PioGurl Gaze Tokyo
23 October 2019
For this month's Gurl Gaze, YEOJA caught up with Japanese-American fashion blogger, Fiona "Pio" Okada. In conversation, the young designer discusses her big move to Tokyo from the U.S and why she started a mental health-focused clothing brand.
Many people live a double life these days; the internet versus day-to-day life. Are there any similarities and differences between your online appearance and yourself in real life?
Pio: When I first started using Instagram, my online personality was who I wanted to be but too shy to be in real life. I’ve always struggled with anxiety growing up and Instagram was the place I could fully express myself, especially through my clothes.
Eventually, it also became the source of my confidence. It helped me be myself, be it dressing in a specific way, or expressing my thoughts. Although my online and real-life personalities still have some differences, I am working on being my true self regardless of the platform and environment.
As a second-generation Japanese-American, what was it like to start a new life in a foreign land that is somewhat familiar?
Pio: I was excited to move to the country I had always connected with in regards to my ethnicity, but the reality was different from my expectations. I was constantly seen as a foreigner in the U.S. and this labelling continued in Japan. It led to a period of feeling homesick without knowing what home I was sick for. Luckily, I found friends who understood my situation and we realized that our home was defined by our friends and family around us, not the country.
What do you first consider when styling an outfit?
Pio: Usually, I start creating an outfit in my head to match a certain piece of clothing. Often times, it’s something new or something that I haven’t worn in a while. After that, I just keep altering the other pieces until I find the best coordination with my mood.
You have a clothing project called To Live, and the first collection tackles mental health. Can you tell us the meaning behind the name and some of your aims for the brand?
Pio: The idea for To Live came to me during my darkest time. I was struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies. I realized that fashion was something that helped with my mental illnesses and that I wanted to use my love for fashion to help others in similar situations; even if it is only one person.
I decided to use my negative emotions to create something positive, creating the first collection with the theme of overcoming mental health problems. To Live is a brand that aspires to reach out [to people] who are trying their best to live. My goal, in the future, is to continue creating clothes that raise awareness and fight global issues; be it economic, social, or personal.
What do you want your customers to feel when putting on clothes designed by you?
Pio: I believe wearing clothes, whether designed by me or others, should help you express yourself and make you feel confident or happy. I hope my personal designs from my first collection gives my customers both confidence and strength to live their lives to the fullest. I hope my clothes will act as their support in finding themselves.
After establishing To Live, have you given much thought to the question that appears on many of your designs, “what does it mean to live?”
Pio: While creating my first collection, my mind went through three phases before coming up with the final question, “what does it mean to live?”
First, I asked myself, “How do I live?” This question challenged me to strive to find the answer to survive through the mental struggles I was facing.
Next, I moved on to, “How can I live?” This question represented my thoughts; whether living was even possible for me, especially during my state at that time.
Lastly, I asked, “How will I live?” After overcoming my lack of will and confidence to live, my final step was to decide what I would do moving forward in order to live a life that matters to me. My answer to this was to create this project brand to reach out to others also trying their best to live.
Original photography by Pu exclusively for YEOJA Mag. If you haven’t already, follow Pio on Instagram. For more like this, check out pur previous Gurl Gaze with ChenWan. For all Gurl Gaze articles, click here.