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Conversations with Evan Tanaka

Today we’d like to introduce you to Evan Tanaka.

Hi Evan, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
My story isn’t a straight line, and of course, that is what makes it interesting. Let’s see, I originally went to school to study Kinesiology to be a Physical Therapist, but as graduation slowly got closer and closer, I realized I didn’t want to be a Physical Therapist anymore. I knew I wasn’t unique in not wanting to use my degree but I went from being so certain to that being my future to a huge realization I was not challenging the creative side I had nurtured so much as a kid growing up. I used to paint, sculpt, charcoal, and of course, photography. Of course, as you grow up, your childhood hobbies don’t tend to be your career as an adult. So after I graduated, I got lucky and was able to get a job through a family friend. I ended up moving back up to Carmel, where I actually grew up and worked at the Monetary Pinisula Foundation. They put on world-class golf tournaments, like the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and I was happy to shift my gears as a Marketing Specialist. My time there motivated me to go back to school to get my MBA. So I did… and this is where it all starts really.

During my time at The University of Oregon, I decided to start a small clothing company with my business partner, Tyler, called Valen. Since it was a startup, we wore all of the hats. One of those hats is the reason I found my true passion. I had to photograph, film, and direct people working out in our clothing, shooting ads, and creating content for social media. I didn’t realize at the time this small passion and hobby was going to pave the way for the direction I wanted to go in. Once I graduated, I got a job at a wealth and investment firm to help build their public presence and create company awareness, during that time I started filming and editing for a company called Morphe and other smaller brands on the weekends. I eventually was approached by a startup company that specialized in men’s footwear as the Senior Content Producer. This is where I really was able to fine-tune my view on how I saw a product and really work on challenging my craft. I believed in what they were doing and then the worst happened, I lost my job due to Covid. I felt like I was in such a good position to work with a team and establish myself there. To be honest, I was stuck at that point and didn’t know what to do. My finance likes to say, while everyone was making up dances on TikTok and binge-watching Netflix, I decided to get off my butt and do something about it. That is exactly what I did. I turned my garage into a mini studio and started created things. Whether it was good or bad I just wanted to do what I love and that is create something out of nothing. I started to do Behind The Scene videos on TikTok and Instagram and people seemed to really appreciate how I was able to show how to still be creative in quarantine.

Using different items, products, and rooms around your home. It started to turn into me doing a lot of product work and from my growth to now, almost half a million followers on TikTok and Instagram combined, I was being reached out to by companies to shoot for them. They even wanted me to shoot my Behind The Scenes to show how I got that shot for them. Covid was the best/worst thing to happen to me. I was finally able to allow my passion my lead me instead of what my next job was, what my salary was, where I was going with my work. I was able to finally create for myself for the first time since I was kid. I finally loved what I did and what I was doing. Since then, within one year, I have grown into an established company, Naka Studios. We have worked with Starbucks, White Claw, Teremana Tequilla, Morphe, Truff, Aviator Nation, Cuts Clothing, and many more happening and many more in the works. I am also building great relationship with reputable brands like Sony and Profoto. You know, growing up in Hawaii and moving to the mainland, I truly never thought I would be doing something I loved. I followed what I knew, but it didn’t feel right. If I never trusted that gut feeling, as scary as it was at the time, I don’t think I would be where I am at today. Also, with the lockdown, I took a step back and realized I could keep waiting for something to happen or making something for myself. Naka Studios is slowly making its way out of my garage and into an actual studio with my team, and we hope to always make great shit, no matter the cost.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Absolutely not. Like most people, I had many ups and downs. Not believing in myself, not sure of what would happen from my decisions. I struggled to feel secure in my jobs until this past year.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a photographer and videographer. My company, Naka Studios, is a full-service production house. I would say I am known for bringing life to products. Showing movement, ingredients, and essence in a lively way. I make products interesting and exciting. What I am most proud of is being able to create a career that my younger self would be proud of. I was able to build something in a time that I thought was going to completely break me. I feel very lucky I was able to build what I did when the world was in complete shock. The work I do, at its core, creating something out of nothing, is what I did and is what I do for companies. It is an interesting parallel. I created a career from nothing, and I am able to take a product, which at times is simple, and make it interesting and make you notice it.

Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
Within the next year, we hope to take our business from the garage to a fully built-out studio space and establishing ourselves as a household name. We are currently bringing on other photographers, editors, videographers, producers and building our team to be a bigger running production house. We are in the age of entrepreneurship. So we hope to be one of the leading production companies that help create exciting, high-quality, and engaging content for emerging startup companies with an approachable budget. This will allow these companies to go to that next level. We were a startup and now we want to support those who are starting up.

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Image Credits
Evan Tanaka

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