Some of those convos have been interesting…:side eye: Especially, any posts on cultural appropriation, people really get uncomfortable when you point it out.
|Q: In your opinion, what are the most important considerations that make up good design? (sound or visual)|
|JD: The most important consideration is the consumer. This may be the first time in history where a full-figured woman, like myself, has high-end and low-end options in stores and online. I think now, more than usual, the consumer wants dressed-up practicality. Many people have said this is a sign of revolution. I think it is a sign of fatigue and general disinterest in clothing. This is why streetwear and workwear are seen on runways in Paris, New York, and beyond.
DG: My priority is always accessibility, but I’m not super creative.
JH: I respect design that is balanced in composition and (if it’s an object) made with quality materials. The way something is made is as important as it looks, at least for me.
|Q: Were there every moments throughout your career when you doubted yourself/what you were doing? How did those moments resolve?|
|JD: All the time I doubt myself. People get in your head and you make mistakes, and that all builds up. However, those moments teach you so much about your character and the character of those around you. You learn who you can trust and how you can improve.
DG: This may be controversial- but I think if you’re a smart, thinking, self-aware person there’s no way not to regularly doubt yourself. Or at least, I hope that’s the case. This field is also a hard one to make it in, and since there is no template for how to be a successful fashion historian, it can often feel like you’re being irresponsible or not making any headway . I tend to deal with these moments by crying, then getting angry, and then moving forward. I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think we’ve ever doubted ourselves in regards to the podcast- I think the majority of doubts and fears just come from trying to make sure we keep it going.
JH: YES! This field can be rewarding and many people are very supportive creatively, but when it comes to making a living it’s a struggle, because it is a niche field. And it’s competitive. In part this podcast came to me out of doubt. I was worried that I would lose the ability to actively research because I worked a 9-5 job in archiving. Also, I’m not a confident writer, so I thought podcasting would help me communicate my ideas without the pressure of the written word. I soon learned that podcasting takes a lot of work, but I love it.
|Q: What is one contentious issue in the art/fashion/museum world that you are very passionate about?|
|JD: Liberation of black and brown folks, especially women, in every industry. Representation of the full-figured woman in every industry. The podcast, in a way is helping me achieve some goals towards this passion. I am working on finding a space for a gallery in Baltimore, MD that will support artists of color for the same reason.
DG: I think one of the major issues in the museum field is the issue of pay and the expectation of free labor. Joy and I went to a panel at Costume Society of America last June that discussed the need for more people of color, indigenous and queer folks and low-income people in our field, as well as a reflection of their stories in museum exhibitions, and quite a few people didn’t seem to grasp the enormous cost that is required just to get in the door for museum work. One woman actually argued that we all have more hours in the day we could be putting in. In the same vein- it is a huge issue for me that museums will also hire “consultants” when they are putting on a non-white or non-rich lady exhibition, but will not actually hire an indigenous or black or latinx curator fulltime.
JH: Hang on, let me get my list! Pay! The art/museum field has developed a system that forces people to get advanced degrees, thereby going into 50k-100k plus debt to work a curatorial assistant job that pays 35,000 (sometimes less) as an entry level salary in NY. These jobs are scarce, so you are grateful to get them and you work overtime to keep them. In many cases, a lot of of us work for free as an intern for 6 months to a year at an institution that may or may not hire us. I personally worked a museum job that paid me 18,000 as a salary; I qualified for food stamps. This system makes it very difficult for a lot of us especially, brown, black and low-income folx to compete. I experienced low-key racism and prejudice regarding my education, because I went to a community college for part of ungrad and a state school. State schools aren’t as valued as private colleges, which is another disadvantage for many of us, because that’s what many people can afford.
|Q: What is one (or two) things you would like the general public to know about your fields of study or art in general?|
|JD: I consider my masters degree is an expensive hobby. Haha. And I guess without building a community of change, nothing will change.
DG: Fashion history is a real academic field, as is textile and fashion conservation – can someone tell the New York Times? And it is so, so necessary to have as part of a holistic view of history.
JH: Your clothing has a history. You participate in fashion whether you actively want to or not, because everyone buys or wears clothing. You’re not above the fashion system, so don’t look down on it.
|Q: Some parents may discourage their children from following a creative path, out of concern for financial stability (or at the very least, worry greatly about their children). How would you address those parents/their concerns?|
|JD: I think this is a back and forth discussion every parent and kid has to have with each other. Sometimes you can do both. Sometimes the creative path is the most lucrative. I am not a parent, so I feel uncomfortable telling parents what to do with their kids. But most of my friends and family have struggled with this topic. I guess it depends on what is most important. Happiness, money, stability, or all three. I have nurses and artists in my family that have attained all three to a certain degree.
DG: They’re not wrong. I’m going to be completely honest and say that I could not afford to have pursued this work for the last few years if I did not have the safety net of my family and partner, and that is a huge issue in our field that I don’t think is being taken seriously enough.
On the other hand, the economy is totally different from the economy our parents grew up in – STEM jobs are hard to come by now, and a bachelor’s degree, or even master’s degrees in STEM isn’t a guarantee for a stable, well-paying career anymore. So you can starve as a chemistry major or a fashion major. Selfishly, the more non-white rich lady voices we have joining the field, the faster we can change it to be more accurately representative of the real world.
JH: Both parents and children in this new era should realize that the baby-boomer notion of stability doesn’t exist anymore. We are now in an time where everyone, especially people in the arts, need to hustle and look for the next opportunity. I was lucky to have supportive parents, partner (he helps with the podcast, shout out), and family in general. They respected and believed in my passion and my ability to make decisions that would move me forward. It’s not impossible to find “stability,” but it takes a lot of work and it will take compromise. Every decision you make in life has a some sort of price. I know that sounds ominous, but I recommend that people coming into this field be realistic with their needs and their wants.
Just for fun…
|Q: Can you recommend a wine and cheese (any comfort drink/food combo) to us?|
|JD: Cheese? I love cheese like Oprah loves bread, so it is a hard choice. I pair cheeses with a red or rosé. Santa Panza, an Italian Restaurant in Brooklyn, has the best pairing if you are looking to splurge on food.
DG: I try to avoid cheese, but I really like the Trader Joe’s Iberian cheese plate, that with bread, with like a sour beer- is that too literal? I also eat Swiss cheese melted on Doritos with salsa and sriracha when I’ve had a really bad day. It’s gross. My husband makes a really good vegan cashew and chili dip.
JH: My mom just brought me some Queso Fresco (Mexican cheese) from Los Angeles. People don’t realize that Latin America has some really great cheese! This morning I had a roll with queso fresco, fresh guava paste, and coffee, it was so simple and so delicious.
|Q: What do you do for self-care?|
|JD: Spending time with my family is so healing, especially my mom. I am a fan of tonics and elixirs like golden milk. I’ve been a fan for over 5 years! I am getting back into hot yoga and anything that makes me sweat
DG: I work out – yoga, lifting, and running, and I watch trashy reality TV.
JH: I started working out early in the morning during the week. I like to do dance cardio especially the YouTuber Keira Lashea, her hip-hop videos are so fun and are a great way to start the day. I love trashy TV too, listening to other podcasts, I take a lot of baths and cuddle my partner. Cuddling is essential in life.