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PEAK PERFORMERS:

Coastal Kinetics: Nai Vasha

and Sophia Chang


The creative duo behind Undo magazine have perfected the art of cross-country collaboration.

By: Amanda Smith | Photos: Tawni Bannister and Skip Hopkins

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Chang is wearing the Start Here Crop

Sophia Chang and Nai Vasha are human magnets.

The creative duo is currently holding down the positive and negative charge on opposite coasts, and a whole lot is happening in between. Not only do they innately draw people together – building connections and collaboration between brands, creatives, athletes and media – frankly, these two just have. So. Much. Energy.

They channel that energy into two main endeavours: a creative agency, called We Ascend, and a mostly-biannual lifestyle and fitness publication, Undo magazine. It’s a creative collaboration that literally spans the continent.

Chang (a native New Yorker, currently living in downtown LA) and Vasha (originally from California but now posting up in Queens, NY) are always on the move. No day is the same – they could be in Tokyo producing content for global athletic brands, in LA designing a shoe collaboration, or in New York planning multiple events to launch the latest issue of Undo. From their respective outposts, Chang and Vasha serve as cross-coastal anchors, filling the space with partners and collaborators who fuel their movement.

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Vasha is wearing the Chatham Culotte

It’s exactly the kind of collaboration that launched their friendship. The two met in the wake of Hurricane Sandy when, in the midst of a deserted New York City, a mutual acquaintance pulled them together for an impromptu photo shoot.

It was an instant connection. Vasha brings a searing confidence and unapologetic realness – it’s clear she’ll always be 10 steps ahead of you, but she really wants to bring you along. Small, but powerful, Chang is a beacon – either because of her signature top-knot, her distinctive take on bold streetwear or just her relentless desire to include you in what she is doing. These women are master networkers. They are resourceful, and remarkably practical for women who live and breathe bold fashion. No matter the coast, you will not find these women in heels. They just have too much to do.

Vasha and Chang gave us a look into their full-contact days on opposite coasts and gave us the word on cross-country collaboration, functional style, finding balance and the differences between America’s east and west power cities.

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Chang is wearing the Pleat It Culotte

ON CREATING AN AGENCY

Nai Vasha: I've always had some kind of fun job where I was able to hire people. This idea of having an agency, that was in my head. I just didn't know how to execute it. My grandparents worked endlessly in the civil rights movement. There’s an understanding of how grassroots movement works, and how you can really change the community by working together with people.

Sophia Chang: It's always been hard for me to explain to people what I do. I was working on redefining my brand strategy. I just realized, maybe I should start an agency. In the process, I was like, "Who's someone that can maybe partner on this agency with me?” The first person that came to mind was Nai. It just worked.”

ON BI-COASTAL COLLABORATION

SC: We have the ability to hop on and off of projects. She might check out at a certain time, and I'll just hop back in. It's almost like a 24 hour situation, and it's worked really well for us.

NV: I'm in LA almost every week. I believe so much in what we're doing. I just decided to make the serious sacrifice. Because no one assumes that I'm only in LA, or only in New York. They see that I'm bouncing back and forth, and so they're just like, "We're going to call you no matter what, and offer you an opportunity."

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Vasha is wearing the Fay Sleeveless

ON NEW YORK VERSUS LA

SC: As a New Yorker, we're very straightforward. We don't like to waste our time. If we say we're going to do something, we're going to be there. We bring this New York energy out here. People in LA want to be part of it, but they don’t always want to put in the work.

NV: In Los Angeles things don’t always get done – there’s an end-of-week attitude, where New York is end-of-day.

ON LIVING IN NEW YORK

NV: It's freedom. It's creativity. There's this energy here that you can't escape. You might want to for a minute, but then you get back and you're like, "Gosh, that is what life is." I'm very minimal. It's a lot easier to think that way when you live in a box. There's power here, there's movement, there's the ability to see so many people in one day.

ON LIVING IN LOS ANGELES

SC: There's this really interesting collaborative, creative energy that's happening here. I've met so many native New Yorkers out here in LA. It's a group of artsy creatives that are very community based – that are all into collaboration, between the fashion and streetwear and urban and high fashion. They're not snooty kids, they're just cool kids. Creatives and craftsmen. I wouldn’t call them ‘hipster’ – there’s no name for them yet.

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Chang is wearing the Pleat It Culotte

ON DRESSING FOR FULL-CONTACT DAYS

SC: Whenever we're on set or working, we always have a classic outfit – nylon, almost wind breaker-y kind of pants that are comfortable, loose, not too tight around the butt, and a technical cape sweater that is super comfortable and has so many pockets. Pockets are super important. Comfort is number one for me.

NV: I always have a sports bra on. I've had to accept that about my life. Always a pair of shorts. I'm also a sweaty girl, so there'll be a change of shirts. There are always pockets on my clothes, that's for sure. Nothing that's really limiting, because I'm a ground shooter. I hit the ground fast and I capture the epic shots.

ON PRIORITIZING

SC: If something is important to you, you're going to do it. You're not going to forget to feed the dog. You always make time for it. We need to be open to adjustments but at the same time, understand that in work, your word and your reputation are key.

NV: I have no real social life. I lived in Vegas for five years, so I lost all that desire to go out and drink. Running is that one social activity. I absolutely have to eat a certain way. That's why I work out. I don't make time for media and pop culture because I don't care. I try to learn things every day, question them all.

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ON STAYING ACTIVE

NV: I can flip a car in the morning, I have that much energy. I go and get out the first batch of energy I have. In summertime I usually drink a liter of water before I go run.

SC: It's definitely a lot more active out [in LA]. In New York, I used to do strength training with personal trainer and aerial silks. That was really it. Out here in LA, I do yoga. I also do indoor bouldering and, if I have time, I do some aerial silks still as well.

ON WHAT DRIVES THE HUSTLE

NV: I have a fire in my belly for people. I have a passion to really help people. I can't escape it –I've always been this way. It's just about championing people. I wake up with it – I know what passion is.

SC: Just the feeling of knowing that you gave something back to the creative world. Everything that I've experienced funnelled back into my work of this cyclical, creative process and creative community.

From coast to coast, follow Vasha and Chang at @hi_vasha and @esymai. Plus, see another classic LA vs. NYC showdown as two surfers battle for top swell.