Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Welcome to Creativists In Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.
Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.
Elizabeth: And our guest today is the podcast’s wonderful social media manager, Erinn Dumas, who, through her company Dumas83, ably guides us digital immigrants through the mysterious waters of social media. So, Erinn is a branding and marketing professional extraordinaire with 18 years of experience in brand strategy, integrated marketing, campaign development and management, event planning, social media marketing, and more. Welcome, Erinn.
Erinn: Thank you so much for having me.
Michael: Alright, so now as Elizabeth mentioned, in addition to your other professional work, your company, Dumas83, is the social media manager for Creativists In Dialogue. You know the podcast [00:01:00] better than most of our guests.
Erinn: Yes. I was about to say that.
Michael: Right. Alright, and Elizabeth mentioned your many professional accomplishments, but in what aspects of your life do you see creativity having the greatest impact?
Erinn: Oh my gosh, I love creativity. It is, it surrounds me. It encompasses me. It’s really, it’s within my style, it’s part of my personality. Turquoise is my favorite color—
Erinn: —and I’m wearing my teardrop turquoise ring set in silver, which I just adore.
Erinn: So it’s really, so it allows me to be free for—my hair is currently pink, but it goes back—
Elizabeth: Yes, it’s lovely.
Erinn: Thank you!
Elizabeth: It’s gorgeous.
Erinn: Thank you. But it goes back and forth between red and pink. It’s within my clothing, which I tend to lean a little sportier. And then, yeah, I just, my house is full of color. So like, when you come in, it just, it envelops you.
Michael: So it sounds like the creativity is a part of just your, the world of design, your [00:02:00] personal sort of design, the color, the shapes, et cetera.
Erinn: Yes. It’s everywhere. I can’t, I think it was jonetta rose barras who talked about how creativity was everywhere and—
Elizabeth: Right, right.
Erinn: And I live that.
Erinn: So I, I understand that with her.
Elizabeth: As you know, Erinn, sometimes we ask people to describe your own view of creativity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about creativity as expanding or furthering a field of expertise like chess or social media management or dance or something. And others talk about creativity as a means of problem solving. So how would you describe your view of creativity? Is it either of those things or something else completely?
Erinn: As I was preparing for this interview, I definitely do agree that creativity is within problem solving, but I also closely align my view with Elizabeth Gilbert.
Erinn: And so, she wrote Eat, Pray Love, but also, she wrote a book called Big Magic. And in that she talks about how everyone is creative in their own way. And so, whether you’re a writer [00:03:00] or you’re a theater person, like you all, or you’re sewing, there’s creativity everywhere. I believe that within my spirit.
Michael: And is the “big magic” in her book, is that sort of the creative impulse, or—?
Erinn: Yeah, it is. And so that’s the premise of that book. And so, when I read it, I was like, the light bulb went off. I was like, “Oh my God, this is brilliant!” Because for so long I thought that I wasn’t a creative person. And then when I read it, I was like, oh, creativity really is all around us, whether you like to paint or you’re a gardener.
Erinn: There’s creativity everywhere.
Elizabeth: Yeah. I’m surprised that you ever thought you were not a creative. Creativity is just, like, emanating outta your very being.
Erinn: Thank you.
Michael: So, picking up on that notion. We like our guests to explore their earliest experiences of creativity, either as a practitioner or as something you might have witnessed. Could you share some of your earliest creative experiences?
Erinn: Of [00:04:00] course. Elizabeth, like you said, it’s crazy that I thought that I wasn’t creative because growing up my mother always bought me like a paint set or a coloring set. And now with the phones you can do like the paint by number, but, on the apps, but I actually had that as a tangible book. And so, my earliest memories really are going through those painting sets and just coloring. And when I was a little girl, this was like my first memory of fashion. I remember I had a coloring book and a girl, the girl had a, it was a panel skirt. And so, I alternated the colors of the skirt between pink and green. And that was like my first memory of just doing something that was off the beaten path, so to speak. But it was fun, and I loved it.
Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah. Oh, I love that. I love—just for our audience who’s not fashion savvy, tell us what a panel skirt is.
Erinn: So a panel skirt basically is a skirt where you have different color blocks, and so typically [00:05:00] it’s triangle panels. And so, I just colored each essentially triangle a different color.
Elizabeth: Different color. Okay. So there’s layers. Layers and layers, yeah. Yeah.
Michael: And then following up on that, the joy, the energy, that you gained from the creative acts, can you maybe remember or talk about one of those early experiences of creativity where you really felt empowered by creativity? Where you’ve really felt sort of a sense of, “This is a powerful feeling,” in terms of who you are or what you can do?
Erinn: So, you wanna go there, Michael? Wow.
So, when I was in high school, I remember—so my mom wasn’t really big into fashion. She just took care of the basic needs. So, we had a roof over our head. We took our annual trips, and so, it was those necessities, but she wasn’t big into fashion. And so, I remember I had bought these stretch jeans and they were too big, so I took out the inseam [00:06:00] of them, and this is before I had a sewing machine by the way—
Elizabeth: Oh, okay.
Erinn: So I’m doing this all by hand. So, I took this inseam out and then I tightened them on the inseam. And so, while they weren’t perfect, I felt empowered because I took something and I made it work for me.
Elizabeth: Oh, that’s great. That’s a great story. And how old were you?
Erinn: Maybe in 10th or 11th grade.
Elizabeth: Okay, okay. So you got your nice form fitting jeans out of some, it was kind of baggy before?
Erinn: They were really baggy. I would’ve been called a bama, which is a DC term.
Michael: And, and speaking to someone—I am just simply, I’m not fashion conscious at all. But I definitely have had students in my life where they’ve talked about fashion, and they’ve talked about it as artistic expression. When you were wearing that outfit, was there a certain feeling that you had or did it, was it transformative in some way or—?
Erinn: So, not that outfit particularly, but I did feel empowered. But there was another, there were another pair of jeans. This was about 12th grade year. And, [00:07:00] I think this was probably around the time that I started realizing that I like bright colors because—and I say that because I took a pair of jeans, I, again, took out the inseam, but I never put a panel on the front or the back parts of of it. And I wore essentially as a skirt. And then I had neon tights underneath it.
Elizabeth: Oh, okay.
Erinn: So it was in that moment that I felt the energy and I felt empowered. Because this was me expressing myself as, what, a 17-year-old in Washington, DC. And I wasn’t one of those kids that was part of the popular kids, but I knew everybody.
Elizabeth: Okay, okay.
Erinn: And so, this was just a moment for Erinn to be Erinn and to express herself.
Elizabeth: Wow. And then you had a brand and a look and stuff—for our non-seamstress audience members. The inseam is the inside seam of a pair of jeans. It runs along the inside of the pants themselves.
Erinn: Correct. And starts with—exactly. And it starts with the crotch area and go, like you said, it goes either up or down, up, depending [00:08:00] upon the way you’re looking at them.
Elizabeth: So that little sewing tip, if you want to tighten a pair of jeans, do it through the inseam.
Erinn: Yes. Or it could be—there’s multiple ways. So if the crotch is big, you, you tighten the crotch. But you can also do the, the outer seam as well.
Michael: Alright, so, sticking with fashion and sticking with this early love of the creative power of fashion, did you have certain mentors or certain styles that you, that influenced you, that gave you inspiration? Sometimes I go on, what, Pinterest, is that the site? And they’re always talking about inspiration and there’s all these images and stuff. Did you have an early mentor? In terms of your creativity?
Erinn: So you mentioned two points. So, I didn’t have—a lot of my inspiration just came was innate, but I did have style stars like Gwen Stefani, who I just love and adore. And in the, that would’ve been, like, the late nineties. And so, there was a lot of rock music and I really leaned into that and I loved a [00:09:00] lot of the rock music. And so, I loved Gwen Stefani because, at that time, she just really expressed herself and she embraced who she was. And at that time, I was a little insecure and I hadn’t figured out who I really was. And so I looked more towards her as a style star.
My mentors—I was like, what was the other part of the question?—but my mentors didn’t really come until I was older. And so, my aunt, she knew how to sell and so she—actually, let me back up. So, in 2013, my best friend got married. And that was also the same year that I lost my job. And I wanted to redo, re-envision my bridesmaid’s dress for my best friend’s wedding. And so my aunt helped me. And she was like, oh yeah. She showed me how to undo the seams and how to put this gold band around the top of the skirt and then how to put in the zipper in the back.
Elizabeth: Oh, okay.
Erinn: And so she was really a mentor for [00:10:00] me in those earlier parts of sewing. And then as I’ve grown up, as I really first launched e.Laniese, which is my clothing line, well it was my clothing line, but I had a friend’s mother who was teaching me different sewing techniques, and that was really helpful. And then now as I’ve re-envisioned e.Laniese as an online boutique our dear friend, Shayna Veazie, has become—
Elizabeth: Amazing woman herself.
Erinn: Yes. Go DCPS.
Erinn: But she really helped me and so she’s been a guide for me as I’ve transitioned it into this way.
I know we’ve been talking a lot about fashion, but also within the writing part, I had mentors there. Because, also in high school, I learned that I was a really good writer. And I just it was something that I never thought of, never envisioned, but when I was in high school, I worked at the National Library of Medicine and I worked in the Office of Communications and Public Liaisons.
Erinn: And so I was surrounded by writers.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Erinn: And being around them, I [00:11:00] just really picked up strong writing skills through osmosis, because these were very eloquent speakers and they had been writing their entire careers. And I’m like, “Oh my God, this is so cool.” Because I unlocked a part of myself that I didn’t know existed.
Elizabeth: Speaking of writing as a young adult you earned a BS, a Bachelor of Science and Marketing from Virginia State University and an MPS or a Master’s of Professional Studies with a specialization in PR and corporate communications from Georgetown University—
Elizabeth: —here in DC. And your master’s degree was an interdisciplinary course of study. So, can you speak some more about the different content areas you studied and the creative interweaving of these various fields of study with your, sort of, fashion sense and sense of style and your writing skills and your incredible communication skills?
Elizabeth: Talk to us about that.
Erinn: In undergrad, advertising was the class that I just loved because to me that was the creative expression [00:12:00] of marketing. So, let’s back up a second. So, when I studied, I chose marketing as my field because I thought it was the business side of fashion. So, oddly enough, fashion was always there in the background. But advertising was one of those classes, and it was just like, you, you had to come up with this creative messaging. It could be short, impactful, punchy statements that you can make, and you didn’t have to have this long-winded response, it could just be short and to the point.
Elizabeth: Oh, right. Yeah.
Erinn: And then within grad school, the two classes were global communications and my integrated marketing communications course. And I liked those courses because they really pushed and challenged me as a student and as a marketer. So, in our global comms class, we had to, each week we had to do like a marketing plan or a marketing pitch on different countries. You never really got your foot settled, set in one country and how to market within that [00:13:00] area. So you were always thinking. And you had to do these course discussions, so it really made me think through all the problems and solutions that there were. And then in the integrated marketing communications class, that’s where I learned how to develop marketing strategy. And I remember one—I think Shakirah actually took this class as well—but there was this one, the teacher gave us different products and he said, just based upon the packaging of these products, what does it tell you? And so going through that type of practice was very insightful because a lot of things are visual. Like I, I learned through that project that Ghirardelli chocolate is made in California. I thought it was Swiss chocolate.
Elizabeth: Oh, okay.
Erinn: Because they promoted as such a great high-quality chocolate.
Elizabeth: European, yeah.
Erinn: Yeah, and it looks—Ghirardelli, you think it’s a, you think it’s a European name. So those were two of those, those were the three classes that really impacted me.
Elizabeth: So what were some of these countries that your coursework required you to [00:14:00] think as a marketer for?
Erinn: So the first one was South Africa. And I remember it was right before World Cup was gonna be there, so—
Elizabeth: Is this pre- or post-apartheid South Africa?
Erinn: So this is in, so I took this, I took, I went to grad school in 2009.
Elizabeth: Oh, okay.
Elizabeth: Rewind the video.
Erinn: We did Jordan. And there was a—
Elizabeth: Okay. Oh, interesting.
Erinn: Yeah. And Jordan actually has a water issue and, and being part of that project—I think our team won too, ‘cause we were broken up into different of teams of three—but that made me want to go visit Jordan because I did all this research and learned about Queen, Queen Rania and—
Elizabeth: Right, right.
Erinn: Yeah. And then another country—our last, the last week of the class was, was in London.
Elizabeth: Okay. Okay.
Erinn: So we had these different projects. I don’t think we did anything that was US-based. They were all—
Elizabeth: Okay. They were very different cultures.
Erinn: Very different, yeah. Yeah.
Elizabeth: Oh, that’s very cool.
Erinn: It was fun. I loved that class. [00:15:00]
Michael: Going back to this interdisciplinary work, which I particularly love, being a theater artist, the interdisciplinary nature of theater where you’ve got your visual communication, it’s musical communication, it’s linguistic communication. And then there are this, all these other systems of communication. And so really it is this larger composition. So, the creative act is composing these different medium. So can you talk a bit about the interdisciplinary, sort of, approach and how that has influenced you professionally?
Erinn: So, with marketing, we have our layers too. So we have our marketing channels. Ao that would be the social media or it could be print. So it’s influenced me because it’s made me the best that I can be and it’s really given me this holistic view of marketing and what that looks like and what that means. And so, that was really [00:16:00] why I actually studied and went and got my master’s in PR and corporate communications. But in marketing they always talk about how marketing can be expensive. But there’s this free version of it, the PR side. And so I was like if there’s this free version, what is it? And that’s why I really studied it because I wanted to be, I wanted to be an expert in it. And so it’s really helped me to get there and be that person.
Elizabeth: Speaking of being an expert, you are also an entrepreneur. You’re a woman, young woman entrepreneur, and on your website at dumas83.com, your company offers marketing strategy and branding and content creation and digital strategy, et cetera. So, can you comment on the creativity and the creative decision making that’s required to launch your own business? This is a big deal.
Erinn: It is. So, when launching a business, there’s several things that one has to consider. And you have to first [00:17:00] understand what kind of business you want to create because it’s probably not the first of that business. There’s probably several other different players within that market. One also has to identify what their competitive advantage is gonna be. Because, again, for instance, with marketing, there’s hundreds of marketing agencies out here that people can go to. But what makes Dumas83 any different? And so—
Elizabeth: Sure, okay.
Erinn: —the people have to consider that because that’s gonna be part of the messaging that you have to use to stand apart from the crowd and stand out in the noise.
And then the other thing is what need your, is your business going to fulfill in the market? Because if it doesn’t meet a need of the consumer, then why have it? So you have to always be thinking about those things when creating a business. And then of course, you have to figure out how you’re gonna get clients and where are they gonna come from.
Elizabeth: Right. Right, yeah.
Erinn: And it, you have to be creative in that because you have to [00:18:00] be able to discern whether or not someone’s gonna be a good fit for you. And it has to go both ways.
Michael: When we started the Sanctuary Theater in the eighties, similar concerns. A theater has its own vision, what makes it different from all the other theaters? But it was all local. In today’s world, a company like yours is dealing, I would assume, globally, with the online, the expanse of online companies. So when you’re doing your research about trying to brand yourself or define yourself uniquely, what is that process like?
Erinn: So, I feel like I’m a bit of an anomaly. Because I just go based upon my feelings. And so, for some people there might be a very specific science, but when you brand yourself, you have to think of yourself and your business is, what message do you wanna put out there into the world? And everything that you decide has to meet that message. When you hear of these crisis communications incidents where there’s some [00:19:00] sex scandal or something like that, now they’re, that’s going against the brand. Because the brand may be X, but you’re showing Y.
And so, with the branding piece, you have to think of, like, the colors and there’s so many different creative elements and you have to think of the graphics that you want to use to share that message because a lot of people are visual learners, so they’re gonna look at your colors and then they’re gonna look at those graphics that are associated with it. So those are just some of those things that you have to really consider. And the messaging is the key, is the highest consideration because that’s what you’re standing by. That’s what you’re saying this is what Creativists in Dialogue is, this is what Dumas83 is, this is what e.Laniese is. And so everything you do just has to support that.
Elizabeth: Let me ask you, some of us don’t know the marketing advertising world very well and we learned a lot from the long form TV show Mad Men, which I’m sure you’ve seen.
Erinn: Oh, it’s funny, I have never seen it.
Michael: Oh, it’s definitely worth watching. Just to see the—
Elizabeth: Fantastic, fantastic [00:20:00] piece of television. It’s brilliantly produced, incredible visuals. But one of the things that it reveals just in excruciating detail, is the incredible sexism that laced through the advertising world, the, that whole marketing, Madison Fifth Avenue, it was just—anyway, it’s fascinating television, but it was painful to watch.
So, let me ask you, as a woman entrepreneur—fortunately we’ve moved, I hope, knock on wood, we’ve moved forward from the really sexist days of Mad Men—but do you think being a woman entrepreneur has a unique creative challenging path? Talk to us about that.
Erinn: Yes. Because, sadly, there is that sexism. Still does persist. And as a Black woman entrepreneur, I have to prove myself, I feel like I have to prove myself a lot more than my white counterparts. And so, those things are still here, sadly, in 2023. But being an entrepreneur within [00:21:00] itself presents its own challenges. And like I said, you have to think of how you’re gonna acquire clients and you have to adjust, sometimes you have to adjust your offerings according to what you’re seeing. So, for instance, with Dumas83, originally, I was offering public relations services, but it’s a lot of work. And I’ve realized I don’t wanna do that. It’s not my thing.
Michael: That’s a good choice not to go then.
Erinn: ‘Cause these people just don’t respond. It’s, what the hell with this? I don’t wanna be bothered. But you’re always thinking within as an entrepreneur and you’re also, as you’re working with your clients, you’re always, you’re trying different things to see what resonates with their target audience. And for instance, with one of my clients, she has her own online boutique. And I was telling her like, “Oh, you should do this and this.” But those three things didn’t work for her.
Erinn: And I’m like, this is weird ‘cause it worked for me. I have proven experience that this has worked. And so you have to be creative in your [00:22:00] approach to the target audience that you’re trying to reach.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Yeah.
Michael: You work with these various platforms, these sort of AI platforms. What are some of them?
Erinn: Jasper, Canva, HubSpot.
Michael: Right. And in my limited knowledge of those things, they’re various templates, they’re various sort of design schemes, et cetera. How do you negotiate the relationship between the templates and then the creative impulse? How does that work when you’re working with something that is so in some sense, regimented? When you’re trying to be creative in that, using that stuff?
Erinn: So technology actually has been, to me, very helpful. And so, with Canva, they have all the templates that you can use, and I love them because it makes it easy. I’m not a graphic designer, but I’m a Canva designer. It’s like people say, “Oh, you’re a graphic designer.” No. I’m a Canva designer. I am not a graphic designer.
But, but things like Jasper AI—and we’ve all heard the news [00:23:00] about all these AI tools coming out, Chat GPT—but, with Jasper, you can give them a prompt and say, write me social media content about this, and it will spit out all these, this different content and you get to tweak it. So it, as a marketer, it makes my job easier because now I’m not trying to think of what to say, how to say it, the computer does it for me.
And then, on a fashion, on the fashion side, you can, they have now, you can do sketching, like, on a tablet. And then as you can also do patterns, you can create patterns. And I actually took a pattern making class, so I know how to make clothes patterns, but that is a laborious task.
Elizabeth: Right. Right.
Erinn: It takes so much time because you’re measurements have to be precise and then you’re actually measuring it out on, like, graph paper, but for clothing. So, it’s like a really long roll of paper. So, technology has really helped.
Michael: So I’ve had numerous conversations [00:24:00] with people this, about this AI phenomenon that’s coming. And so, I remember Elizabeth shared with me this one post by this book publisher. And he said, with this Chat stuff, I don’t have any more work to do. But obviously, and then this other fella I talked to and share and have discussions with, he says, no, then you have to implement all these things that are being—so, since using something like Jasper where are you putting most of your creative energy? Since it’s doing all the laborious stuff for you.
Erinn: So then the energy goes into creating the graphics. So, ‘cause I can easily tweak a word or two, as it’s developing, like, social media for me. But then I’m like, okay, so what, how do I want this to be represented visually? So then I’m thinking through that process. So it, the, like you said, the time shifts from thinking through the content to the graphics. So it frees up your time.
And I think it’s, I actually had a friend who she was the person that told me about [00:25:00] Jasper, and she was like, I’m a content creator, what is this gonna do for me? And I was like, but, your skills are so unique. So people still need to come to you and pay you top dollar. But for people like me, who has five clients, it frees up my time. And it makes it—and this is on top of having a full-time job and launching my online boutique and—
Erinn: —being a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, all these things. So, it, it makes my time more efficient.
Michael: So let’s talk a little bit about your work with clients. ‘Cause I would assume, my, my brother’s an architect.
Erinn: Oh wow.
Michael: He’s retired now, but he is, he’s an architect. But working with the client is the most frustrating, it’s the most, there’s a lot of, you’re they’re constantly asking all these questions or challenging—so, how does creativity feed into this relationship with the client and satisfying their needs and their desires?
Erinn: It is a very, it’s a fine line. Because, as an expert, I know what I know and I know it from [00:26:00] experience. So what I recommend is not arbitrary and it’s not all willy-nilly. And so, sometimes you have to be creative in, you have to be creative in delivering the information, but then also being open to receive whatever their feedback is. And sometimes, like, I had a client where I would tell her things and she’s like, “Oh, we should do—” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, no, that’s not how this works. And sometimes I would push back. And sometimes I would let her do it her way and then say, “I think we should do it this way.” And just do it on the back end. Because each client is very different and everybody has their own personalities, and so you have to be creative in delivering the message. Because I know sometimes I can come off—and you all haven’t experienced this with me—but sometimes I know I can come off harsh until I have to take a second, and just breathe and then come back and present the information in a certain way. [00:27:00]
Elizabeth: Yeah. There’s a lot of diplomacy I would imagine.
Erinn: There you go. That’s the word. Yes.
Elizabeth: Let me ask a follow up question to that because, as you mentioned, you’re a marketing and communications professional and you work with clients on multiple levels on branding and strategy, et cetera. On this branding thing, I was once a part of a rebranding design team, which was fascinating. It was so fascinating, about how image and color and text and symbol can telegraph a complex organizational or personal identity. So, talk to us about the creative process of strategic branding. I think most of our listeners will understand what a brand is. That it’s a look and a feel and a message. But how does your creative toolkit change as social norms, for example, change and language changes. So can you talk to us a little bit about that branding process?
Erinn: Sure. So, when it comes to strategic branding, it always has to hit a goal. And so, one of the [00:28:00] things that I do is I just try to understand what the overall goal is and then I work from there. Because I’m a firm believer, if you, is it, if you plan to fail, you—no, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Elizabeth: Oh, right, to fail. Yes.
Erinn: And so, everything has to align to whatever the business goal is. And so, then you look at what colors resonate. And so, let’s take you all, for example, when we were meeting and we were talking about colors, you all, it started with the muted yellow. And so then, but then meeting you all and working with you all, I’m like you all are very dynamic people. And this Creativists in Dialogue is an extension of the two of you and you’re in theater. So I’m like, what colors? And so then we landed on this color palette that we use throughout the weeks as we’re posting. And then we’re using the imagery and, as we’re listening to each the different podcasts and I forget who I [00:29:00] think it was Bea who talked about the, the vertical agriculture industry, like the—
Elizabeth: Bea, yes, talked about the agricultural—in the Netherlands, yeah.
Erinn: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And so then, the imagery was, we’re doing a vertical what do you call it? Like the vertical, the image of the vertical food. Yeah.
Michael: The vertical—
Elizabeth: Hydro, whatever—
Michael: Vertical farming.
Elizabeth: Vertical farming.
Erinn: Vertical farming. Thank you. Yes. Then we did that. But with the branding, it’s all about having that consistent message and sometimes you have more than one message. So, it could, you could have two or three, but everything tying to that messaging and that imagery. And so just playing just playing around with that has been fun because, when we first started it was dark and it was a little flat with the images. So sorry, guys. But then we landed on something that worked for us and something that I felt spoke as to who you all are. And the project and what this project represents for you.
Michael: I, I have taught business writing in Maryland for a number of years.
Elizabeth: University of Maryland.
Michael: University of [00:30:00] Maryland, before I retired. But the whole, the audience—
Michael: Where you’re shaping the branding, when you’re branding something, you’re shaping it for a particular audience. And that audience is, I always think of audience as an evolving thing. How does the audience and how they’re understanding the company, the product, et cetera, how does that play into the branding process?
Erinn: It comes into play with the messaging more. You all are retired, you all are retired theater people. And so, I would speak to you all differently, or you all have, may have certain needs that, that matter more to you than me, who is a older millennial, that’s still working. So, the messaging’s gonna be different, but then—and also the visuals too. Because let’s, we’re in your beautiful home, you all may have more home projects than I do.
Erinn: And so, if I were, like, Home Depot, I may say, oh, I may talk about some discount for let’s say washer and dryer, [00:31:00] but for me it might be, I need landscaping or it could—so you just, you understand what your, what their needs are and you speak to that. Is the best way to sum it up.
Elizabeth: Yeah. We’re boomers—”okay boomer”—
Erinn: Which, I hate that phrase by the way. It drives me crazy, but—
Elizabeth: Yeah, but I think we’re pretty hip boomers, but what do I know?
Erinn: You are.
Elizabeth: Our visuals are not gonna be graffiti art, no?
Erinn: Right. Exactly.
Elizabeth: Because that’s just, that would be a false persona ‘cause we’re, I think we’re pretty hip people and we’re pretty bohemian in many ways, but we’re not, we’re not urban beat folks—
Elizabeth: Per se.
Michael: And the first time I saw I think it was a joyful, it was one of the emojis on the post. I would—an emoji? I would never have thought of an emoji. I’m going, is, that’s, but I, now I’ve even thought, maybe I should add an emoji to this email. Anyway, but that’s a choice, I guess, depending on the audience.
Michael: Because most, quote, most “boomers” wouldn’t be—
Elizabeth: Using emojis.
Michael: Using emojis.
Elizabeth: But we, we’re [00:32:00] trying,
Michael: It means something different to an older person probably than it would to a younger person.
Erinn: And with the younger generations emojis are very common. But then also, it lets you know that whatever that entity is, they’re not super serious. We’re—
Elizabeth: It’s a playful quality.
Erinn: Yeah, exactly. And we’re in DC and the government’s here, so there’s that level of conservatism—
Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah. That is true.
Erinn: —here. That’s true. But, we’re artists. So, let’s have fun.
Elizabeth: Let’s have fun.
Elizabeth: Speaking of DC, I wanna rewind the videotape a little bit, a bunch of years—
Erinn: [mimicking the sound of a rewinding tape:] Woah, woah, woah.
Elizabeth: I used to do that with my three- to five-year-olds. Yeah. “That didn’t go well. Let’s start over [mimics rewind sound].”
But anyway, you, like our daughter graduated from Deal Junior High. And both our daughter and our son, you graduated from what was then called Wilson High School in the DC public school system. Wilson is now named Jackson-Reed High School, honoring both Edna B. Jackson, who was the school’s first Black teacher and beloved educator and then Vincent Reed, who was the school’s first Black [00:33:00] principal. So, it is now Jackson-Reed High School. But both the junior and senior high schools are really large institutions within the DC public school system, and they have extremely diverse student bodies from across the city, especially 15 plus years ago.
Elizabeth: You were there and our children were there. So, do you think attending public school or these particular schools in DC influenced your creative imagination or your career trajectory or your social orbit? Just talk to us about what that kind of DCPS thing did for you.
Erinn: I love DCPS. It was probably one of the best experiences for me, just because, like you said, Deal and Wilson are very, were, at least at that time, were very diverse student bodies. And so, you had people from, that were Chinese, you had Indians, you had Whites, you had Blacks, you had Hispanics. And so, you really got to see a small glimpse, I guess you could say, of the world of what the world really looks like. And [00:34:00] I have really, I’ve been fortunate and have met some incredible people that went to school with me, and we circled back in life as adults. And so, as we mentioned, Shayna Veazie, I met her at Deal.
Elizabeth: Go Shayna.
Erinn: Yes, go Shayna. And we were 12-year-old girls at that time. And here we are, 40-year-old women that have, we reconnected about two years ago, but we’re 40-year-old women that actually have built this relationship with each other.
And I also have a friend Shannon who I met at Deal. And by the way, if you went to Deal or Wilson, a lot of us went to school together, so I can’t remember who went to both or just one. Yeah, but Shannon, we circled back as adults. And so, it’s just been really nice to build these relationships with these people that I knew when I was a young, insecure girl navigating DC, well, navigating life. But… to have these friendships and say, “I remember when—” and- we’ve known [00:35:00] each other all this time.
Elizabeth: Yeah, those formative years. Yeah. You’re also a native Washingtonian.
Elizabeth: Go DC.
Erinn: Whoot, whoot!
Elizabeth: You were raised I guess—woohoo!—we’re not native Washingtonians. Our children are native Washingtonians, but we’ve been here 40 plus years. But, anyway, you were raised in DC’s Ward 5, which is also the—people I think know that DC’s divided into eight separate sections called wards. So, you live in Ward 5, we live in Ward 5, which is in the northeast quadrant of the city. And I think most people know DC’s divided into four quadrants: Northwest—
Elizabeth: —Northeast, Southwest, or Southeast. Anyway, can you talk about the unique characteristics of the nation’s capital? As I’m sure most of our listeners know, we Washingtonians have no congressional voting representation, a.k.a. taxation without representation.
Elizabeth: But there are lots of, there are lots of very DC-specific cultural aspects from Go-go music to mambo sauce and the Big Chair in Anacostia and the [00:36:00] Potomac and the Anacostia Rivers and cherry blossoms, et cetera, et cetera. So, can you talk about what energizes your creativity from the city or just what Washington has done in terms of your whole creative vision?
Erinn: So, DC is very unique, as you mentioned.
Erinn: And even though I typically align myself with the creativity of New York, I would say that DC is a very unique space because we do have our own music, like you mentioned, Go-go—which people hate it, but I don’t like Go-go. Like I can take one or two songs, then I’m done. But it has its own vibe. And if you haven’t been to DC it’s something that you have to experience because, ‘cause like you said, the wards are so different. And what, if you go to Southeast, you’ll get one, one experience. If you go to Southwest, it’s a little different. If you come up here to where we are in Northeast it’s completely different.
Erinn: Versus Northwest. And so, you can get a little bit of everything. And what I [00:37:00] like about the, the DC creative scene is that you can, there’s, there’s something here for everyone. And so, you can go to museums, you can go to pop-ups, you can go to Jazz in the Garden, and you can find something there.
But what energizes my creativity really is the color. I love—that’s why, like, I love color. So I love your house because you all have different colors.
Elizabeth: Oh, lots of colors. Yeah.
Erinn: Yeah. And so—
Elizabeth: Sitting here in a very orange piece of room.
Elizabeth: Rust, rusty orange.
Erinn: Yeah. And it’s beautiful!
And I like how you can, is it Franklin Park or somewhere where you can go and see, like, the live music? No, Malcolm X Park.
Elizabeth: Oh, you’re talking about the drumming circle?
Erinn: Yeah, the drumming circle. And so, I need to do a better job of getting out and experiencing that. Because that energy does help fuel the creativity.
So, a lot of my stuff energizes naturally and from inside of me, but having, listening to music is fun, [00:38:00] and just dancing. I’ll dance in my house by myself and, like, you may think I’m a crazy person, but those things are fun and those, stepping away from the computer helps get my creative juices going, too.
Elizabeth: Sure, yeah.
Michael: Because I would imagine you, you’re spending a lot of time at the computer these days.
Erinn: Exactly. Yes. So much time!
Michael: And, and you’re, you’re not like the youth of today that where they’re just, like, five years old, they’re at a computer in a digital domain. They’re true digital natives.
Michael: Where they have almost no experience of the physical world.
Erinn: Right? I know. It’s so sad.
Michael: You’re not like us who, who are definitely like digital foreigners that are like stopping around—
Michael: But now you spend a lot of time in this digital environment, right?
Michael: And so, can you maybe just talk about how, when was it, when did you start experiencing this digital environment and what got you fascinated by it and how has it shaped you?
Erinn: Oh, that’s a layered question.
Michael: Yeah. No, I—
Erinn: It’s real though.
Michael: Because you are you’re into color, you’re into [00:39:00] this, the whole discussion of your experiences with fashion as a young person, it’s visceral. It’s real—
Elizabeth: It’s the material world.
Michael: And now you’re like in this virtual domain a lot of times.
Erinn: Yeah. I will use, I will get some creative ideas from Instagram, ‘cause that’s my preferred social media platform. But I’m still old school though. Because, as a millennial we were right on that cusp. So, we saw all these things evolve and this technological revolution occur. And so, I still like to flip through magazines, and I still like to read tangible books. Because, sadly, we’ve gotten too used to the digital devices. And it’s, then that messes with your, I think it’s your energetic rhythms or something. A lot of times if you have too much screen time, it messes with your sleep patterns.
Elizabeth: That’s true. Yeah.
Erinn: But I actually like to go out in the world and see things. And so, as we were just talking, if you’re on 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue, you’ll see one set of type of [00:40:00] people that are maybe more business attire but go straight up 12th Street to you and then it’s the hipsters. So, I like the technology for what it can offer, but I prefer the in-person.
Elizabeth: Yeah. The actual objects themselves.
Erinn: Yeah. Because you see so much and you, you absorb it. Because you’re on this phone, you’re scrolling and scrolling. But that gets boring. Let’s go in the world.
Michael: Sure. And it seems like you’re in a, sort of, a great position to deal, sort of, intergenerationally. I don’t know how many of your clients are old folks like us, or how many of your clients—
Erinn: You’re the only ones.
Elizabeth: No World War II generation?
Michael: Or how many of your clients might be even younger than you, that are these digital natives. But, as you said, you’re, you still have this old school side of yourself. So you’re, I guess, it can be a good bridge between the two different worlds. The virtual and the real. Can you maybe just talk a little bit about how to, how you deal with those generational sensitivities or sensibilities?
Erinn: Yeah, so [00:41:00] it’s all about—actually, it’s like altering, not altering, that sounds bad, but it’s adjusting my personality to meet the client. Because I have a very big personality. If I’m my truest self, I’m, just the way we’re interacting—
Elizabeth: You’re just out there.
Erinn: I’m out there. Yeah. I’m like, “What’s happening? How you doing?” Da, da, da, da, da. And it can be a lot for some people. And so, I’ve learned how to tailor my personality to be able to interact with different people. And with my clients, some are personable, some aren’t as personable, but—I’ll give an extreme example. So, when I was working at AHRI, years ago, one of my coworkers was a statistician. And he was super introverted. He barely talked. He’d be like, “Hi,” and then just keep moving. And so he wasn’t, you couldn’t really have a lot of conversation with him. But I realized that I needed to tone down my personality a little bit and be [00:42:00] patient. And he loved me, just because I was like, “Hey Michael, how are you?” I would ask him how’s he doing. And so it was like those little things that matter to people.
Erinn: And dealing with the generations, you just have to know how to approach them. Because, like, my nephew, he’s always on his phone. He’s 13. And I’m like, “Hey, Isaiah.” And he’s, “Hi.” But that’s just his outward persona. I’m like, boy, whatever. You all are such energetic people, such outgoing people, so I know I can be my full self with you all.
Elizabeth: Yeah, no restraint.
Elizabeth: Actually I wanted to follow up a little bit about that. The physical world as you talked about, there’s an immersion in the physical world and the actual colors on the trees and the physical material to make clothing. And then there’s the digital world and there are pluses in minuses to this physical versus virtual. So, can you talk about any of the pluses or minuses of having your imagination being less emerged in physical [00:43:00] interactions with the outside world?
Erinn: So the minus is you’re not really getting that constant inspiration. Because I work remotely, I’m always on my computer, so unless I’m meeting up with, like, my girlfriends or my boyfriend and I are doing something, it’s not a lot of outward interactions. But the good thing about technology is given that we are in this remote space, you can still do Zoom meetings or Teams meetings and do the brainstorming that you need to do. So it’s, so the technology has allowed us to be connected across the nation. And one of my coworkers lives in Atlanta and we’re always talking and conversing and brainstorming and doing all these things. But I think that will be, like, that’s the biggest minus, is just not having that constant inspiration and not, not picking up that energy. Yeah. Because I really do believe that we’re all energy and everything is energy and so [00:44:00] we’re not, I’m not able to absorb it as much as I might, as I probably need to.
Michael: No, yeah. This, when I had to teach online and go into, sort of, Zoom classrooms, the whole energy, vibe, I realized that after two years of doing that, that I never really got to know any of my students ‘cause all it is this two-dimensional image of them, and you can have a conversation with them. It’s a little screen, right? But you really don’t have the same visceral sort of interaction that you have in person.
Erinn: And I do, I do, I miss part of it, and only because I like people, but from the downside, I will talk to people all day, and so then I’m not getting work done.
Elizabeth: Good point. Those water cooler conversations and stuff.
Erinn: And I start those. “Hey Michael, how you doing today?” “Oh, I’m good,” and blah, blah, blah. And then I’ll come over to you, Elizabeth, and I’m like, “Hey, Elizabeth, I love your hair. Did you get your haircut?” And you’re like, “Yeah, I went yesterday” and blah, blah.
Elizabeth: “And let me tell you about this.”
Erinn: Exactly. And I’m that person. Being in the [00:45:00] remote world has allowed me to focus more.
Elizabeth: Interesting. That’s an interesting point. I wanna ask you about that, ‘cause you’re a native Washingtonian, so you’re a city girl. And as I’m from a little small town on the Gulf Coast of Texas, where among other things, there was no public transportation.
Erinn: Oh, the, yeah.
Elizabeth: You, there were a few taxi cabs, but, but as someone who moved to the East Coast many years ago, I’ve used a lot of public transportation in New York and DC, of course. And there’s a whole, you were talking about energy, and there’s a whole vibe and energy to the stories and the voices you pick up from other bus or metro writers. It, to me, it’s like poetry. It’s part of what is invigorating about city life.
Elizabeth: So can you talk some more about these things that you do to re-energize your imagination or how that kind of energy that you talk about fills your creative life?
Erinn: Yeah. So, my friend Shannon, she, it’s funny ‘cause, again, I’ve known her since we were at Deal, but we lost contact over the years. And [00:46:00] she’s a content creator and so, until recently, even though I have other friends in the space, she has been one of those sources of inspiration. Because I didn’t really have someone that I could talk to and bounce ideas off of. And then when she and I connected, I’m like,” Shannon, what do you think about this?” And, and she is giving me her feedback and then it—oh God, what’s the word? I go down the rabbit hole with her and—
Elizabeth: Oh, okay.
Erinn: It’s, I think for me now it’s more so these conversations with people. And even when I’m out shopping, and I’m just, and I used to work, I worked in retail for four years.
Erinn: And so just even being kind to the cashier, I’m like, “Hi, how are you?” And they could be having the worst day ever, but it could be that one little moment that may re-energize them.
Erinn: So, for me, I re-energize through the conversations I have now. I also love traveling, so I get it, I just [00:47:00] enjoy that too, because part of being creative is resting. And a lot of people don’t want to think about that, but a lot of times you need to step away from whatever it is you’re trying to create. And then let the, the juices flow to you that way.
Elizabeth: Yeah. There’s a synthesis process. You have to, yeah.
Actually, you were talking about working retail and talking to the cashier and stuff, and so, my sense, just speaking off the cuff, you have this exuberant sense of style that is incredibly friendly.
Erinn: Thank you!
Elizabeth: There’s this wonderful, friendly, just, joyful quality. And I’m wondering if that, if your, this sense of style that you have really comes out of this sort of exuberance and joy that you have as a creative and dynamic person.
Erinn: Yeah. Absolutely! Because personality, style, it makes up the person. And so, I’ve, I, it’s funny because, if you go through therapy and you deal with past traumas, you start to realize how [00:48:00] certain things were always there. And this energy of me, I used to just talk a lot. It was me talking. And so it’s always been there. And it just, like you said, it just exuberates out of me. And with my style, I just, I used to throw a lot of things altogether. And then I’ve had to learn how to taper it and take some things out just to really refine my style. But I’ve also learned how to take risks. One of my good friends can mix patterns, mix different patterns. And until recently I’ve started to learn wrong.
Erinn: This is Ron, yes. You figured it out!
Elizabeth: Okay, we’re gonna talk to him. So stay tuned for more about this friend.
Erinn: And seeing how he does it, I’m like, oh, I can try that. And it’s all about also trying and taking those risks and seeing what works. And sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, you’re just having fun.
Elizabeth: Oh, that’s, yeah, that’s a great way to express.
Michael: So I’ve been thinking of this [00:49:00] sociologist named Erving Goffman, sort of the performance of self in everyday life. And he talks about how, particularly when you were talking about when you’re with this client, you know how to, you should tone it down a little bit when this client, you can let all the energy out, and then you, when you’re talking to this person at the register, you, a friendly conversation here. And I get a sense that there’s been a real evolution of your personal style over the last 20-so years, right?
Michael: And it, and because I’m a theater artist, and I love this whole notion of, of the narrative arc of a character, the narrative arc of a person. So, if you could talk a little bit about how you have transformed or changed your sense of style over the years and your understanding of style and interaction and creative expression.
Erinn: So you saying the arc of a character, I took a creative write—I’ll answer your question—I took a creative writing course with Mike Long, who I think you’ll be talking to, I don’t think you all have talked to him yet. But it’s so interesting because when you’re writing [00:50:00] a story, you’re doing the storyline and there are different arcs that arc within the storyline. But the arc of Erinn, so my mother’s very conservative—
Elizabeth: Oh, I love that. The arc of Erinn.
Erinn: Thank you.
Michael: That’s your book, a book title.
Erinn: My mother’s very conservative. So, my sister joked on Easter, she’s like, you have a hundred plain white T-shirts, like button-down shirts. And I laughed and I was like, but it’s really true. So my mom is very, she’s a very simplistic dresser. And so, I really, in the early parts of me, I lived in that shadow. And so, then as I was in high school, I did a rinse in my hair. It was like a purple, a red rinse. But you couldn’t see it unless the sun was shining on it. And then went into college—
Michael: So you never were around your mother during, when the sun was shining.
Erinn: And then in college, which is funny cause I always wanted pink hair when I was in college, never did it until I was late thirties. Funny. But, then I did highlights in my hair. I did [00:51:00] blonde highlights. And my mom’s just what did you do? And, ‘cause she loves my natural hair color, which I hate. Like, I can’t stand it.
But the arc has really been, now I’m at a place where I, oh, what’s the word? I am firm in who I am and I accept who I am. And I accept all parts of me. And so this part of my life, and this part of my style is acceptance. Ooh, that was good. Sorry.
And so it’s just trying those different colors. Like I had purple hair. And, which was fun, but I wish I had tried it when I was 20 and not late thirties. And, because I just went through this period of, I’m changing my hair color, and I’m like, and then I just went back to red and I was like, why would I change it in the first place? But, it’s been a fun journey because I’ve always loved colors, I’ve always loved patterns, but now I’ve learned how to make them work for me.
Elizabeth: And you have taken this love of color and love of pattern [00:52:00] and make it a profession.
Elizabeth: It’s wonderful. You’ve really, what is that term where you operationalize your passion? No. There’s a term for it where you professionalize, whatever it is.
Michael: It sounds like you’ve fused your passion with your profession. Just looking at some of your websites where I think the design is quite evident and vibrant. The colors are quite vibrant. In many ways, the visual images on your professional websites are who you are.
Michael: And so there, there’s a fusion there.
Erinn: There is. And what I’ve realized is that…. So a lot of Black people within the workspace, they’ll code switch. So they’ll show parts of their personality. Or they’ll alter parts of their personality to be, like, more acceptable within mainstream America. But for me, I can’t do that. I don’t, I think because I’ve, I was so uncertain of myself, and I hid so many parts of myself over the years that now I’m at a point where I’m just unapologetically me. [00:53:00] And I can’t alter who that is.
Erinn: And I refuse. I also refuse to alter it because if you’re working with me, I want you to understand what you’re getting.
Erinn: So you’re gonna get the bright color, you’re gonna get the big laugh—which my mother hates by the way. She’s like, “You’re so loud.” I’m like, whatever, Mom. Anyway. But it’s just really accepting all of those different facets and saying that this is who I am. And this is who I show up in the world. And this is how I choose to show up in the world.
Michael: Even as you’re, as you mentioned earlier, even as you might modulate that around certain clients.
Erinn: Right. Yeah. Yeah. Because I had one client who was, she was very against the system is probably the best way to say it. And that’s not really who I am. And so I started to realize how some of those things were rubbing off on me, and I was like, that’s not really how I think. And so, we ended up parting ways recently, but that’s how she chooses to show up.
Erinn: And I’m like, I [00:54:00] can’t absorb that energy.
Elizabeth: That’s actually, that, as one of our questions that we like to ask all our interviewees toward the end of the interview is, is what advice, what practical advice they have for our listeners on how they can nurture and embrace their own creativity and their own creative lives. And I love what you said about this is who I am, this is who shows up. Are there other practices or habits or ways of thinking that you would recommend to listeners on how to be true to their creative selves?
Erinn: I would say try everything. Because my, growing up, I felt that I was limited and that I couldn’t try everything. And so, I want people to try everything and keep the things that resonate best with them. Because if you don’t try, you never know. And like, Michael, you were saying, Elizabeth was saying you’re a good cook. And now, granted, I’m not, I can cook. I’m not the best, but I like to try different things in that, on that [00:55:00] spectrum.
And I’ll also say, do what makes you happy, because that’s what really matters. No one else—as long as you’re happy and you’re not harming anyone, go for it. Like, why not?
Erinn: And one of my old coworkers said a long time ago, he said, “If you never ask, the answer is always no.” So, just go for it. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and if it doesn’t work out from you—
Michael: You can always apologize.
Erinn: You can always apologize!
Elizabeth: It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission or something like that.
Erinn: Yeah, yeah. It doesn’t—you learn from it. And so you learn what it is that you like or what you don’t like, and then you can keep the good, discard the bad.
Elizabeth: You were just such a great living example of how it is possible to really make your own way in the world, being yourself, being the, the non—
Elizabeth: Non-conformist. Code switching is not a requirement. In terms of, in terms of just being able to make your own way in the world and be successful and be joyful.
Erinn: Yeah! And, [00:56:00] and when I was listening to jonetta’s interview, I resonated with her so closely because that’s also how she lives. And she chooses to show up in the world as this way. And I liked how she, she’s a New Orleans native, and so she had certain experiences, and all of our experiences make us who we are. And, good or bad, they shape us. But I just wanna encourage everyone to show up as themselves. And to be whoever you have decided that you’re gonna be. And stand in that and own it. Because we have one life. So why live life as others may want us to live versus living for ourselves?
Elizabeth: I’ll just insert, this, is Erinn’s talking about jonetta rose barras, who is one of our wonderful interviewees. She’s a remarkable writer and journalist and Washington institution.
So, finally, Erinn, are there events coming up or other activities or tell our listeners how they can find your website for your communications business [00:57:00] and your fashion business?
Michael: This reinvented clothing design brand that you’re working on.
Erinn: Yeah. When I was working with that one client, the clothing line, I was like, oh, I could do this. ‘Cause I had closed my business three years ago and I was just like, “Ooh, I could do this. I did it well before I could do it again.” And that’s why I relaunched it.
But there’s nothing that’s coming up with Dumas83. The website, as Elizabeth mentioned, is dumas83.com. And then my online boutique is elaniese.com. So that’s E-L-A-N-I-E-S-E dot-com.
Erinn: But the summer wardrobe for the clothing line will be launched soon.
Elizabeth: Oh, Erinn, this has been lovely.
Erinn: Yes. Thank you for having me.
Elizabeth: Oh, this has made me just charmed to know that even though we’ve been working together for months now, we’ve never met, so this is just such a joyful moment.
Elizabeth: Not in the flesh.
Michael: Not in person. [00:58:00]
Elizabeth: Yes. We have never shared the same physical space,
Michael: Just on—
Erinn: On the screen.
Elizabeth: So thank you, thank you.
Michael: Yes, thank you.
Elizabeth: This has been fabulous. Thank you for your ongoing collegiality and, and just tremendous thanks for this great interview.
Erinn: Thank you both for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
Tremendous thanks to all our listeners. To those of you who are free subscribers, please consider becoming paid subscribers so that Creativists in Dialogue can continue bringing you insightful conversations about creativity from Washington, DC and beyond. Thanks.
Special shout out to Creativists in Dialogue’s production team: Audio engineer Elliot Lanes, social media manager Erinn Dumas of Dumas83, and transcription editor Morgan Musselman. Thank you all.
For more information about Creativists in Dialogue, please visit creativists.substack.com or our Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn pages. To learn more about our other projects, please visit elizabethbrucedc.com or rmichaeloliver.com. This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and subscribers like you. Thanks.