Norwegian fashion designer Pernille Fristad was sick a lot growing up. Initially diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at age 12, her diagnosis was later changed to Fibromyalgia; a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by pain and exhaustion. Despite her physical struggles, Pernille knew she wanted to pursue fashion design and began following a design and textile track in high school.
“My life changed when I started to feel better,” Pernille explains. “I was dreaming of being a fashion designer when I was sick, and as soon as I started to feel better, I went for it! I’ve always been creative and my parents are both entrepreneurs – they started Froosh smoothie company – so I always felt comfortable with the idea of starting a business. It felt natural to me.”
While studying womenswear at fashion design school ESMOD in 2012, Pernille launched her brand Kepaza as part of a project for her degree. She was 19 at the time.
Initially, she only sold cosmetics bags. “I was selling them online and to my friends, mostly,” Pernille notes. “It was really just a way for me to test out how to run a business and figure it out a bit. But in 2016 I began designing womenswear, which is what I really wanted to do.”
Even though her design background is Scandinavian, Pernille says she recognized right away that her aesthetic was a bit different. “I’ve never tried to be about minimalism, although I like that look too,” she says. “My first collection was inspired by this idea I had of a woman who lives in a pink cloud and paints clouds in the sky. It was kind of surreal, and I didn’t want to make it conform to a trend. I just wanted to create something different.”
Her parents invested in her brand, allowing her to expand in a way that would have taken other just-launching brands much longer. “I know that’s not most people’s experience, and I’m really grateful, because it means that I get to keep the brand in the family. All of my four siblings also work within the brand, so we get to do it together and that’s really special,” Pernille says.
Kepaza has been holding fashion shows since Pernille’s university days, and now shows regularly at London Fashion Week. “London is a bigger market than Oslo, but there’s also a greater acceptance of color and diversity of style. So it makes sense for us to be there,” Pernille explains.
Kepaza’s clothes are structure and playful, often in bright colors and bold prints. It’s every day wear, with a little twist to each piece that makes it more fashion-forward than your typical dresses and separates. And the best part is that the clothes are made to fit every body. “When I was sick, I wasn’t able to move much and I gained a lot of weight,” Pernille explains. “I realized at that time that most clothes were made for a certain body type, and I wasn’t it. I knew that when I made clothes, I would make them for everyone.”
That’s a philosophy that has carried through to other aspects of diversity. “Once you’re thinking about serving multiple groups of people, it becomes really clear that the possibilities are endless,” says Pernille. To that end, Kepaza’s runways are always a delight, featuring people of varying bodies, ages, abilities, races, and gender presentations. “It’s important to me that my clothes be for everyone,” Pernille notes.
It’s rare to find a Scandinavian design brand so willing to do its own thing – both aesthetically and philosophically – and Pernille Fristad’s Kepaza makes the case that doing so is not only the right thing to do, it’s right for the moment we live in.
With growing markets in London and Dubai, Kepaza is poised to become a clothing brand that provides highly fashionable pieces for a much wider swath of bodies than many others. “To me, good design is about problem-solving,” Pernille explains, “but the problem isn’t bodies, it’s how we’re making clothes. So we’re trying to fix it!”
See more on Kepaza.