Dana Covarrubias – Costume Designer For Inside Amy Schumer

For anyone in the entertainment industry, a shiny gold statuette may be the most obvious marker of success, but for costume designer Dana Covarrubias, the real arbiters of a job well done are trick-or-treaters.

“People are like, ‘Oh, I want an Academy Award,’ but I think as a costume designer, if something you create becomes a Halloween costume, that’s sort of the next level,” she says, pointing to the prison-issue jumpsuits of Orange is the New Black and the instantly recognizable Walter White pork pie hat and Jesse Pinkman hoodie from Breaking Bad as two recent examples of the phenomenon.

“When I watch a movie I can just tell sometimes—like in Drive, Ryan Gosling’s bomber jacket with the dragon on the back, you just knew. You saw that and you were like, ‘That’s going to be an iconic costume.’”

If her recent work is any indication, Covarrubias is well poised to be behind the next Halloween sensation. Fresh off a turn as head designer on Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s critically-acclaimed new Netflix show, she has taken up the reins on Inside Amy Schumer for the show’s fourth season on Comedy Central and been tapped for an HBO pilot produced and directed by Girls’ Judd Apatow.

Dana CovarrubiasAt a moment when the worlds of television and comedy are thriving, Covarrubias is right at the center of it all, making sure your favorite funny people are wearing exactly what they need to be.

Sometimes this calls for some slightly unusual requests. Amid Ansari’s spiffy Band Of Outsiders and Steven Alan-heavy wardrobe on Master of None is a scene that calls for a Hazmat suit—a mass-produced garment with sizing that tends to err on the side of XXL, a challenge when you’re shopping for a slim, five-foot-six star. To work around that, Covarrubias sourced a more fit-conscious flight suit, which she brought to her go-to “knockoff lady” along with some shiny white vinyl material to create a suit that looked capable of sealing off biological agents without drowning the actor’s frame.

Another group of flashback scenes took place in 1950s India and Taiwan, requiring reams of standing-collar shirts, lightweight pants, and colorful saris—along with four dedicated ager/dyers, who made H&M finds look decades old using chemicals, sandpaper, and other garment-distressing techniques. While there were tentative plans to shoot overseas, they ended up creating a faux-India in Brooklyn, which meant finding more than 200 pairs of old-world-style sandals to protect the extras’ feet. “In reality, most people would be barefoot, but we couldn’t have actors walking around barefoot in Bushwick,” she explains.

The mashup of different eras and styles made the show one of Covarrubias’ favorite projects to date. “It’s kind of the ideal, because it had custom-made cool futuristic things, period clothing, and current fashion,” she says. “It’s fun to have that balance of doing the styling side of it and fulfilling that desire to make the actors look awesome by putting them in a cool designer, and to also be super creative.”

Dana Covarrubias 2Creativity is of the essence for the Texas native, who studied theater before landing her first television internship, in the costume department of the IFC sketch comedy show The Whitest Kids U’ Know. After years spent re-working vintage costumes for the stage, the idea that she could be told, “This is the character’s name, this is their job, this is what they do, this is the kind of person they are—let’s go shop” was a revelation.

“I was like, ‘This is a job? This is a thing that people do?’,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know that that existed, and I just immediately fell in love with it. It made so much sense to me.”

How To Be A Costume Designer

As with any job, time and money are two of the biggest considerations that go into planning costumes for a show. Custom-made or difficult-to-find pieces have to be prioritized early on, while last-minute shopping trips will inevitably come up during filming.

On Inside Amy Schumer, for instance, Covarrubias had to get to work finding a custom-made, human-sized cockroach costume as soon as the script came in for the season’s already-written sketches, but says there will also be days when casting comes in at 8 a.m.—along with the actor’s measurements—and filming starts that afternoon. It happens more often than you might think, and means she’ll be running to Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s with 30 minutes and a corporate credit card in hand, and then right back to set to have the outfits fit, tailored, and ready to shoot.

While she has built an impressive resume with her small screen work (she also counts Louie and the pilot of the now über-popular Broad City among her successes), Covarrubias has a few avenues she would like to explore more in the future.

“I would love to do more movies—I think, like any industry, you get into one vein and then you get hired on the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. Doing movies is really different—for one thing, it’s faster,” she says. Where television shows can film for three to six months of the year (or longer), movies often call for only a month of work. “As a creative person, I enjoy the shortness of movies, because it’s like this little world that you create for a month, and the next month you get to create a whole new world.”

It also probably doesn’t hurt that the last movie she worked on, They Came Together, has a cast list that reads like a who’s who of everyone’s imaginary celebrity best friends: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ellie Kemper, Christopher Meloni…need we go on?

Far from corroborating the ladder-climbing, back-stabbing Hollywood stereotype, Covarrubias credits an amazingly supportive network of producers, directors, and fellow costume designers for helping her land increasingly high-profile gigs. And with business going strong in New York, she has no plans to relocate out west anytime soon.

“I’m sure it would be doable, but—knock on wood—I keep getting hired here and I keep getting to work on things that I really respect and love, and I like everyone that I work with.” Plus, she adds, “I feel like after you live in New York, you’re spoiled for anywhere else.”

Photo credit: Frank Mullaney

“Ten years ago most people here did not know what this brown paste was,” says Anthony Brahimsha of the chickpea dip that is now nearly ubiquitous on menus in the U.S..

Born to Syrian parents, Brahimsha knew that hummus in the Middle East is much better than that found in American grocery stores. With the help of Mike McCloskey, owner of Select Milk Producers, the sixth largest dairy cooperative in the country, he developed a hummus called Prommus that is higher in protein –– three times that of other dips. It preserves the traditional flavor by using cold pressure, rather than heat, in the kitchen.

“What Halo Top is to ice cream and Chobani is to yogurt, we are to hummus,” Brahimsha says, by way of explaining that Prommus is also changing the industry.

The company name is a combination of the words “protein” and “hummus,” but is also a play on the word “promise.” With 1 percent of sales benefitting the World Food Program to fight global hunger, Brahimsha hopes that the product can have a significant effect on ending hunger and making nutritious foods available wherever they are needed.

Prommus cofounder Anthony Brahimsha, who has spent a lot of time on humanitarian missions, believes his hummus could help feed the world.

While the initial idea was born out of his humanitarian work in refugee camps along the Turkish/Syrian border, Brahimsha has even bigger dreams. The world needs to find more ways to make nutritious foods for people who are going hungry, and he thinks Prommus and its innovative production process are part of the solution. Two patents are currently pending.

The company’s four varieties (original, red pepper, olive, and avocado) are sold in the Midwest, primarily in Illinois and Michigan. These flavors were taste-tested by Brahimsha’s fellow members at Chicago’s WeWork River North, a community that he says has been invaluable to the startup.

“There are a lot of co-working spaces, but not everywhere is a community of social entrepreneurs who are rooting for their peers,” he says.

A winner in the business venture category at the Nashville Creator Awards, he says he’ll be able to start the next stage of expansion for his company, primarily by adding staff.

“As soon as you win this award, all the blood sweat and tears that you put into the company comes together,” he says. “Everything that you have been doing, the people that were with you along the way, finally, it feels like an affirmation that you were doing the right thing.”

 

Melanie Faye grew up in Nashville, but she doesn’t credit Music City with her success. She credits Guitar Hero. Yes, that Guitar Hero, the video game that allows players to mimic the sounds and moves of their favorite stars. For Faye, it was Michael Jackson.

“I don’t think growing up in Nashville introduced me to guitar players,” Faye says. “My parents were chemists. I was not able to go to bars and see local shows. Guitar Hero introduced me to all this music I was not exposed to. Guitar Hero looked really cool. It made me feel empowered.”

So, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Faye, now 20, has found fame via YouTube. After dropping out of college three semesters in to pursue her music career, Faye posted videos of herself sitting in her bedroom and playing covers of John Mayer and Mariah Carey.

“Guitar Hero introduced me to all this music I was not exposed to,” says Melanie Faye. “Guitar Hero looked really cool. It made me feel empowered.”

She also used the platform to debut some of her original work, which she describes as a mixture of R&B, hip hop, and pop. Her voice, serious guitar-playing chops, and friendly demeanor propelled those videos to more than 10 million views. She was so popular that the guitar company Fender tapped her to demo a new line of the instrument.

“I thought, ‘This is it! I’m viral. I made it!’ But it does not work that way,” she says. Faye makes ends meet by working at a local doughnut shop and teaches guitar. She also keeps working on her music the old-fashioned way, having been tapped to be the opening act for musicians like Noname and Mac Demarco. Her most recent gig was at the Nashville Creator Awards.

She is working on her first album, which she hopes will be out by the year’s end. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Faye has been working on Homophone for years.

“If I had known it was going to take this long,” she says, “I wouldn’t have told people it was going to be out soon.”

Faye is also working to relieve the jitters that come with performing live, rather than in front of a camera. A recent show at the Hollywood Palladium was a game changer.

“I typically am really shy and inhibited on stage. But I felt so much support and positive energy, I just let loose,” she remembers. “I think to an extent you just have to have fake confidence at first. I walked up and had a confident demeanor and once I heard crowd cheering, then I was confident.”

“It happens overnight,” Maria Vertkin says. “An immigrant moves to the U.S. and goes from being a surgeon to washing toilets.”

College degrees and professional experience from their home country don’t always mean as much as they should when an immigrant starts a new life abroad, says Vertkin. She knows from experience: She spent her childhood in Russia and Israel before immigrating to the United States. But she realized that they have one thing that will always be of use to them: their language skills.

“It doesn’t make sense if you have something as valuable as a second language to not use it,” says Vertkin, who speaks English, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Vertkin, a Boston-based social worker, wanted to help train women to use their multilingual skills to their advantage. She saw a need that they could fill in the medical field. Hospitals in Massachusetts struggled to find interpreters for their patients who aren’t native English speakers. Without interpreters, expensive and even potentially fatal medical errors are possible.

A Found in Translation graduate shows off her diploma.

“The jobs are plentiful and the demographics are shifting,” says Vertkin. “Not only do they serve the local population, but medical tourists come from other countries and they need interpreters.”

The idea was a hit with the judges of WeWork’s Nashville Creator Awards. Found in Translation took home a $72,000 prize in the nonprofit category.

In 2011, Vertkin started Found in Translation to help homeless and low-income women achieve economic security by making their language skills an asset, rather than a liability. Within a few weeks of announcing the first class, she had 200 applications.

The nonprofit offers medical interpreter certificate training as well as other interpreter programs. And the training includes more than the core curriculum — childcare, transportation, job placement, and access to mentors for professional development are also part of the program.

The 186 graduates of Found in Translation classes between 2012 and 2017 earned approximately $1.86 million cumulatively more per year than they did before enrollment. That’s about $10,000 more per person annually. She says that if she wins in the nonprofit category at the Nashville Creator Awards, she can expand the program.

Classes currently take place in Boston, where Vertkin estimates they could easily double in size with the right funding. Every city in the U.S., she says, has the potential for success with Found in Translation.

“There is opportunity and need and we are connecting them,” Vertkin says. “The biggest risk is for employers not hiring multilingual employees.”

If Janett Liriano has her way, you won’t be using your FitBit much longer.

Liriano is CEO of Loomia, a New York-based firm at the intersection of tech and fashion. The company creates “intelligent drapeable circuits” that are soft enough to be embedded into textiles and can be safely washed and dried. Instead of wearing a step tracker on your wrist, it could be embedded into your running shoes.

That’s just the beginning of what these circuits can do. Those shoes might not just track your steps, but can also measure the pressure on your feet, giving you information on how you should adjust your gait. They might heat up and keep your feet warm in winter. And a light might keep you safer on a nighttime jog.

Loomia’s CEO Janett Liriano and founder Maddy Maxey

Liriano has two patents for her product and others in the pipeline for the smart fabric-enabling circuits. Her team is working with more than 80 brands on how they can integrate the smart technology into their designs. The current emphasis is on clothing, but the flexibility of the circuit opens the door to other products in the future.

“We are category agnostic,” Liriano says. “If you can make a washable circuit, you can put it on the floor. You can put it in wallpaper.”

Liriano, who took home third place in the business ventures category at the Nashville Creator Awards, sees potential in fields ranging from medicine to transportation.

Not only can Loomia transform the ways smart devices are used, it can also change what happens to all that data once it is collected. The company is looking at ways that consumers can sell their data to interested parties — or choose not to share it.

Liriano, a “born-and-bred New Yorker,” thinks the city is the right place for the firm. It’s one of the country’s great fashion hubs, but it also has a strong startup scene.

New Yorkers are inherently scrappy and resourceful,” she says. “For a business that is not super capitalized, that’s a good network. We are hard-core hustlers.”