It Goes Without Saying, Imani K. Brown is a Powerhouse
Even if the sky were the limit, Imani would go beyond it! Imani, aka @ipukekawaii, is an author, tattooist, kawaii fashion lover and illustrator. But that’s not all! Imani is also a branding coach who helps artists around the world approach their art with a business-like attitude. Phew! It goes without saying, Imani K. Brown is a powerhouse. We caught up with the multi-hyphenate to talk tattoo art, memoirs and self-love.
Please introduce yourself.
Hey fam! My name is Imani K. Brown, tattoo artist, illustrator, author and owner of Little Inkplay Shop a kawaii tattoo fashion house located in Washington, DC area.
Why did you take up the username @ipukekawaii?
I took up the username “@ipukekawaii” because sensational kawaii explodes my happiness even on the days I’m embracing super low lows. When I came into the kawaii lifestyle, I was far more aggressive, a really rough-around-the-edges personality. IRL I’m very direct, an “I said what I said” type of gal. It’s not what would be considered cute, but getting dressed brought out the softer side of me. So I said, “I puke kawaii” simply because while I might not have that same softness every day, when I have it, it just comes out.
How did you first get into tattooing?
I came into tattooing as a self-harmer. I traded my cutting for getting art and still having the same painful release I was seeking. Then I asked a white dude (my then artist) if he’d make me an apprentice. He looked at me directly and said “I’d never apprentice a Black person let alone a woman”. That hit. And then I saw this as a legit challenge. And thankfully so. Cuz had he not said that I wouldn’t be the artist I am today. So, thank you guy I won’t name.
I had a photography business by the time I graduated from college, I went to get a tattoo. I shamelessly plugged myself, so Chris Mensah, my tattooist, gave me a date, time and location. I was there early, portfolio in hand and treating this meeting like a job interview. He started training me that day. Shortly after, I dove into learning the art of tattooing. It’s been a wrap ever since.
How does it feel to be known as the 2nd most prominent Black female tattoo artist in US History?
It’s… weird. I’m just starting to grasp and accept this happenstance of my career. It’s taken almost 20 years to understand the magnitude of that. I have always talked about it passively—playing it small. Surviving through life doesn’t really allow much for stopping to reflect. It’s not something I would have thought I deserved for myself, but now I’m taking time to reflect more, appreciating the small (and big) things.
What does tattoo art mean to you?
Tattoo art to me is telling unique stories on skin, telling the stories of the heart. Cee-lo Green has a song, Big Ol’ Words, and he says “What I believe within I engrave it in my skin”. Tattooing is literally that. It’s an artistic reflection and interpretation of your personal journeys through identification, communication, and healing.
What’s been the most memorable tattoo you’ve done?
My most memorable tattoo is my first Japanese-inspired piece. It was a black and grey sleeve. It taught me a lot about my process and piqued my interest in traveling to Japan to learn more about Japanese traditional tattooing. Eventually, it led to my working vacations there. That piece also taught me more about my preferred process, which includes a type of bespoke tailoring to make sure a tattoo completely fits and suits the wearer.
Can you tell us a bit about your memoir, Shoppe Gal?
Sure! Shoppe Gal is my debut piece. It’s my coming-of-age story about embracing dark spaces, creating to cope, becoming a tattoo artist and my journey through kawaii life. It’s not just about my happenstance, it seeks to be a roadmap for getting ish done for creative misfits looking to blaze their own trails.
The title, Shoppe Gal, is a play on my apprenticeship and Sebastian Masuda’s Doki Doki shop girls. Serendipitously, I worked in a French-owned tattoo shop in Japan, so the spelling “shoppe” is a nod to Hachi and her shop, Artemis Tattoo. Of course, “gal” is spelled this way to give a nod to gyaru culture and style.
Lastly, I wrote it while grieving my dad’s passing. Our last convo was about my financial goals, so I wrote it as a love letter to him with a clear declaration of what my goals are going forward after the book is published.
He got the message 🙂
How does wellness and self-discovery factor into your work as a multi-hyphenate creator?
So listen… Wellness, self-discovery and self-acceptance is a vibe! I’ll be transparent in saying that everything isn’t easy, but the things worth having are worth working for. I came into tattoo and kawaii fashion hurt, and seeking help to heal through self-expression. Unfortunately, like so many who engage in alternative communities, my experience in these spaces is definitely that “hurt people hurt people”. I don’t want to be one of those people. So, while I do the inner work of myself, I inject concepts that align with kawaii life i.e. inspiring kindness, bright hearts, embracing darkness and dualities, finding inner softness, doing your best, etc. that encourage others to do their own inner work.
How are you able to not give in to negative thoughts and what other people think of you?
Ok so lemme tell you. I have a trick… Everyone who is not feeding me, f**cking me, or financing me don’t matter. That’s it! That’s the trick, LOL.
Seriously, I was raised with the life lesson that other people’s opinion of you is none of your business. My granny taught me that. And she ain’t nevah lied. So until people make their opinions of me my business I don’t go looking for them. And with that there’s no room to actually worry about the naysayers.
Another saying I’ve grown up with and love is that I have six months to leave other people’s business alone, and I have six months to mind my own. So I will use an ENTIRE year focusing on me and those who matter, instead of focusing on what people think of me.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years I’ll be married with a THRIVING seven-figure business that serves kawaii creatives, “urban” youth, and emerging artists. Little INKPLAY Shop will be a house owned by the business that is a multi-level walk-in kawaii tattoo fashion house, culture hub and community gathering spot. We’ll be putting down roots and reclaiming space in Ivy City, DC.
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Introduction and questions by Vania.
Images courtesy of Imani K. Brown.