Sha’mira Covington

Sha’mira Covington

Textiles, Merchandising and Interiors

Doctoral candidate in TMI researches the intersection of fashion/dress and cultural studies.

Can you give an overview of your research and how you came to be interested in it?

My research resides at the intersection of fashion/dress and cultural studies. I’m really interested in the interaction between how we dress and adorn our bodies and our mental, spiritual, and political positions. I specifically research how dress can be a conduit for anti-colonial resistance and other social justice movements. My dissertation research is archival and focuses on how Black women have used dress as a means for liberation, but my work touches on several fashion industry problems such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, sustainability, and accessibility. I came to be interested in this area while I was working in the fashion industry. I worked in the retail sector for ten years and I saw, firsthand, a lot of exploitation, disregard, and appropriation of marginalized groups. Even as a consumer, I was wholly dissatisfied with what I was seeing in marketing, advertising, and corporate social responsibility agendas. After a stint in PR while completing my master’s degree, I realized that my passion is in researching how the medium of fashion has historically served to enact change within ourselves and others. I became even more interested in my research when I realized that I could use it to educate future fashion professionals to envision and build our discipline, industry, and society into a fairer and more equitable future.  

You’ve noted that your favorite parts of fashion and dress are the stories associated with them. What are some of those stories that most resonate with you?

Although I’m not a fashion historian, I love that dress tells a history. Research-wise, my favorite story is about denim in Black American history. During slavery, slave owners bought denim (and other rough cottons) for their enslaved laborers, because the material was sturdy. Later Black youth activists wore denim, overalls for example, as an equalizer between the sexes and an identifier between social classes, in response to the very dressed up faction of the civil rights movement. In the 70s, denim continued to be a marker of youth and a revolutionary ideology. In the 80s and 90s, denim became associated with rap and hip-hop; loose and baggy denim was all the rage. If you think about it, denim’s position in fashion today is the legacy of those stories from Black history. A personal example, when my grandmother passed away, I inherited many of her clothes and they all tell a story from her life. I have pictures of her wearing dress items that I now have, and I love imagining why and how she might have worn something. Stories about clothes is a reason that I love to thrift shop. Worn and pre-loved dress items always have a story behind them and sometimes that story is really interesting and directly related to historical markers.  

Tell us more about the “Knowing cotton otherwise” exhibition. How did you come to be involved in it and what has the experience been like?

The “Knowing Cotton Otherwise” exhibition is at the Fashion for Good Museum in Amsterdam, which is an interactive sustainable fashion museum. The exhibition highlights the relationship between cotton and the fashion industry, specifically different stories about cotton and fashion. I study and map the inception of the fashion industry to slavery, so I came to be involved with the exhibition through that research. Based on that particular research stream, I was invited to create an installation that connects and intersects with different themes relating to the story of cotton and its impact on people and the planet. My installation, entitled “Curative: Confronting and healing the fashion-industrial complex” uses various archival materials to highlight cotton stories and cultural sustainability. Curating the archival objects was, purposefully, a collective endeavor. Thanks to Dr. Monica Skar, I was able to borrow historic clothing pieces from our Historic Clothing and Textile Collection (HCTC)Thanks to friends in TMI, Beth Weigle, Daisy Little and Sara Idacavage who lent me objects and helped me historicize others, and Kristian Hogans whose scholarship inspired my approach, I was able to tell the story of cotton use in fashion with emphasize on its cultural relevance to the Black diaspora and other diasporic groups. The goal of the installation was to acknowledge and confront the violent history of cotton, but also offer an alternative insight that centered the uses of cotton in cultural sustainability.  

The experience was eye-opening and challenging. I learned a lot about international perspectives and was able to connect and collaborate with other scholars and artists who work on intersecting topics. Balancing the narrative that I wanted to tell with the narrative of the museum was also a challenging but fun task. I’ve really enjoyed presenting my work in a way other than writing, so I hope to be involved in more creative scholarship like the “Knowing Cotton Otherwise” exhibition.   

Can you share some highlights of your time in the FACS Ph.D. program?

As evidenced by the support of TMI around my Fashion for Good installation, a major highlight of my time in FACS has been the encouragement and championing of each other’s work and lives. My Ph.D. cohort, in the international merchandising emphasis, is unmatched! We make it a point to be in community with each other which has made my Ph.D. experience more nourishing and worthwhile. I’ve also really enjoyed teaching while in the program. I had the joy of teaching FACS 2000 for two semesters and thanks to my dissertation advisor, Dr. Katalin Medvedev, I was able to teach TXMI 4230 a few times. Being able to teach and learn from undergraduate students, as a graduate student is an experience that I am so grateful for! It’s probably been my favorite part of the Ph.D., putting my research and pedagogy into practice. Collaborating with other Ph.D. students and professors in FACS, and the freedom to find collaborators outside of our college has also been a highlight. It has truly made my time here a diverse, interdisciplinary, and exciting experience.

What are your goals after completing your degree at FACS?

I love teaching and research, so career-wise, academia is the goal. I have so many more research queries and would love to continue them in a university setting! 


When I’m not conducting research, I’m reading. I just love books. I’m also a yogi and dancer which not only allows me some reprieve from my academic work, but also enriches it. 

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