We started this “Forces of Nature” series back in August 2020. It has been put on hold as there has been a lot on our plates as of late. Running a startup requires many hats and very few people involved, so we thank you all for bearing with us. But we’re excited to announce that Forces of Nature is back and we will be releasing a new issue every month for you all. Our aim with these interviews is to interview creatives that we are inspired by, many of whom we’ve also had the great opportunity of working with. First it was Noa Emberson, a graphic designer and illustrator who maneuvered the waves of his career (pun intended cause he’s a surfer as well) as Art Director of Surfing Magazine; Second, it was Lindsey Higa, better known as @pineappleice by some, wardrobe stylist, tastemaker extraordinaire and loved by all in the Hawai’i community. For our third interview, we chose none other than Hiro Shinn, our co-founder/CEO/website designer/copywriter/head of product development - you name it, he probably does it. Of course not without the help of our other two co-founders, but this article right now is about him. So let’s dive into it:
How do you connect to nature? What was a specific moment that reminded you that you are part of the natural world?
It’s a little harder to connect to nature in New York compared to Hawai’i. But I do what I can. When I run errands, I make the intention of walking through the park instead of along the asphalt and people scurrying around. When I do have a larger chunk of time, I try to make it out to the beach; I’ll hop on the subway and head to Rockaway Beach for a surf if the waves are any good.
Twice a year in Manhattan, there’s a phenomenon called Manhattanhenge where the angle of the setting sun is such that it penetrates through the streets that go east to west perfectly and creates this really charismatic effect where the orange and pink sunlight bounces off of all the windows and it looks like the city is on fire (in a nice way). I was sitting in my living room the other day and the whole city just lit up a bright orange seeping into my living room. That definitely reminded me that I was a part of nature even though I was sitting in an air-conditioned apartment at the time.
In creating Koa, where you’re starting from the ground up and juggling a lot of hats, how have you found balance between all that you do? You’ve learned how to code for the website and before Kapono (the third co-founder and creative director of Koa) came onboard you had to figure out design and packaging with just you and Ty too - how did you do it? There’s so many layers to being a small business owner and a brand, how did you find balance juggling everything?
To be honest I don’t know that I’ve found it, I wish I could say that I did. It’s a constant exercise of adapting to a multitude of challenges and obstacles we’re facing as a company. It’s about tackling each issue as best we can as they pop up. Over time Ty, Kapono and I have whittled our roles to where we do the things that we’re a little bit more specialized in. So maybe finding balance is splitting the work across people you trust.
We’re trying to make the best products that we can, that will improve the maximum amount of people’s lives. That’s what keeps us going. Even if we’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off sometimes, people really like what we’re doing. And that makes us really happy. And gives us the energy to keep going.
What would you say the universal theme of what you do is?
Thoughtfulness. For example, more thoughtful design choices from material selection to making all of Koa’s products travel-sized.
Multiculturalism too. Being multicultural forces you to be open-minded about things in general because you have multiple dogmas or cultural contexts in tension with each other. It just forces you to be more analytical and considerate of things at large.
Koa is our vote for what we want the world to be like. From our design ethos to our cultural heritage, thoughtfulness is the common thread. We just want the world to be a little more intentional and are doing our best to spread that message.
03. Tradition + Routine
What is a tradition you honor from your heritage? What is a new habit you're just starting, or sticking with this month?
Intentionality of design and thoughtfulness is very Japanese, so I would say that that part of my heritage is something I try to honor everyday.
I have felt that in life in general -- I think this was highlighted during the pandemic -- time appears to be going faster and faster. It’s scary how fast everything is going. A resolution I have is to be more present. Sometimes wearing as many hats running this business, as we talked about earlier, you get lost doing all of this and not appreciate individual moments. I’ve started journaling to be more reflective and appreciative of each day. I’m trying to be more aware of life as it happens to me because I feel like I’ve been getting lost in the momentum of it all.
What's challenging you right now? How are you rising to meet the challenge?
The constant challenge of this business is making stuff we’re proud of that represents who we are, but at the same time, not getting stuck in a perfectionist mindset and doing nothing. That’s the big challenge -- knowing when to stop revising and share what we’re working on with the world.
What gets you moving everyday? Is it physical exercise, creative expression, social engagement? Tell us about your chosen method of being active.
For exercise, I swim 3-4x a week for about an hour. I kind of enter this trance as I’m swimming, since you can’t listen to music, and it becomes meditative for me. It’s funny cause I used to think no music was a disadvantage because I usually love listening to intense EDM or rap when I’m working out.
I also read a lot. Reading books is a way for me to stop being my maniacally focused on business and explore other stuff. I’m heavy into sci-fi right now. I don’t have a particular agenda for reading and flip between fiction and non-fiction. It’s an interesting way to see other perspectives and other worlds.
What creative media are front of mind for you right now? What’s one work you’d share from your reading list, Netflix queue, etc.?
I recently read a book called the Ministry for the Future and a Japanese crime novel called Six Four. Invincible is an adults’ cartoon and it’s really well-done. It’s about a mixed raced teenager coming into his own as a junior superhero while still being a high school student. The movie that I inevitably recommend to everybody is called The Great Beauty, it’s the best movie of all time in my opinion. It’s directed by Paolo Sorrentino about this guy who wanders about Rome thinking existential thoughts. Contemplative, beautiful - it’s so captivating. Highly recommend it.
07. Founder Series
What is the next step for Koa?
The next step is to just share what we’ve built with way more people. Obviously we’re going to continue to improve with new products and stuff, but we’re at that point now where we’ve demonstrated through a lot of happy customers that we’re building something of value to people, which is totally not clear when you’re first starting a business.
Now our goal is not losing sight of why Koa resonates with people while growing our audience. Tactically, that is why we’re going to retail because we feel like we can hit a lot of other audiences that might not already be tuned in to the types of channels that we’re saying stuff in. We’re thinking major retailers like Bloomingdales and Urban Outfitters will help reach other pockets of people that would be into what we’re doing, but whom we haven’t been able to reach yet. And of course we’re trying to expand into the motherland of Japan.