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On this episode of ‘Vibe Check,’ host Jian DeLeon catches up with stylist and consultant Taylor Okata. The work grind never stops for a freelancer: even when faced with cancelations and postponements, he’s continuously putting together pitches and mood boards for the right opportunity to come around. Taylor recently shared his home workspace for our WFH Office Tour, unveiling a minimal and streamlined setup. For Taylor, the quarantine is a moment to reevaluate his business, including the role he plays in his family business.
The below interview is a transcribed version of ‘Vibe Check.’ It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jian DeLeon: So of course you grew up in Hawaii and a lot of people might now know, but your dad has this amazing bento restaurant.
Taylor Okata: Yes sir.
JD: And I feel when we grow up being Asian or Asian descent, it’s those things where it’s, okay, if you do something practical like food, people will always need that. And then we pursue these creative paths and then something like this happens and all of a sudden it’s like, wait. So it’s kinda not essential, what I’ve been doing, in a sense.
TO: Absolutely. Yeah, for sure.
JD: Can you expand on that realization that, okay, if society does happen to grind to a halt, I need to reevaluate how I can either keep doing what I’m doing or maybe reassess what I can do.
TO: Mhm. I mean, my dad has had his takeout shop for almost 40 years now and I grew up working in the shop as my sister did. College and moving to the mainland just seemed like a dream. So when I did get the opportunity to go to college, I didn’t study fashion. I initially didn’t want to take up a study that was “creative” especially working for my dad and working with lower income resources and going to schools that less than a quarter of the kids get to go on to higher education. So when all this went down, the first thing I thought of was actually my dad’s shop. I thought, okay, maybe it’s really time for me to think about mapping out a business plan for him. Not to say that I would completely give up my role as an artist and as a creative because I think it’ll always be within me, but I also have always wanted to do this for my dad.
In Hawaii where there’s no notion of winter and T-shirts are a wardrobe staple, Taylor has integrated the custom into his family’s restaurant business and found a way to merge the best of both worlds by designing merch (5:07). Everyone loves to rep their favorite local hole-in-the-walls, and tourists are no exception. Most of the confirmed coronavirus cases in the state of Hawaii have been due to the arrival of individuals on vacation. While tourism is still crucial for the economy in an immediate sense, it could risk livelihoods in the long run (6:18).
TO: Have we not learned from history? 90% of the Hawaiian population was killed by disease by Europeans coming over and bringing disease. And then you just have history repeat itself with these selfish people coming on their vacations. A couple were people that were residents of Hawaii that were returning from vacation from the mainland. But a lot of it were tourists that knowingly were in contact with people with the disease.
JD: Yeah, definitely. So sort of back to styling, about how many gigs have been canceled for you and did you have a nest egg or a backup plan in case something like this happened?
TO: Totally. I think we all just have been coming off of the crazy back to back fashion weeks that I was just in it. I wasn’t really thinking about setting up to have cushions. Everybody is just put on pause and I even just completed a couple of jobs that I’m still waiting on payments for and that’s nerve wracking. Because then you just automatically, you have PTSD of being a freelancer or people not paying on time.
The global pandemic is truly putting things into perspective, including America’s flawed healthcare system. Given their personal experiences, Taylor and Jian are both acutely aware of the importance of health insurance and benefits (10:37). They recollect not-so-great memories as freelancers but also moments of inspiration and long distance intimacy via FaceTime (12:04).
JD: When I interviewed Evan Mock for an article we did about him and you were telling me the story about how FaceTime has become this default method of communication. Are you still FaceTiming a lot? And he said something along the lines of, you didn’t want to FaceTime because you didn’t like how you looked or something like that. And he said, I don’t have time for your insecurities, which I thought was the biggest flex ever.
TO: Yeah. It was so funny to have my much younger friend and client and confidant, just put me in check. He ended up naming his art show, his photo show, after that conversation. It was all portraits of people that really put me in motion and it’s great especially now. I’ve been FaceTiming more than ever. I sang happy birthday to my nephew yesterday via FaceTime. He’s just turned four and it felt like I was there. He’s not old enough to know the difference really. And I just hung out on FaceTime for an hour with him and it was great.
Look out for new episodes of ‘Vibe Check’ dropping every Tuesday and Thursday.