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Handmade in Fort Lonesome

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Kathie Sever jokes that she’s taken “slow fashion” to a whole new level with Fort Lonesome, a custom western wear and chain stitch embroidery company. To create a single, custom piece for a client, she spends hours upon hours behind a chain stitch machine. But that’s the intention of Fort Lonesome to, as Sever explains, “generate a bit more of a consciousness around how people interact with the things that they choose to have in their environment.”

The decision to diverge from the traditionally fast-paced fashion industry doesn’t fall far from the Fort Lonesome aesthetic, one that can only be described as “outlaw.” Sever’s embroidery is deeply rooted in Western heritage, harkening back to colorful designs from famed rodeo tailors like Nudie Cohn who dressed the likes of John Wayne, Gene Autry and George Jones. “I think a lot of people in the United States have always romanticized everything about ‘The West,’’’ she says. “I can’t think of any type of style that is that enduring and that pervasive.”

Originally from California, Sever’s reverence for cowboy culture formally gelled once she moved to Montana to live on a ranch. “That’s where I got a fully fleshed out picture of how [Western wear] actually exists in a more pragmatic way,” she says. “I thought it was so fascinating — the rituals involved in terms of the way that the way you wore your hat, cuffed your pants, tucked in your shirt. It was such an interesting dichotomy to me, considering the fact that the rest of the life on the ranch included a lot of danger, a lot of risk, and a lot of freedom … it fit together really nicely.”

She brought this acute cultural awareness with her to Austin when she started her first business, a children’s clothing line called Ramonster, in 2000. Though it saw great success and a loyal clientele, she eventually became disenchanted with the modern manufacturing process in which “cheap, fast and easy” always seemed to win out. It was on the heels of that frustration that she sourced some chain stitching machines and began seriously exploring the older, time-intensive manufacturing technique.

“These machines, to me, felt like the perfect response [to mass production],” Sever says of founding Fort Lonesome. “They are so sensitive to the technician that you can’t make two things that look exactly the same. It’s kind of like using an Etch-a-Sketch or driving something with a steering wheel in that your personality, your energy, your handwriting is transferred when you’re doing this embroidery.”

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When Sever meets with a customer regarding a potential commission, she sees it as her job to “interpret their narrative into their garments and textiles that they have around them.” It usually starts with a candid conversation, an agreed upon color scheme, and a black and white sketch. After that, it’s in Sever’s hands. “The process of embroidery can be such a fast-changing experience,” she says of her fluid working style. The words she uses in assessing someone’s sartorial vibe range from “vintage” to “cosmic” and “subtle with modern edge.” Considering the amount of time invested in each piece of art Sever creates, a jacket back-piece starts at $300 while pricing for an entire custom garment begins at $450. The result is a one-of-a-kind heirloom-worthy piece.

She now counts bona fide celebrities like Richard Linklater, Jimmy Kimmel and Bill Murray among her clients, and has done work in conjunction with Levi’s for Sufjan Stevens, First Aid Kit and Leon Bridges. One of her personal favorites, though, is country artist Nikki Lane out of Tennessee. “She’s part of this scene in Nashville right now that’s trying to shift the country music industry back to something that’s a little more outlaw,” she says of Lane’s “sexy, sassy” spirit and striking on stage persona. “When I am tired and frustrated or feel overworked and I get to dig into something for Nikki. It’s like taking a vacation.”

“Clothing has always been a funny way of telling a story,” Sever reflects, “so why would you want to tell any story other besides your own? The machines and the garments and the aesthetic all kind of coalesce. They’re all about individualism. That ties into our thing at Fort Lonesome.”

CREDITS

Photography by Jessica Pages.

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