Exploring Missing History Through Fashion

UNT alum combines passion for fashion design and multicultural studies to create dream job
Written by: 
Brittney Dear
Karen Bravo
Karen Bravo ('97)

Karen Bravo ('97) has landed her dream job at Pioneer Farms, a living history museum based in Austin, as a volunteer costume interpreter, where she leads school tours as an 1850s pioneer school teacher. Surprisingly, working at museums wasn't Bravo's original idea.

Since she was young, Bravo loved fashion and all of the colors and textures clothing presented.

"I was really creative as a child," Bravo says. "I always was drawing. And when I got to choose clothes, I would think about the color and the way it felt, and I would cut up little scraps of fabrics for dolls. I really just enjoyed the whole process of fashion."

After earning her bachelor's degree from UNT, Bravo worked as a freelance designer with her own studio in uptown Dallas, designing everything from bridesmaids dresses to uniforms for companies to soccer jerseys.

Shortly after, people began asking Bravo to teach fashion classes. In 2005, she decided to go to graduate school at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts London for her master's in design for textile futures. As one of the top design schools in the nation, Bravo was quite intimidated upon arrival, surrounded by fellow talented artists.

But the experience was beneficial for her in many ways.

"In London, I learned about how to have fun with fashion and how it can be a tool to share your unique personality. I saw amazing original street style of people mixing thrifted items and designer clothing with pride," Bravo says. "I really embraced my own sense of style living there and no longer feel pressure to follow any 'fashion rules.' My course work changed me as an artist and as a person."

After London, she went on to teach fashion design at the University of Texas at Austin for seven years. While there, Bravo began to question issues regarding body image, gender, sexuality and race in the fashion industry. She was especially curious as to why these topics were hardly addressed in the field, and she wanted that to change. She went on to earn a master's in multicultural women and gender studies from Texas Woman's University in 2020 and then met Laura Evans, coordinator of UNT's Art Museum Education certificate.

Karen Bravo
Karen Bravo is guiding students through the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, TX. The students are writing on clipboards while observing historic artifacts through panes of glass.

"I told Evans about my wild and wacky connection; I have a fashion background, but I have a passion about looking at fashion history differently. I have these ideas about what the future of fashion could look like," Bravo says. "Evans is a very creative thinker, and so she was like, 'I hear you. There's this place for you.' And the Art Museum Education Certificate is just what I needed; it was the missing piece."

Following the Art Museum Education certificate, Bravo landed a summer internship at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, her dream place to work.

"I created a lesson plan for teachers called Woman of Color Pioneers, centering it around denim jeans," Bravo says. "I would talk to the kids about jeans, and then all of a sudden I'm talking about Clara Brown, a former slave, who started her own dry cleaning business."

Now teaching fashion classes at the Art Institute of Austin as an adjunct professor, Bravo is eagerly awaiting the opening of the Tejano Farms, one of the Pioneer Farms, which studies the lives of Mexican Americans from the 1800s and brings to light missing histories. Tejano Farms is set to open within a year. She says you have to work hard to achieve your dreams.

"Stick to your guns, keep trying, don't take no for an answer, and even if you do get a 'no,' you can just respectfully say 'thank you for your consideration,'" she says. "If you would have asked me how to achieve my dreams two years ago, I would have said, 'Well, I'm not sure,' but now, I guess I'm actually doing it."'

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