Community + Culture: Profile
Arts & Crafts
How globetrotter Katrina Jane Perry weaves an authentic style
by Margaret Williams
Katrina Jane Perry feels deeply — about the art she has been producing since her days of studying photography at the University of Texas, about the community of strong women she was raised by, and especially about the artisan families she works with to create her clothing and home line, August Etta. Perry describes her collection, anchored by its traditionally woven caftans and rugs, as the embodiment of “me as an artist and the tradition of craft.” Art and craft are something the artist and maker talks about often, describing the intricate process of weaving on a standing loom as requiring both in equal measure.
Born and raised in Fredericksburg, Perry has most recently split her time between Austin and Oaxaca, Mexico, where all of the August Etta pieces are sourced and made. Perry currently lives in Reykjavik, Iceland, where she is working on completing a master’s in fine arts program at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. While Perry’s work and design for August Etta are based on centuries-old techniques, the artist, who describes Anni Albers’ “On Designing” as her bible, is now happily studying digital weaving when she’s not circumnavigating the island to photographically record the commoditization of a once wild land. No matter the medium, Perry connects with, and is motivated by, the people and natural environment that surrounds her.
The caftans that Perry designs seasonally for August Etta are inspired by the huipil, a tunic-like garment worn by women throughout Central America. “[I] felt a generosity … and beautiful when I first put one on,”she says. The garment had an ease of movement that she wanted to adapt and share.
But it wasn’t until 2015, after meeting a local family of weavers in Oaxaca through Fundación En Vía, an organization focused on female-driven microfinance loans and education, that Perry thought her idea to adapt the huipil could be turned into a sustainable business model. Now she works directly with a handful of families who specialize in the cotton- and wool-weaving style emblematic of the region. Perry’s caftans — with simple lines and a laser focus on detail — celebrate these master weavers and their artistry.
H&M August Etta is not. Perry has had offers for large, rushed orders, but she stands firm in her commitment to sustainability and honoring the handmade. She knows that to split one apart from the other would inherently change the designs she has worked so hard, in collaboration with the makers, to achieve.
The mission of August Etta — one of “timeless authenticity” — is furthered by the brand’s commitment to return 5 percent of all profits to Fundación En Vía. While some brands, understandably, might find these ambitions unattainable, Perry credits her great-grandmother, grandmother, and own mom with setting a high bar by the way they have run their own family elder-care business, Knopp Healthcare. “These strong and independent women have impressed upon me a life and work philosophy embedded in August Etta and my art practice. They are my role models.”
As with so many things, August Etta’s newest adventure began through a conversation. Kirsten Dickerson, founder and CEO of Raven + Lily, came upon the collection at a trunk show in Fredericksburg and was almost immediately interested in discussing a collaboration. This month their collaboration, the “Emilia” caftan, will be available exclusively through Raven + Lily’s web shop. The Raven + Lily team named the caftan after Emiliano Mendez, the patriarch of the family who hand-looms and sews all of August Etta’s cotton textiles.
Working with the ethical fashion brand has been natural for Perry, and the company has been incredibly supportive of her vision, as have many others. Perry’s appreciation of this support is evident as she begins rattling off names. Tim Johnson and Caitlin Murray of Marfa Book Company were some of August Etta’s first champions, and they now have their own robe design in the works. Perry is thrilled by this growth, as she knows it will continue to expand August Etta’s reach — one of artistry, tradition, and generosity.