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Meet Kathie Sever

by Erika Thuesen

The corporate headquarters of Ramonster Swankwear bustles with creative activity -- the executive boardroom décor reflecting the interests of both the Chief Designer and her underlings. All of a sudden, CEO Kathie Sever wrinkles her nose in mild distaste at an underling and says kindly, “You’ve pooped, haven’t you?” Year-old Arlo smiles at his mama, the faint odor he trails masked by the palpable sunshine of his smile, and crawls away before she can swoop him up for a change.  It’s all in a day’s work for South Austin designing woman Kathie Sever, and she takes it in stride.

Married to Austin’s beloved-yet-underpaid rock star Matt Sever (Matt the Electrician), Kathie was looking for a way to supplement the young family’s income shortly after their first child, Ramona was born. As a youth, Kathie had learned to sew from her home-ec teacher mom, so this clever art school grad with a painter's soul pulled out the other trusty " Singer" in the house and started sewing with a healthy aesthetic nod toward her alterna-culture leanings rather than Simplicity pattern notions of chic.  

What evolved is Ramonster Swankwear, one of Austin's best-selling and award-winning clothing lines, and one that is still created knee-deep in the grassroots: from home, surrounded by crayons, blocks and rock posters, with Raffi crooning on the DVD player. Four years into it, Kathie's line can now be found in upscale boutiques across the country, and includes an impressive following of devoted parents clamoring for the latest cowpoke inspired togs. 

Kathie herself is the embodiment of South Austin style: hip without a hint of studied cool, comfy in pigtails, red t-shirt and knee-length A-line skirt that shows off the bountiful tomato tattoo spinning vines over her right ankle. So how does a west coast painter wind up as a child-wrangling seamstress in the heart of Texas? Well… it started in a high school Peanuts production.

“I played Peppermint Patty opposite Matt’s Charlie Brown,” Kathie recalls. “I had a bit of a crush on him, and I think the director was trying to set us up.” The pair started dating a couple of months before graduation, and found themselves at artsy Humbolt State University without having planned to go off to college together. Over the next few years, their connection endured through rough patches and smooth, though they went separate ways --  he joining a band in San Francisco, she working on a ranch in Montana where unexpected influences and ideas would find her. 

Hired to cook and clean cabins, Kathie discovered that on a small ranch, all hands are called up for all duty -- even herding cattle on horseback. “After being in the ivory tower, art-for-art’s-sake world of ‘serious art’, I was impressed with how much art these ranching people brought to their utilitarian work. Women made incredible quilts, men wove crazy fence patterns with wire and welded wild gates.” After a few seasons, Kathie left the West, but held on to her newfound cowboy sensibilities.

Kathie headed to Boston planning to attend grad school, Matt settled in Austin and asked Kathie to join him.  So she came, they married, they procreated, and Austin is the richer for their talents. She loves her network of friends here, some also musician’s wives who can understand the unique strains and rewards of that lifestyle.

Back in her living room- cum-boardroom, the designer perches on a chair, alternately – sometimes simultaneously – nursing little Arlo and assisting in Ramona’s ongoing costume changes. Does Ramona like the stuff her mom sews? “No,” Kathie answers with a wry smile, “She’s into really girlie stuff, pink, sparkly, twirly." 

Who knows, perhaps these compelling  influences will one day find their way into the Swankwear line as well.

Kathie recently talked with AustinMama about motherhood, art and the value of a “mama posse.”  Here's what she had to say:

Who inspired you when you were growing up, and why? 

I had a few family members who I found really inspiring.  Two older cousins in particular who were, well, older, which made them super cool -- but they were also kind, and artistic, and intelligent, and self-disciplined.  Their whole family was very grounded.  I remember desperately wanting to do things that would impress them.

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The Countess Galleria / Sarah Higdon

You are face to face with your ten-year-old self.  You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say? 

Dude...don’t embarrass yourself.  Wham sucks, and Jon Bon Jovi will never marry you.  Time to move on.

What is the biggest challenge you see mothers faced with today? 

Well, that’d depend.  If you don’t have any money, I’d have to say your biggest challenge is going to be feeding your kids.  If you are alone, it would be maintaining your sanity.  Clean drinking water would be a really big one if it was something that was hard to come by.  I do validate the fact that there are cultural issues and pressures that exist and it’s healthy to de-construct and evaluate these, but I also think it’s healthy to remember that there are moms in the world who would give just about ANYTHING to have their biggest challenge be balancing a thriving career and motherhood.  Or the supermom syndrome, or whatever. (see next question J)

What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be? 

My kids.  HAHAHAHAHA.  Just kidding.  Really.  But truthfully,  I have a real need to feel fulfilled artistically as well as have fun with and do a good job of parenting my kids.  Both weigh in about as heavy, and when they’re not balancing well, I feel sort of crazy -- which is really not the kind of person I want to be. 

What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?

I go to that place a lot of feeling like I don’t give back enough.  I’d like to do more, but where I am now I’ll go with this answer:  In doing something I love, I hope to inspire my own kids to pursue things that make them feel happiness and satisfaction in life.  Because there needs to be as many happy, satisfied people in this world as possible if we ever want to achieve the BIG goals, right?

What makes you most happy about the way you parent?  

That I, for the most part, like doing it.

How do you balance motherhood and art?  

I don’t.  (See “challenge” question above.)  But I’m trying.  We’ve got two of us in this family doing this dance (musician husband), and it’s tricky.  I actually just put a blog page on my website just for this reason --  I’d really like to get people talking (esp. to me) about this particular issue.  I think the balance is a work of art unto itself.

Which two notable people would you like to see handcuffed to each other for a day?

Currently, Sam Seiborn and Ainsly Hayes circa season 2.  I’d love to sit in on a day’s worth of well scripted, thoughtful political debate between two highly intelligent people who treat each other with respect.  I hope fictional notable people are okay.  And you didn’t specify if I got to follow them around all day.  Cause if I can’t be there and just have to hear about it second hand then I’d vote for Jewel and John Wayne Gacy. 

What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?  

“A mama posse.”  (To quote a member of mine.)  Ain’t nothing like a mama posse and an adult beverage to get you over the hump.  Can I git an amen?

Thanks, Kathie!  

Ramonster Swankwear can be found online at:

And in Austin at:
Moxie and the Compound
909 W. Mary 

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