Interview by Kazeem Kuteyi, Photography by Kahlil Hernandez
“I don’t want to die with a binder full of ideas” is a philosophy that Nai Vasha holds dear. Her curiosity and willingness to constantly absorb information and learn new skills has led to execution of creative projects for brands like Nike, Adidas, K-Swiss and Puma. She’s also the owner of UNDO magazine, a popular publication that’s dedicated to health, fitness and lifestyle and co-founded a brand experience agency, We Ascend. During an early morning this past Spring, we had an in-depth conversation with her over tea where we got to learn about her creative journey and dig into what motivates her.
Is creative direction always something you wanted to do when you were young?
No I didn’t. I remember my friend telling me what Art Direction was as far as a job title and I was like, “Really! You can do that?” I didn’t know. I had a lot to play with and a lot to work with and neither I nor my family knew what to do with me. So here we are.
Before you knew what art direction was, did you have other career aspirations?
I danced. I’m a performer by nature.
What kind of dance?
I did ballet, then modern, and of course like Hip-Hop. I was trying to go on tour with all these performers. I’m a theatre kid, a pageant kid, so I have all that in my back pocket.
Why didn’t you end up pursuing that?
I felt like a monkey and on show for people. You get type casted for certain things. When you start performing when you’re young and all people wanted to do was touch me and play with me. I didn’t want that. That kind of stuff messes up a lot of child actors and performers because they want to have that separation of being on and off stage. So I wanted to understand the behind the scenes around production because those people seemed to have a better life and they weren’t forced to act a certain way.
How did you fall into what you are doing right now?
I worked my ass off. I didn’t fall into anywhere.
Did you go to school for anything related to what you do now?
I started in film, then finished school in Theatre Design and Tech. I was paying my way through school, learning how to do a lot of things at one time. I lived in Vegas and took full advantage of that environment. I always liked basic mechanics and electrics— I’m very crafty. I worked as a makeup artist. I got into woodworking, lighting, rigging, and I also did some directing. It’s not like I stumbled into anything, I just understood the power of 10,000 hours to become a master and I clocked in daily.
What motivates you?
Death and life.
In what way?
I’m going to die so I might as well do it all. Life is cool so I might as well figure it all out. I’m curious. There’s a lot to explore.
Would you say your parents supported your career path?
Yeah. I think they always knew I was special. They didn’t know how to control me, so it’s not like they had a choice— I didn’t have a choice. When you understand purpose and what you’re supposed to be doing with your time, it’s just about surrendering to your calling.
Was there failure along the way to you becoming who you are today?
No. I’m one of those people who definitely doesn’t believe that I failed in anything.
So failure is not a term you use?
How do you fail? I want to know that answer. A mistake is only a lesson. A hiccup is only setting you back on track. There’s never failure. Success comes with the attempt. No one has the right answer.
Is formal education important?
I think discipline is important. A lot of people I know don’t have that and those are the people who actually stopped going to school. It’s cool. I remember being stuck in Vegas and accepting the fact that the only way out was to finish school. There’s a level of sacrifice and discipline that you have to endure to get what you want— and I think school taught me that.
Are you content?
For me? No. Never content. I’m always curious.
But you’re happy?
How do you achieve that happiness?
Can you elaborate on that?
I’m a spirit in the flesh and I know what I’m here to do so as long I can stay focused on that, nothing else matters.
So you think your creativity serves a higher purpose?
Absolutely. Being here is for a higher purpose. You can’t be mad at anything. If you know your power, you can’t be mad. I know I have power. It’s just how I use it. Those kind of things can kill people. Learning to live in your power can be torture, especially if you don’t have a strong foundation. Life got really good when I finally let the spirit lead me.
What does creative direction as a term mean to you?
I don’t know. I try not use it if I don’t have to. I don’t care about titles. Imagine— you’re fresh out of college and people know that you know how to do a bunch of stuff, but you don’t want to give a lot of titles because you’re still learning how to do stuff. That was my 20s. I just hit 30. Now I’m starting to see what I wanted to see out of that work. I spent my 20s trying to develop my skills and not telling people what I did because I didn’t want to limit myself. Think about it, if you go through your phone looking for a stylist, you will go back to the stylist you thought about ten years ago. They may have changed their career plans by then. That’s a lot of pressure to consider fresh out of college. People just know that I deliver and execute good work. Even if they don’t know the details.
Did you have to sacrifice?
Yes. Every single day.
I’m a very emotional, sensitive and loving woman who wants a farm very far away from people and a family. Obviously I don’t have those things right now and it’s not because I can’t get them, it is because I need to focus on what I’m doing.
Is there going to be a time that you’re going to walk away from everything?
No. I’m never going to walk away from what I naturally do. This part of developing business is part of the course I’m supposed to be on. So even if I have a longing desire to escape because I’ve realized that the world is full of shitty people, I want to create my own tribe somewhere and ignore this bullshit— I can’t do that quite yet, it’s just not time.
What do you think is lacking in this generation when it comes to pursuing a creative career?
People don’t want to work hard. They don’t want to take the time to learn skills. When I had no money I practiced my craft every single day. Skill is so sexy. I picked up running and I started to understand my process and how to sit and work and push my threshold. If I don’t know something, I google it. I put out projects and share it with my friends. So what if a video I made got 43 views, I did it and it’s done. That’s the problem— people are waiting for all this validation. It’s funny because shit I made 5 years ago is finally getting some visibility now and people are watching it. People are afraid of trying new ways and they love sticking to a textbook.
It must feel good that you can be on your schedule. Is it something that you’ve always wanted?
Yeah, but that’s discipline.
Is that the life you always wanted?
I never think about it. I like to work. I told this to a friend, “I’m not going to die with a binder full of ideas”. I know I keep talking about death but that’s reality. Bless my parents heart, but they made all of these promises when I was younger and didn’t follow through. It didn’t scar me but it taught me to say what I mean and actually follow through.
What do you say to kids who are trying to pursue a career in the creative industry?
Don’t explore everything. You’ll get lost if you don’t have guidance. Find the creativity in anything you do. I don’t think it is the industry that is the defining factor with what you’re doing with your time and your creativity. I like food so I’m gonna shoot food and I’m gonna play with food and learn all the flavour profiles of food and study it. If you like accounting, don’t walk away from accounting— find a way to work with an entertainer that needs an accountant. That’s how you stick to what you’re into. You find your niche that way.