Keva Rands & Papa Clothing


#PapaWhānau. This simple Instagram hashtag sums up Keva Rands and her fashion label, Papa Clothing. Her label is named for her grandfather who was also called Keva but known as Papa to his grandchildren. And it is her whānau who inspire her work - not just her blood relatives but the wider Papa Clothing whānau who enjoy Keva’s natural and minimal aesthetic.

Keva and her sister Ahilapalapa grew up in an eco village in Matapouri, Northland. Sustainability and taking care of the environment were part of the ethos of the village, something that guided her parents when they founded the natural products brand, ecostore, in 1993. "I was lucky to be raised around their creative and entrepreneurial spirit. I have always felt a strong sense of responsibility to our natural world and the importance of sustainable practices," she says.

Keva and her family in 1995. Image © Keva Rands.

Sustainability applied to clothing too. "My parents didn’t have much money but they generally didn’t believe in buying new clothing for children. My sister and I wore second-hand and hand-me-down clothes from family and friends. A new dress was always a special treat and would feature heavily in that year’s (and many years after that) school photo and family Christmas pictures." Keva’s grandmother and mother also knitted and sewed clothes for the family.

When Keva was seven years old, her family moved to Auckland to open the ecostore shop in Freeman’s Bay. They regularly returned to Matapouri to visit and Keva describes the village as a huge part of her identity. Her Pacific heritage is also an inspiration. "Through my Mum I’m linked to Fiji, Hawaii, Tongareva and Sāmoa and my Dad is 4th generation Pākehā."

Keva started making her own clothes when she was a teenager. "I went to a high school without a uniform so I really enjoyed dressing 'uniquely' and when I got out mum’s old sewing machine I realised I could be making my own amazing (horrible) fashions," she told FashioNZ (April 2018).

This inspired her to study fashion and in 2009 Keva enrolled in a Bachelor of Design at AUT. Part of her study included an internship at Cybèle which gave her a valuable insight into the fashion industry.

Keva released her first collection in 2014 under her own name. She was part of a fashion collective called CCO (Creative Common Occupation) that was initiated by AUT fashion tutor, Linda Jones. The collective provided the young designers with the support and advice they needed starting out in the industry. "It can be really scary to start something like this, but through that process of working collectively I remembered how much I love to design," Keva says. "Being part of that initiative gave me the opportunity to design and produce capsule collections for our pop-up events rather than the one-off pieces I had been making."

Keva spent six months living in the United States in 2015. She spent time in Hawaii, assisting the Māori/Kanaka fibre artist Tang De Manunese at the MAMo wearable arts showcase. Keva then worked behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week for the Australian owned but New York-based label, Tome. "It was a great experience - the work was hard but the buzz was incredible and the clothing was beautiful, all of it being made locally in New York."

In 2017 Keva focused all her time and energy on her label, now called Papa Clothing in honour of her grandfather. "It was my first year designing without a part-time job on the side." Keva sold her designs online, from pop-up shops and to her wider network of friends and family.

A Papa Clothing design from 2018. Photo by Lula Cucchara, © Papa Clothing.

In May 2019, Keva Rands released a collection for her label Papa Clothing that builds on the work she's been producing since she founded it in 2014. The collection ties in aspects from her Pacific heritage with her background in sustainability. "And I think my own style has informed my design through the practical functionality of each piece. This means having generous pockets or making sure you can take big strides in a long skirt."

The Lana long-sleeve top and skirt from Keva's 2019 collection. Photo by Chloe Manickum, © Papa Clothing.

Keva notes that her designs appear to speak to her family and the wider Pacific community. "My whānau like to call Papa 'the family uniform'. I love making things that enhance their beauty and dressing them has always been helpful for me to test styles on a range of body types. Having said that, Papa is for anyone, especially people who share our ethos and support our kaupapa … people who enjoy a minimal aesthetic with focus on colour and fall."

Keva says she is lucky to have such powerful and beautiful people wearing Papa. Artist Edith Amituanai was recently made a Member of the Order of Merit wearing a Lapa jumpsuit by Papa Clothing. "Artists, curators, aunties, uncles, photographers, poets, non binary women and men, Pasifika peoples, Pākehā peoples, curvy women and lanky men of a wide range of ages support the brand and look amazing doing so," Keva says.

Edith Amituamai wore Papa Clothing when she received the Order of Merit from the Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy. Image © Edith Amituamai.

Someone once said to Keva that they felt like they had "arrived home" when putting on a Papa piece. "To me that was a perfect explanation of what I’m trying to achieve with the brand," she says. "A sense of belonging."

Keva loves working with other creatives. She worked with the Auckland-based art collective, D.A.N.C.E. art club. They commissioned Papa to make uniforms for some of the exhibitions and events they’ve hosted or attended. "My favourite collaboration has been with my sister, Ahilapalapa. We have produced two lines of printed t-shirts and hoodies with her illustrations on the back." 

T-shirts and hoodies featuring illustrations by Keva's sister Ahilapalapa. Photos © Papa Clothing.

Papa Clothing is stocked in the Wellington boutique Ena and her Auckland clients visit Keva in her home-based studio. Keva loves these visits because it means she is able to collaborate with clients and custom-make exactly what they are looking for.

But there’s nothing 'exclusive' about Papa. Instead Keva strives for inclusivity. Her dedicated Papa Whānau page on her website is a gallery of people wearing Papa Clothing, people who have proudly tagged their own photos with #PapaWhānau. "Papa is hugely important to me, and being able to share what I do with such a diverse group of people is a privilege."

Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image of Keva Rands © Keva Rands.

Published September 2019.

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