We caught up with Austin native Inez Escamilla about her journey from Austin Community College art school to welding on television.
She is currently competing for a $50,000 grand prize on the HGTV home renovation reality show Brother vs. Brother as a member of Team Jonathan. Escamilla reveals some dirty secrets of the metal arts world as a woman in a traditionally male profession.
Austin Chronicle: What inspired you to pursue the welding degree?
Inez Escamilla: I really think [it was] just to prove to myself and others that a woman is capable of doing a man’s job. I was 10 years younger at the time, and pretty stubborn and hardheaded. I started off in art, just taking sculpture classes, and then it turned out I was really pretty good at welding. As I was going through the technical classes, it came naturally; I was good at it and I wanted to prove that a woman could do what a man could do.
AC: What challenges have you faced in the pursuit of your passion that men – who are more often the individuals in this field – may not have faced?
IE: It's a lot more difficult [for women] because we are physically weaker. So for me, it's spending a lot of time in the gym. I'm not going to turn to some man and say, “Hey, could you lift this for me?” I need to be able to carry my own equipment and throw around steel just as well as a man can. It's finding a balance where I can maintain my physical abilities and work at the same time.
AC: Why did you decide to open your own studio, Creative Sparks and Arcs?
IE: My very first job in welding was an internship. When I walked in the door, [the guy] said something like, “You understand this is a dirty job? I mean, you don’t stay pretty here. This isn't, like, a girl’s thing.” Of course, that immediately set me off, and I thought, "Oh. Well then, of course I can do it!"
The first job was in custom furniture, chandeliers, and lighting. Then I went to structural – skyscraper kind of stuff. Totally wasn't my thing. At the same time, I was also bartending and cocktailing at Hula Hut, so I started doing small jobs around Hula Hut, like fixing stainless steel – repair stuff. That just kind of wrenched into working for myself, doing a lot of portable stuff. The guys with the big rigs in the back of their truck are limiting themselves to only things where their vehicles can go. So what I did was specialize in getting in smaller spaces, getting behind bars, getting under sinks in kitchens, and using that - being smaller and being portable - to my advantage.
AC: What made you decide to join the Brother vs. Brother show?
IE: I was surfing the Net and searching Craigslist because I like to use recycled materials. If I can find pallets or old fencing, stuff that I can recycle or reclaim and then put into furniture, that's kind of my number one place to work. Then I saw the audition for HGTV. When I was married, I used to say, "I'm going to be on that show one day!" I joked about it. When I saw the opportunity, I thought, “Well this has to be a sign.” The audition was the next day, so I got up early and drove to Houston. I was eighth in line. They called me back a couple hours later and asked me to come back. I went through two more interviews, one in Houston, and then they flew me to New York. I had to do on-camera interviews where I was building something, and then I got to meet the producers. It was all just so much fun and so serendipitous. I just had to take that leap and hope that it would all work out.
AC: How has the experience so far changed your life? Was it empowering?
IE: Definitely. It was a reality check that I needed. I don't think that I valued myself as highly as I should. Then when I got on the show and realized I was top 10 in the nation chosen for the show – I was up against interior designers and architects and real estate agents that are the top in the nation – I felt extremely empowered. It really helped with my self-esteem as well. I have always undervalued my work a little bit … so, it was kind of a slap in the face: “Wake up! You are good at what you do!”
AC: What kind of advice would you give someone – maybe a young woman – considering welding as a profession?
IE: I would tell them just to go for it. We make our own restrictions and most of the men I have worked with – my students and my peers – if the purpose is there in your work, will always support you, and they'll always back you up. If you plan to skate by on looks, you are never going to make it. But if you really are a hard worker, and you're good at what you do, it’s a level of respect that’s only earned. Don't give up. You are always going to run into obstacles. I have run into more obstacles with women clients than I have with men. I have actually been asked, “Well, if a man can't do it, what makes you think you can do it?” But every man that's ever questioned it has apologized afterwards when I can get the job done and a guy that was 6'4" and 100 pounds heavier than me couldn't. Stick with it and try your hardest. If you want something bad enough, put your work into it and you'll get it.
Inez Escamilla appears on Brother vs. Brother, Episode 3: Double Jeopardy on Sunday, Aug. 4 at 9pm. Visit the HGTV website for more details.
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