Article written by Charlie Schmidlin for The GRAWN.
Los Angeles, CA — Traditionally the band t-shirt represents a bridge between devoted fans—a symbol of community or a life-changing gig—but what if a piece of clothing could spark discussion across cultures of the latest up-and-coming artists?
“Hype for the hopefuls” rings the motto of Unraveled Artists—a curatorial blend of music and apparel that transports onto t-shirts the lyrics of independent musicians and artwork of talented designers. Currently based in DTLA, the goal of the Boston-bred effort is made clear: to raise awareness through fashion for dedicated artists competing in an increasingly crowded arena.
“We all like music a lot, and we like discovering and finding independent music,” says Unraveled Artists’ founder Farida Amar. “Not all of it is good but every once in a while someone really stands out and you wonder how everyone doesn’t know about this person. But then you get to know them, and you realize a lot of them don’t have websites or Facebook because they’re just focused on the music. That’s awesome, but it would be more awesome if they had help.”
Through the website unraveledartists.com, Farida and head curator Arjun Ray extensively feature a handpicked gallery of musicians; for each artist or band, like bluegrass band Damn Tall Buildings or San Francisco trip-pop singer Micropixie, they offer an in-depth interview, a Soundcloud track to sample their work, and most importantly—a t-shirt collaboration between the band and a designer. However, Farida stresses that the process is unlike your average PR-band relationship.
“We don’t treat the musicians like clients, and the designers don’t have to do what they say because the design [of the t-shirt] is just as important as the song. It’s interesting because a lot of these musicians are used to their friends making a flyer for a show and telling them what they want. They’re learning here that this is a partnership… and that they have to recognize the designer as another creator.”
Farida shows me one of the finished results: a design she created for hardcore punk band The Navidson Record, featuring a slim woman with the head of a ram as the words “I can hunt you in the warm night air” nestle around her. Another, a shirt designed by Theresa Vilsmeier for the artist Miriam Elhajli, reads, “I am but a silent watcher” in a prism of crystals on a light blue background.
Unraveled is the collective work of many people but the foundations of the company lie with Farida, who transported the idea over from Boston where it served to unify the local indie music scene. A graduate of Emerson College in Marketing Communications, Farida then received a Masters in Mass Communications elsewhere before landing an art director job at a prestigious ad agency in Europe. The job was ideal, she says, but the honeymoon was brief.
“[On] paper everything was great. But I was frustrated there, and I realized within a few years of working professionally that that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was not really about communication, which is what I’m passionate about.”
Farida returned to Boston in 2010 and opened SPACE, a studio named so for the “space to experiment, to discover, to fail, and to try again.” She remembers the time spent there as “what showed me that I could apply my skills in other ways… in installation artwork, industrial design, product design, branding for local communities, content creation and music exhibitions.”
During that period, she began to acquire the social and business tools to act up on “late-night, delirious conversations” that would soon become Unraveled. After a year of solo development, the key colleagues for the enterprise came quick: Abigail Phillips, who managed media and press; Meghan Fredrich, a New Yorker who developed Unraveled Artists’ social media strategy; and Arjun Ray, a musical curator whom Farida tasks with “probably the most involved job, and also the most important as far as not getting sick of hearing new things all the time.”
She may not be underestimating; on the popular marketing platform Sonic Bids, the Unraveled account receives up to 30-40 artist submissions a day and for the majority of the company’s existence it was just Arjun sorting through each one. However, with the new infrastructure of the company they’re able to task assistant curators, like Brooklyn-based Kaitlyn Hamilton, with preliminary selection rounds before songs hit Arjun’s ears. Farida explains that for every one artist you see up on the site, “there are two to three hundred other ones that we’re talking to in the meantime.”
The Unraveled team isn’t shy about devoting time to essential causes either. When the Boston Marathon bombings occurred in April of this year—placing the entire city on lockdown—Farida and her collaborators resolved to filter their restlessness into something useful. The result, a free online mixtape of local artists for those stuck indoors, turned into production of a “#bostonstrong” shirt for purchase, with 100% of the profits going to The One Fund Boston charity.
“When we did the Unraveled Launch party in May 2013, we had a representative from the Mayor’s office come and speak about the One Fund and we also took donations and sold shirts,” Farida recounts. “I think the music gave people permission to feel better, and still continuing with our launch in the midst of all that said, ‘It’s okay to not be miserable right now, but you can still be responsible and work with community during it.’ “
Farida has many plans for building a new home in DTLA, including a launch party, possible arrangements during Art Walk, and live gigs using their growing roster of musicians. “We’re a multimedia organization, and we have a lot of different aspects,” she explains. “There’s the music and designs, but it’s not just the shirts. It’s also about live performance and building the community so you have a place to go and see and experience the coming together of sounds and visuals.”
Since moving to LA, they’ve also picked up some new faces as well— I’Von Lakey who handles PR and Andrew Bordeos, new assistant curator—and together, they’re hoping to bring a wealth of creativity from such a simple fashion item.
“[That’s] what I like about t-shirts–they’re democratic,” Farida says. “It’s probably the most common denominator when it comes to fashion. So it becomes a canvas for the voice of the designer and the artist and the fact that someone would then wear it shows more commitment to something than just tweeting about it. As someone who studied communications, theory and media, spreading that word of mouth through a tangible object is so exciting to me. I like seeing this work.”
Visit unraveledartists.com for more information, including how to submit work for consideration.