Naomi Takata Shepherd, an artist and creator based in San Jose, CA, is the founder of 6 Degrees of Hapa, an inclusive online and in-person platform that celebrates mixed cultures through art, apparel, storytelling and community building. Her goal in creating the brand was to celebrate hapas as individuals, along with the family, friends and communities that hold them up and make them who they are. Through pop-up activations at festivals, #ShareYourHapaStory blog posts that feature amazing hapas, stories about their experiences and identity; food and cultural events and more, Shepherd has continued to champion the culture through thought, word and action. On the 6 Degrees of Hapa Threadless Artist Shop, a limited edition “Mixed Communities for Black Lives” t-shirt is available with 100% of proceeds being donated to Black Lives Matter. Along with her successful business, Shepherd is passionate about writing, designing and creating art and films with a focus on intersectional and inclusive narratives. Read on to learn more about Naomi and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Naomi Takata Shepherd
Heritage: Mixed Japanese American, Italian/Irish/? American
Hometown: San Jose, CA
Current City: San Jose, CA / Alameda, CA
Creating art for my business, 6 Degrees of Hapa, which is all about celebrating mixed cultures through art, apparel, community building, and storytelling!
What are some of your favorite credits/projects?:
I started a project through my business 6 Degrees of Hapa in 2017 titled "Share Your Hapa Story" where people and families of Hapa/mixed backgrounds can contribute their stories and experiences about their identity. The project has over forty entries now, which can be viewed on Instagram at the hashtag #ShareYourHapaStory, and I'm always amazed at the stories people send in and humbled that they've entrusted me with including their story in the 6 Degrees of Hapa's project. I'm working on publishing everyone's stories to my business' new online home, too, along with the project guidelines, because I'm always looking for new contributors!
One of my other favorite projects is co-directing a music video "In the Fog/神隠し" with and for my sibling, Matthew Takata Shepherd (aka Vioulet), which screened at Outfest LA in 2019. There's nothing like working with family and friends to create something and I feel really fortunate I was able to bring my background and resources to the table to help Matthew create their vision.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Don't forget your roots and what drives you to do what you're doing when you're pursuing your projects. One pitfall that's very easy to get caught up in is wanting to make "the best" project you can based on standards that weren't built for and by marginalized people and communities. I fell into that trap in film school where I had no support from my mostly male, all white teachers and I ended up creating a thesis that was to their standards, not mine. I recognize that as a student, there was only so much I could do to stand up for myself, but it still does not sit well with me. Now, I choose and create projects based on what's important to me, which is community and representation, and not what's important to someone else.
Also, don't feel afraid or ashamed to decide you want to try something else, whether it's another path in the arts, or another field entirely. I went to school for film and still work on my own film projects, but decided to put my main focus into my micro business, which requires a lot of business skills and (my favorite parts) community building and creating art.
How did you get your start?
My business, 6 Degrees of Hapa, began with two t-shirt designs, a table at a craft show, and the hope that these t-shirts might be conversation starters and a way for people to show their pride in their mixed identities.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
Since its start, 6 Degrees of Hapa has grown well beyond my expectations and it’s really fulfilling to get contributions to 6 Degrees of Hapa’s “Share Your Hapa Story” project and to hear from people that they’ve made new friends through 6 Degrees of Hapa. I’d say the collective experience of having people come up to my 6 Degrees of Hapa pop- ups at festivals and hearing their excitement at having a shop “made for them” is really valuable to me. I know what it’s like not to be seen and heard as a mixed person, and that’s a big reason why I created my business. Representation truly does matter.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
I’d like to mention that I haven’t had just one “job” or “career”–I’ve had multiple and though it’s taken me a long time to realize that that’s okay, it isokay. Some of these have been by choice, and some of these have been by necessity. I’ve dealt with a major emergency pelvic surgery that knocked me out of my film production “career” path, car accidents that left me in chronic pain for years, finally a disc replacement surgery, and then another major pelvic surgery last year. I’ve had to start over multiple times and every time has been a huge challenge–the latest challenge is being unable to have my pop-up shops at in-person festivals and shows this year because of the pandemic. Being a business owner is a challenge every day, but it’s also rewarding, and that’s what keeps me going.
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
I recently joined the planning committee for San Jose Japantown’s Nikkei Matsuri, which is an event I’ve participated in as an artisan since 2015. San Jose Japantown is an important part of my identity as a mixed Japanese American, and I’m happy to have a way to participate not just as an artisan/micro business, but as a community member by putting my time and energy into the Nikkei Matsuri Foundation.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
Yes, I’d say that a path in the arts has always been in the cards for me. I’ve been using art and writing since I was very little to help me figure out my own identity by creating things that had to do with my mixed background.
What inspires your art?
I draw inspiration for my art from imagery that I’ve grown up with, like Kokeshi dolls from my grandparents’ house, and Hawaiian imagery to honor and acknowledge that “hapa” is a Hawaiian word.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you’ve worked to pay the bills?
I wouldn’t call it such an “odd job,” but I do work as a substitute teacher for elementary and middle school students to help pay the bills. It’s not an easy job, but I have a lot of fun working with kids.
If you come from parents who aren’t in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the arts?
My parents are not in the arts, but I definitely inherited their attention to detail and a drive to put a lot of time and care into everything I do.
Do you have any other “special skills?”
Each new piece I dream up for 6 Degrees of Hapa often means learning new skills and art techniques, like digital pattern design, and I have a lot of fun with it. Over the years, I’ve taught myself how to screen print, sew bathing suits, block print, and find new ways of applying my art to apparel and 6 Degrees of Hapa gear.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?
I’m extremely fortunate to come from a family that’s always been supportive of my creativity, and not only that, they’ve been supportive of my business from the start. I wouldn’t be able to run my pop up shops by myself, and I’m grateful that I have family and friends who are game to come help me out at the festivals I’m a part of. I’ve had to ask for a lot of help over the years and sometimes that can be tough, but I think especially for those of us on a path in the arts, being able to ask for help when you need it, not taking advantage of people’s time, and being appreciative for the help you do receive is really important and your art comes out better for it.
What do you love most about what you do?
When I started 6 Degrees of Hapa, I really wanted to create a space for mixed individuals and families with my brand. Getting to a point where I’m seeing that intention in action through the people who share their stories, who come to visit me at my pop-ups, and who tell me about how they’ve made friends through 6 Degrees of Hapa is what I love most about my work.
To find out more about Naomi, please visit her at:
Instagram:@6degreesofhapa or @naomimarikocreates
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