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Evens

Designing Balance

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Her garments loosen the wearer and the light that strikes them to float and billow, grace and thought-filled.

__Kate de Para

Before you read this story, I should be honest about one thing: I used to think it was thoroughly unnecessary to find work you loved, work you were passionate about. I thought, whatever you’re doing, do that thing with as much zeal and care as you possess, and gradually you will fit that exact place in the universe that has made space for you to fill. Instead, I now believe in miracles because I don’t spend eight hours a day washing dishes in the back of a cold kitchen anymore. And I believe in heroes, because I’ve met some. People who don’t settle, who champion what they believe, and understand that the world needs you to discover what you care about. It isn’t selfish, and it isn’t a waste of time. I should warn you that it’s also rarely glamorous, but it does make you come alive. If you’ve yet to find that thing, the one that makes your mind and heart click, you should meet Kate.

If you look closely, you might catch traces of philosopher, traveler, designer, or technophile. But then again, you might be too distracted by what she’s wearing. Her blousy black uniform is fraying at the edges, like laugh lines peeking through when the skin relaxes. She sports an uncommonly beautiful mashing of Bohemian abandon and NYC street chic. That is, it couldn’t have matched her more completely if she had made it herself. But in fact, she did.

Kate de Para lives to learn. As a textile designer, she spends her days exploring the spectrum of technology, high and low, and experimenting with everything under the sun. She marries beauty to comfort, philosophy to fashion, and teaches with her life that passion can prosper a dream – even if you don’t yet know what it looks like yet.

Kate’s story begins in her turbulent years as an undergrad. She describes herself much more serious than the bouncy artist before us. “I was interested in really heavy matter. … I was like a sponge. I still am. I needed to experience everything, and everything was so severe. I felt like I had to get all of these experiences in.” Her early years in college were spent ricocheting between the Fine and Liberal Arts, hunting ideas for a career she could love. She was still searching when her final year rolled around, and was accepted to an internship in New York with designer Anna Sui.

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Every waking moment was spent chasing production managers around the streets of NYC, connecting the dots of piece after piece. “I realized how much goes into it and I realized what an interesting chain it is. How many relationships you build, and how much you learn.” The complexity and connection of production captivated her. New York helped her realize that she had to know how things were made. It seemed the center of her interests, the force behind everything. “It has so much to do with the world and the economy and globalization and culture.”

But it wasn’t until her final semester that she knew which part of the production chain was hers to fulfill. She was abroad in Italy, diving into every design class she could make time for: photography, illustration, pattern making, print making. The professor of her illustration class one day pointed out that she was only drawing in repetitive motions, like tick marks. “He would call them “visible time,” because they resembled tick marks on the page. “You’re built to be a textile designer,” he told her. The profession is so uncommon in the states that she had absolutely no idea what that meant. She tosses up her hands, playfully indignant at the memory. “I wondered, Why hasn’t anyone told me this every before?!” It revolutionized her thinking, and sent her reeling into a world she had just discovered even existed.

When the semester ended, she was back to New York, working thirteen hour days and exhausting herself keeping up with the city’s pace. In her frustration with New York living, she started preparing a portfolio for a grad school application. In what little spare time she had, she picked up some night courses on the side. “I was just experimenting with dyes and weaving a lot and just learning what it meant to make a material.” Battling the balance of job and passion was suddenly interrupted when her mother became very ill. Kate decided to leave NY for good and be with her family in Houston. She calls it a blessing in disguise, one that relinquished her back to a more natural habitat. “I needed so much more space and openness and green and sky, and all of the things that you get here in Texas. All of the things that were just inherent in my daily experience. We grew up going to the Hill Country a lot, traveling to desolate places. I needed that back.” The three months she spent back home gave her just enough time to see her mom fully recover, and her application to SCAD be accepted.

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Grad school was the riskiest thing she’s ever done, she says. Going into debt, putting your social life on hold for two years, and chancing the career you’ll come out with on the other end. “My only goal was just to experiment with as many processes as I could, and I did.” Equally valuable to the skills she learned were the relationships formed with her professors and classmates. “We experienced something that most people don’t experience. The closeness, the pressure, the intense focus and conceptualization.” Crucible that it was, the intensity of relationship and learning is the only way she’d have it. She’s also more inclined to risk-taking than average; a split-second intentionality. “And of course when you do that you’re opening yourself up to be vulnerable to massive, massive failure and heartache. But you’re also opening yourself up to experiences you would never otherwise have known to be true.”

Kate developed the name Evens as an outro to her time at SCAD. “I was studying this whole dichotomy of hand-made versus industrial production and I wanted my brand to definitely encapsulate that, not only as a theme for the brand, but also to keep me aligned with my belief system, and keep me in check. To always remind myself who I am and where I stand and what my goals are.” Her freshly-coined mono-word mantra is the embodiment of what Kate uniquely brings to the world of textile design, fashion, and philosophy. “I want to express a balance between developing technologies and industrial production and the quietness of handwork and traditional processes like hand dyeing, and bring them together.” It isn’t a middle-of-the-road type of balance that she’s after. It’s the drama of juxtaposition and experimentation. It’s the clash of two worlds who appear to disagree by their mere existence, but somehow when brought together by the hands of this tiny Texan, they harmonize.

The name Evens also reflects her pursuit to constantly seek balance in life, to reign herself in from a myriad of interests and dreams to command a focused existence. “I constantly get off-balanced. But then I’m not functioning at my highest self, my best self.” It’s personal, poetic, and ultimately, quite practical.

The practicality of creating her own garments was long in the making. As a girl, Kate was never comfortable in her clothes. It wasn’t just the brand or the size, it was the standardized system that the Western world uses to define the curves of the female figure. It made her uncomfortable, and because she was petite and not “average,” cultivated an idea that she wasn’t normal, wasn’t right somehow. “I don’t want to be defined by my body type. And I never have. I think as a young woman, … it’s such a big part of your life. Before you really find your place in the world, your body image is a huge part of what people perceive about you.” The observation struck a deep chord in me, as I’m certain it does with every woman reading. There is something not quite right, but instead of assuming there is a larger error in play, girls are left to believe that the problem is them, that if only they could somehow trim or gain here or there, then something would fit right. “I think once you start really growing and thinking and figuring out who you are, where you belong, what your purpose is, and what you do, less of the focus is on your image and it’s just more about eye-connection. And thought connection. And it’s so lovely. And you just want to feel good and confident and comfortable and thoughtful.”

Instead of using the standard “shaping devices” of Western fashion to define female curves, Evens adopts an Eastern approach to garment design. “An Eastern philosophy on the garment is to naturally focus on the textile, and the textile production, and the art of the textile, and let the body give it shape.” In a way, Evens fills what was for her a hole in the marketplace. The level of design in her clothing is rivaled only by the level of comfort she hopes wearers experience. “I’m so comfortable you don’t even understand. It’s the best. And it makes me happier.” Furthermore, the pieces she designs are inherently modest, humble beauties. They loosen the wearer and the light that strikes them to dance and billow more grace and thought-filled than any I’ve ever seen. The real goal is allowing the wearer to enhance the garment, to engage fully in their environment, experience, and intellect.

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Evens also carries a line of leather accessories. They started as a way not only to complete the look she had created, but to slow her down. “I’ll spend half a day in here making one bag and we have this connection. It’s like I’m tending to it. It’s a real sweet thing.” Not only does the time it takes balance her time in the studio, the intensity of the leather pieces require an antithetical energy. “I’m busting out my hammer and my hard tools. It’s a nice complement to the really soft process of making clothes. A lot of utility. And again a way to find balance.”

In addition to producing garments of ease and evenness, Kate teaches young artists in Houston surface design, textile design, hand-dyeing, and digital textile design. With so many parts and pieces to the path that led to textile design at long last, it would be easy to confuse the years of work spent before finding her career as somehow misused. But it all informs what she does now. “It’s true, work comes from work. That’s what I always tell my students. Once you get into the work, you’ll learn something new every time and that’ll lead to something else. And you start to think in a different way about something, and then that can eventually become the answer.” And she’s still experimenting, defining her interests and the Evens audience. “The fact that we can explain this cool, digital dyeing process to someone and then to explain to them how someone would mortar and pestle down cochineal and dye something from a bug. It’s very interesting, and someone who I want to reach is interested in both.”

In all of her ways, Kate acknowledges that Evens itself is a tool. It’s a vehicle for what she thinks about, the way that she moves and sees and wants to improve the world. Unlike most business owners, designers, and artists, she talks about the work as though they are partners, that the need one for the other, is mutual. “I think that’s the best thing about this business and the thing I love about it, is that it’s always changing, and I’m always changing, and I move at a really fast pace. We seem to complement each other well, the business and I.” It’s humble and charming – like her – in a way we’re not used to finding in fashion. They suit each other, and together produce masterpieces of comfort, quality, and timelessness. It’s nothing short of the messy perfection that comes of finding and chasing down your passion with everything you’ve got.

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