For entrepreneur and DC native, Imani K. Brown, being kawaii became more than just a sub-set of a Japanese culture that she enjoyed participating in. It became a way of healing and empowerment — not only for herself but her clients and other creatives. In this sit down with Imani, we talk about how this culture in Japanese fashion became a lifestyle for not only herself, but how it affects the community around her. More importantly, how she lives by the motto, “paint everyday BRIGHT”!
Cake: As a black woman, how are you able to blend together your two aesthetics: being kawaii and your blackness?
Imani: [laughs] I just talked about how you can be inspired by things, but you make it your own. So, I talked about how you can be inspired by kawaii culture and the things within it, but you add it to your own style and your own blackness. My blackness was already there. It was never going away… It was kind of there, so I added what I like from kawaii culture and what resonated with me.
Cake: So, piggybacking off of that, what is the thing that resonates most with you when it comes to the culture?
Imani: With kawaii culture, I think the most that resonates with me would be the empowerment part. There’s group empowerment and self-empowerment that happens within the culture. Self-empowerment is using those things that are on the outside to trigger happiness. So [for example], using bright colors. In my sense, I use stripes and polka dots. So, you will see me in a lot of stripes and polka dots and a whole lot of pink all the time. Those things help trigger what I would like to feel on the inside until I can feel that way on my own. It becomes a self-empowerment thing. Surrounding yourself with cute things that will genuinely make you happy.
Group empowerment comes from going to you meet ups and you find that other people who are on the same journey, have the same feel[ings], may of have similar experiences, things like that, and you’re meeting over such a happy and colorful aesthetic that it makes it a lot easier to get through those harder things. You find people who are going through or battling the same things and you end up with this really colorful support system. Those are the most important things.
Cake: That was one of the things that I was about to ask you. You’re big on empowerment and using kawaii empowerment as a healing mechanism. How are you able to this avenue as a way to heal or impact the community not only within yourself but around you?
Imani: Good question. Back to group and self-empowerment, if I did take [steps] to start to help empower myself, [and to] become more self-accountable, those things, once they take hold in me, I can then transmit them out. If I’m surrounded or in the middle of my community, for any reason, then my own self-empowerment, my own happiness, becomes more like a nucleus, if you will. The stronger that happiness, the stronger that confidence, the stronger that self-empowerment is and leading by example, among all other things, then the more that actually goes out into other things. So, literally like “leading by example”. So, you take everything that you learned from your own self-empowerment and your own self-accountability, self-growth, and put [you] that out there into the world. Now, you’ve taken all that stuff that you put into you and now you’re acting as a better person. You can actually lead by example. Other people pick up on that and pick up on the smaller things that other people don’t think matters anymore. Those things are the things that lends themselves to be able to help the community. “Kawaii” I don’t think it’s for everybody, but I think there’s elements in “kawaii” in general that can literally touch the world.
Cake: I don’t know if you have seen how over in Japan, what is the kind of kawaii where it was pink and frilly that you would see in normal kawaii, but is was geared more towards death and suicide?
Imani: Yami kawaii?
Imani: [excitedly] That’s my sh**!
Cake: How do you feel about that?
Imani: I love it! Oh my God, I love it! So, look, in real life, as I started doing more in kawaii, I saw, especially when building DC Kawaii Style, what I saw a lot of was that there are a lot of people are looking cute outwardly who don’t feel that same cuteness inwardly. We feel manic. There are things that feel like there are torn apart, but you are already emitting what you want your present self or what you want your future self to feel like. I always say that “kawaii” is one of those “fake it ‘til you make it” type cultures, where [redacted] people hid [laughs]. They are definitely the people you should fear, but not like in terms of what we’ve been fed terms to look for. These are usually people who have some type of self-accountability. They want to do better and that’s why you’re hiding in kawaii. You’re literally trying to do better and until you can do better, you make kind of yourself feel good. You make yourself feel better until you can trigger it on the inside. Most of the time, now, people who are in kawaii and have used that, I’m one of them, are able to do better from the inside and, again, use that as a nucleus to transmit out. You use yourself to lead by example to say, “I was able to do better, and this is how you can, too and we can do it in a very colorful and happy way where it doesn’t feel so cumbersome”. It doesn’t feel like self-improvement, but it is pink.
Cake: You just got to paint your life colorful, I guess.
Imani: [nods in agreement]
Cake: With the background of illustration, and you having — what I think to be — successful private tattoo studio, what advice would you give to someone who wants to build a business within the fandom(s) that they enjoy? You were able to build this up off the fact that you’re like “I’m kawaii. This is what I do. This is my aesthetic”.
Imani: If you are already in the lifestyle, in the hobby, think about things you consume and think about how you can create them instead of consuming them. Become a creative/consumer, if you will. I still consume a whole lot of kawaii stuff, but I also create it and sell it as well. Don’t think of it as a side hustle. If it’s something you love, then it’s something you love. That’s it. It can always grow into something a lot bigger. So, if you are doing anything in those fandom elements, don’t think of it as a side hustle. Think of it as something that you love that can grow into something bigger and put your heart into it. Last, but not least, don’t be afraid. If you’re spending money there, there is also money to be made. So, don’t be afraid to just go out and see what opportunities await in terms of building those things.
Cake: You have mentioned earlier about DC Kawaii Style. How do you see growing in the foreseeable future? Maybe within five years from now?
Imani: I don’t know, but it’s going to be amazing. It is, it’s going to be amazing. I don’t where I see us in five years. Hopefully, I won’t be tattooing in this studio and this studio, Little INKPLAY Shop, will be just DC Kawaii Style Headquarters all together, bustling with kawaii-ness more. Being able to create jobs and opportunities within the community for people who actually want to start diving into their fandoms and figuring out how to make their into those things. Hopefully, in five years, we will be a full bustling non-profit and we’ll be actually helping people in the kawaii community in terms of how they actually want to build their businesses based on their fandoms. Aside from that, the niche, my baby that embedded in DC Kawaii Style, Kawaii in da Hood, will, hopefully, be having on going workshops, especially in Ivy City (a community within DC), in terms of kawaii arts and D.I.Y. and what that looks like to create an entrepreneurship platform or mission based off of art and creativity. For black kids, because they’re cute.
Cake: So, race, age, or gender really doesn’t apply to a fandom such as this. It’s either you like it or you don’t?
Imani: I don’t think it applies to anything. It applies to things if you make it apply but you’re only as old as you make yourself. That whole cliché thing of “age ain’t nothing but a number”, while it applies to somethings, in terms of interactions, [but] when it comes to how you see yourself and how you commit to the world, it’s nothing but a number.
Cake: Any future projects? Anything you want to plug like “hey come look at me do the thing over here”?
Imani: Join DC Kawaii Style if you want to see what happens there. DC Kawaii Style and Little INKPLAY Shop are definitely connected, so you can see everything from there. We have a lot unrolling for 2019, which should be fun. Definitely, we are working on more creative art camps and all types of “First Friday” workshops for the studio. Yeah, 2019 is going to be really kawaii. We said in 2015, that we wanted to bring more kawaii to DC. So, 2019 it’s going to be happening, undisturbed. So, join the community!