Images by @clinton_ferrara
I've admired Suzanne Wang's ceramics for years and finally got the chance to connect with her earlier this year. She's an incredible artist who draws her inspiration from nature and the rich Hawaiian culture on this island.
What is so special about Hawaii Island? More specifically, how has living in Hakalau (north of Hilo) inspired or enabled your creativity?
Hawaii Island has this raw energy and expansiveness to it that fuels me. The variety in the landscape changes so dramatically in a short period of time, it never ceases to amaze me and keep me humble. I like that this island feels more "lived in" by locals, particularly on the east side. Being in Hakalau has given me the space and time to slow down, focus, and create a lifestyle that has enabled me to grow as an artist.
You’ve worked with many artistic mediums in the past. Why are you drawn to clay?
I love how tactile this medium is, and how it involves so much of the breath and body to control or shape it. Clay never stops teaching. It's so malleable and simple, yet so complex in the finishing process. To make something functional and well-crafted takes years to master. It boggles my mind sometimes how complicated ceramics can be and it all starts with a lump of earth! I love the ability to shift from sculptural work to functional ware, or combining both art and craft together in a piece. There's a part of me that is interested in just the abstract form, expressing a feeling into something three dimensional. But the other part of me likes making things that people can use and enjoy. It’s the intimate connection with a favorite cup or bowl that makes me so happy.
With ceramics being a very tedious and slow process, how does that correlate to other aspects of your life?
In order to live a full, rich life, I believe we have to experience all the highs, lows, and everything in between. Throwing and hand building is the fun part of ceramics, but getting things trimmed, finalized, then glazed can be tedious. Keeping on time with the production schedule is challenging and requires great discipline. Mixing glazes, firing and loading/unloading the kiln is very labor intensive and slow process that requires tremendous focus. Being a ceramicist is one of the hardest jobs I've ever had, but it's the most rewarding! In order to master my craft and art, I try to embrace as many aspects as I can. I don't mind the hard work and enjoy pushing myself to the limit sometimes.
You’ve recently spent a good amount of time at the Daihonzan Chozen-ji zen temple on Oahu. How has your spiritual practice influenced your work?
Training at Chozen-ji helped me immensely, not only in the craft, but also with my life. Everything is connected. Daily zazen meditation helps keep me grounded and always striving for clarity. As artists, it's easy for the ego to get in the way of the work with too much thinking. Something valuable that I learned was to develop my core strength through breath and posture. When these are in sync, the energy becomes smoother and goes straight into the clay. Less force is used and this helps my body stay resilient. I want to approach my work with a mixture of tenacity and freedom.
Images by Katie Winkenhower of @takamediahi
I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with Hawaii-based model Talea Lischetzki and photographer, Katie Winkenhower of TAKA Media. I love how they were able to capture such gorgeous shots highlighting the female form immersed in our island home.
What was the inspiration behind TAKA Media?
I've been wanting to move back home to Hawaii Island for a few years now, but everyone in the modeling industry told me it wouldn’t work, so I stayed, trying to find the balance between my happiness and career. When COVID-19 hit earlier this year, I decided to quarantine at home in Hawaii. It was during a fashion shoot with Katie Winkenhower when we decided to launch TAKA Media. With travel on pause and brands struggling to work within the confines of COVID-19, it just made sense to shoot and create content remotely.
How have the last few months influenced or changed your career as a professional model?
I had a ticket booked to Paris this summer and was planning on spending time with my agency, meeting clients, and shooting with Paris-based photographers. When that didn’t happen, I’ve come to find more clarity about where I want to take my career and what’s important to me in my life, trusting the process.
Where do you draw your creativity from and what inspires you?
I love looking at photographs from the 80's, 90's and early 2000’s. I recently stumbled upon a 1989 Vogue cover of Carré Otis shot by Herb Ritts in Hawaii. It's a simple, gorgeous cover that inspires me to stay connected to what I find beautiful in fashion photography, capturing those unique, effortless moments when everything just clicks. To me, the most beautiful moments in life are the simplest ones when we are able to just be present. Life doesn't always need to be glitz, glamour, and high-production.
We’re all on our own journey of self-acceptance and self-love. What new realizations or breakthroughs would you like to share?
It’s a never ending journey! I have such high expectations of myself to do everything perfectly all the time and look flawless doing it, that I often miss the beauty in imperfection and what it means to be human. I’m learning to be a little easier or gentle with myself as much as possible. I've been repeating the word "surrender" nonstop and hope that it will eventually become my new way of life!
Favorite meal to make?
I love curry! My boyfriend Cayson and I have been working on our curry recipe for the last few years and we've been obsessed with it. We love to go to the farmers market once a week and load up on veggies, throw all of it in the Le Creuset, and live off curry for a week. It's nice because you can just keep it as a veggie dish or add in different proteins throughout the week to switch it up.
I also love blended coconuts. The meat blended with the water makes a refreshing and creamy drink that is simply the best thing ever!
Images from left to right, @chelseastratso, @kali_phillips
One of my dear friends (and mother-to-be!), Monika McKenzie, is the owner of The Yoga Nest, the only black-owned yoga studio in the state of Hawaii. The boutique studio provides an inclusive, peaceful, and serene environment, welcoming yogis of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, and body types. She is a lover of the earth, the sea, playtime, and all things healing.
How did you start your yoga journey and why open a studio in Kona?
I was living in Los Angeles and had extreme anxiety so I decided to give yoga a try. I haven’t looked back since! It was also there that I noticed how many studios lacked diversity, not just with the instructors but among the students as well. When I moved to Kona on the Island of Hawaii, I wanted to create a safe space that would be welcoming to everyone. When I look around the room during each of our classes, it makes me so happy to see this vision come to life.
Any last words?
Every day we need to ask ourselves how we can apply the same principles of inclusion into our lives, beyond our yoga mats. All spaces, especially businesses need to re-evaluate how they can create a culture that is inclusive, rather than exclusive.
Being vulnerable and sharing my personal life has always been something I've shied away from, especially through my business. Recently, I've come to the realization that my work is my life. It was created from within me, and it comes straight from my heart, the ups and downs, all of it. The past few months, finding a bit more time to slow down, I was able to connect with friend, Allison Tan, who was intrigued by my story and encouraged me to share parts of my journey with you.
Inspired by the nomadic lifestyle from your childhood, how has your travels influenced your collection?
My parents, still to this day, have never liked to settle down or commit to any one place for too long. Growing up, we'd often travel with the few things that we owned, searching for the elusive place called "home" where we’d unpack and set up our little homestead. We'd have gardens half an acre in size, canned our own vegetables, made root beer, and raised our own chickens. We lived in different places all across the country, starting in Hawaii, and always ending up back in Hawaii. Some years we lived so remotely, that my parents just found it easier to homeschool us. I remember late nights, eating cinnamon toast and playing card games together as a family rather than watching a television. Now as an adult, I’m able to carry on this lifestyle for a creative, slower, and more conscious life.
Locally, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Hawaii is home. No matter where I travel, I appreciate coming home to Hawaii Island. It’s a place of nature, abundance, and unending beauty, not just seen with the eyes, but felt with the heart. I draw inspiration from the phases and feelings I’m experiencing in life at that time. For instance, 2019 was a difficult year for me personally. Amidst the ending of a relationship I thought would last forever, I found myself escaping to other countries, places, and parts of myself, searching for something solid to ground me. I was looking for someplace or something solid to hold on to while the world around me came crashing down. That year, I created the Nomad Collection, an unassuming collection of muted, earthy hues, inspired by my journey to ground and reconnect with myself. Our next collection is warm and bright. It’s a sunny palette with undeniably feminine silhouettes, which I feel is a direct reflection of where I am right now.
Since the launch of Kepola Design House in 2018, how have you changed as a woman and a business?
When I think about this question it gives me chills because of how far I’ve come. The woman I was two years ago compared to the woman I am today is drastically different. I’ve learned to love, accept, and stand up for myself in ways I never knew possible. I have a much stronger sense of who I am at my core, living my true, authentic self. In 2018, I wasn’t sure where the business would lead and I remember spending countless days and nights doing whatever it took to get the work done. I’ve realized I cannot do everything myself while maintaining a healthy work/life balance. I’m learning how to outsource different aspects of running the business, and letting go of the “I can do everything myself” mentality, which is not an easy task for my Virgo nature. This enables me to spend more time on the overall big picture elements of the brand.
What is your advice to anyone wanting to start their own creative project?
You need to be vulnerable and put yourself out there. You will make mistakes and you will fail, but understand that change and failure is a part of growth and the natural way of life. Not everyone is going to love and understand what you do, but what is important is staying true to your core, and that will set you apart. Never stop trying to improve and ultimately, never stop learning. I still have to remind myself of these things when I lose focus or become insecure.
When you feel overwhelmed, unfocused, or uncreative, what do you do to get out of your head?
I sometimes get so busy with the day to day of running a business that I forget to slow down. When I slow down, I find the time to read more books, journal, cook, play with ceramics or paints. Slowing down gives me the opportunity to get creative and take notice of the details in everyday life, like the colors of houses, the architecture of a building, the anatomy of a plant. My life stays pretty busy, but I try to remember to slow down long enough to see the poetry of everyday life and appreciate it.
What objects have been the most significant to you lately?
My notebooks! With all of our amazing apps and technology, I still prefer writing down ideas, lists, things to do, you name it. My brain works best visually seeing and writing. I have an immense amount of notebooks just lying around the house and the studio that I refuse to get rid of.
Can you share a schedule of your typical day? If there are no “typical” days, what are your constants?
There are definitely no typical days, but I try to create as much consistency as I can. I love my morning coffee, where I set my intentions for the day. Most of my time is spent cutting and sewing, but the best days are the ones I get to play with new design ideas and sort through fabric swatches and color samples. Creativity is what I live for.
What is your go-to easy meal you make yourself?
I love cooking, so I’m always trying to teach myself new things and lately I’ve been studying the theory of cooking. Salt, Fat, Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat is a great resource for this. My go-to meal has to be soup. It’s always been my favorite since it’s easy to make with no recipe needed. For me, a warm bowl of brothy miso or tom yum loaded with vegetables is the coziest way to end my day.
How can you be softer with yourself, embrace more fluidity, more water?
This is something I struggle with. I was raised by strong parents, who taught me to endure, endure, endure. My strength is something I’m very proud of and I thank my parents for raising me this way. It’s only recently that I’ve learned that it’s okay to be soft, open, to feel pain and let it move through you without attachment.
Alternatively, what area in your life is craving a bit more fire?
Travel. I’m feeling called to visit France and Norway. I’m half French and half Scandinavian, and I feel like so much of what I do and create is unconsciously influenced by my DNA and culture. I want to delve deeper and explore that part of me.
The days are hot and work hours long, but when you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like working at all. Each day can be very different from the last. Since I run most of the business myself, one day will be spent creating, another day working on the website, or taking photos, or setting up for a pop-up shop. It all depends on what the new day brings. A typical day in the studio consists of hours of sewing, multiple cups of coffee, sporadic computer work here and there, all while the radio hums continuously in the background. The days I look forward to the most, are the days spent designing and creating new pieces. That is what I live for.
There is a strange, paradoxical state that occurs when you work for yourself. You gain an immense responsibility for this seedling of a business that relies entirely on you to grow. It can take months, even years, to cultivate and eventually become your livelihood. But, at the same time, you are incredibly free. You do not answer to a single soul other than yourself. To be able to create something that is solely yours, through and through, and for it to be the greatest expression of yourself, I wish that for everyone.