"You. Are. Not. Invincible. The world is tremendous, and you have to respect all of it while you travel along."
Zak Profera studied conceptual art at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he learned that great ideas come from the most unlikely places. His relentlessly curious nature and adherence to eclecticism have resulted in an aesthetic that is classic, contemporary and ever shifting. From the outskirts of Istanbul in search of vintage finds, to the depths of the Black Forest for an open-air expedition, Zak's travels afar charge his imagination with the same sense of adventure that inspires his designs. He presently lives and works in New York City with his "fox," a Shiba Inu named Shinji.
I was working in a completely different career — I landed in a marketing position in the music industry when I came to NY, and carried on with that for a few years until I realized that a corporate life wasn’t for me. The “music” part of the music industry was severely lacking — I very much felt like a cog in the wheel, and I think I survived about 7 rounds of layoffs in 5 years as the music biz continued to unravel. I also think I was a very different person then; I was much more timid and I felt under-appreciated in so many ways. I felt like I had very little opportunity to speak up or shine — a new creative perspective wasn’t something that the guys in suits cared much about. I would leave the office so many nights, plotting out the future of my career in my head and it paralyzed me. I would panic, thinking I might literally die if I had to keep doing this the rest of my life.
There’s that famous Winston Churchill quote that plays in a loop in my head: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Transformation can be a challenging thing, despite how exciting it is. My own process of “changing my life” hasn’t been without its share of turbulence — while Zak + Fox really started to take shape, the long-term relationship I was in also crumbled and scattered off into the wind. That was a hard thing for me to come to terms with, but I do think there is something to be said about the laws of balance — of harmony. And I don’t consider myself to be a spiritual person, but I’m not sure all the good things would have come to fruition without the loss.
I was planning on going to Japan in May. I’d never been, and my ex never wanted to go to Asia — so here I was, a free agent. Work was too intense and I never found a comfortable opportunity to run away for 10 days, so I figured it would just be best to wait until the end of the year. Cambodia and Laos both sounded magical, exotic, but also gentle; I was craving “culture" but was also yearning for something that felt rural and unlike my life in New York City.
I had three specific “favorite” moments of the trip: the first was dirt biking through the country outside of Siem Reap. I hopped a quad and raced through coconut farms and rice fields, drove past slaughter houses and pagodas, and slowed down to give local village kids high-fives on the road while they were on their way to school. At the end of the day I was covered in dirt and cow shit and sunburned in ways I couldn’t predict — and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.
My second favorite moment was on Christmas Day, actually — I was in a tuktuk heading back from a village and we were driving down a highway past all these roadside pubs — basically these open houses on stilts, decked out in hammocks. They all served the same thing — local food and beer. I made the driver stop and I threw myself into a hammock, had a few beers, and watched the sun set on the countryside. It might have been the one moment of the trip where I was the most introspective (not because of the beer).
Third: while in Cambodia, I decided to hop over to Laos since a friend had made such a big fuss about it to me. He said it was where I would find everything I was craving out of this trip and more — and he was right. Laos is very different than where I was in Cambodia (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh) — it is much quieter, softer, lush….less trampled by tourism. I camped in the jungle for one night along the Nam Khan river and when I awoke, I watched the sun rise in a kaleidoscope of violet and gold — fog spilling over and tumbling down the mountainside. I was suffering from the worst possible jetlag imaginable, so I was awake for a long time sat there in the darkness until the sun emerged and made its march across the sky.
The number one lesson I learned, which is something that I think you only realize when you travel: You. Are. Not. Invincible. There is a whole world out there, completely foreign to your own. The rules are different. Whatever applies in New York City has no weight in Luang Prabang. The world is tremendous, and you have to respect all of it while you travel along.
All images used with permission from Zak Profera.