vol. 4 Conditioning

Credit: Terumi Murao (shot by Joshua Pestka)

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Terumi Murao:
"I've always felt really comfortable going between two extremes"

Stylist & Model & Athlete

A chat over matcha about fortune cookies, being a chameleon, and uphill vs. downhill sports


Jun 7, 2021 | As told to Cherie Yang

She’s currently embedded deep in the fashion and sporting worlds (more on that later), but Terumi studied neuroscience in college, and even wrote a paper about the “flow” state.

“It’s a psychological state where you feel in perfect synchrony with your environment. You're in deep focus, and all the other worries and challenges or stresses that might exist in the rest of your reality don't really exist in that moment because you're in this hyper-focused, fairly happy state.”

I first came to know of Terumi from the Allure magazine article in which she talked about how her role as a model had changed after Covid-19 restrictions came into place.

Our video call opened with her drinking from the “wrong matcha bowl” and jesting that she would be admonished by her mother for that oversight. It provided the perfect backdrop for us to chat about her childhood growing up in Palo Alto as one of 3 kids in a Japanese-American home. I was later also offered a glimpse of that precious October 24, 1997 drawing by Terumi: an inventory of every single item in her wardrobe.

A stylist and model, Terumi is equally at ease with a surfboard, climbing ropes, or a set of skis. She’s managed to combine fashion and the outdoors in handy ways: Terumi often models for sporting brands like Oakley and Athleta. Terumi also passionately describes her involvement with Laru Beya Collective, a grassroots organisation empowering underrepresented youth in the Far Rockaways through surfing.

We chat about coming into fashion via a background in neuroscience, a sojourn in hospitality, and a stint in marketing. I learn about her how she's conditioned herself to be vocal for what she wants—and to tell herself that she's good at what she does. The story so far: a splendid combination of rocks (of all kinds), clothes (100% secondhand), and the healing power of community.

Follow Terumi on Instagram, visit her website, and learn more about Laru Beya Collective.

All pictures courtesy of Terumi Murao's Instagram, unless otherwise indicated.

  • The one thing that distinguished my childhood is the amount of freedom and independence that we were given, in conjunction with the lack of video games, television and toys. We were told you can do whatever you want. Anything.
  • &: You grew up in Palo Alto. What was your childhood like?

    TM:

    I grew up exactly in this home that I'm sitting in right now.

    I felt very lucky growing up here. I have a brother and sister, and my father's in healthcare and my mother's in education. I had both the “science” and the “art” side from either parent.

    The one thing that distinguished my childhood is the amount of freedom and independence that we were given, in conjunction with the lack of video games, television and toys. We were told you can do whatever you want. Anything.

    You can paint (this wall behind used to be covered in crayons and paints). You can make a mess. You can eat whatever you want. You can go outside and come back in whenever you want. But you're not gonna watch TV or play video games, and we're not buying you toys.

    If you want a toy, you make it using the knife and scissors and hot glue.

    That definitely shaped who my siblings and I are. We were really encouraged to create our own entertainment. We're really good at not being bored.

  • I've been climbing since I was out of the womb. My mom said there was this high chair and, at two years old, I would climb to the very top, stand on top of the back of the high chair and jump off. And sometimes I would fall on the floor, start crying, then have a huge smile on my face and get back up and do the same thing over.
  • &: Was your love of the outdoors something that you’ve had since childhood?

    TM:

    I think it came from honestly being outside all the time as a kid.

    Growing up in California, you have huge access to the Redwoods and the beach. Palo Alto is definitely close enough that people go out on the weekends.

    And not being given or encouraged to play with conventional toys from the store, or video games in front of a screen, meant that we were always outside. We were climbing trees, climbing buildings, running around, getting into trouble.

    That sense of adventure and exploration lends itself to getting outside. And once I was in high school, I realized that climbing was an actual sport.

    I've been climbing since I was out of the womb. My mom said there was this high chair and, at two years old, I would climb to the very top, stand on top of the back of the high chair and jump off. And sometimes I would fall on the floor, start crying, then have a huge smile on my face and get back up and do the same thing over.

    I then started doing more sports. I got into surfing, backcountry skiing and snowboarding and, and it just spiraled from there. And now I'm still pretty obsessed.

  • Terumi's drawings of her wardrobe

  • &: Do you remember what else you were interested in as a kid?

    TM:

    My mother recently sent me some of the drawings that I did as a kid. I think I was four or five years old. On a very large piece of paper, I’d documented my entire inventory of clothing. I had drawn every shirt I owned, every pair of shoes I owned, every slipper, everything down to the swim cap and goggles. That's such a nerdy thing to do. And that's such a stylist thing to do—to have an inventory of every single piece of clothing you own.

    And of course, there's a major foreshadow because I never knew that I was going to be working as a stylist, but I did that at four or five years old, completely unprompted.

    I think, being the middle child, you share everything; but I felt like certain things were mine. At the top of the page, it said “Terumi’s Clothing.” I was very obsessed with things that I could actually call my own, and I wanted to know what was mine.

    I was always interested in clothing and documenting things from a young age.

  • I was at one of the most creative places in the world, arguably. We were working with all these really fascinating companies doing cutting-edge design work, but I still didn’t think I'm being creative in the medium that I'm meant to create in. So many people were telling me, “I like your personal style. Will you style me?” or “I have this event to go to. Will you help me figure out what to wear?” or “I've gained weight after my pregnancy. I don't know what to wear and I’m struggling. Can you help me?” These were all through friends. I thought this was something that I should pursue since I love doing it so much.
  • &: How did you end up working as a stylist?

    TM:

    When I went to university, I really wanted to work in neuroscience. Growing up, I was fairly methodical and curious, I was always reading Scientific American, and science was my favorite subject.

    It’s taken me a long time to admit that this has played a role in my career path, but I had a pretty bad injury from skiing. I took about a year and a half to two years to recover, so I had to take some time off from university.

    When I came back, the workload and the cognitive load of being in hard science was a lot. I realized that I didn’t want to pursue neuroscience and research, and that I needed to change courses.

    I was struggling and I also wasn’t happy. The one thing that I know has always made me happy and feel at home with myself is being in the outdoors. So I moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is this dreamland

    I worked in hospitality and skied at the same time for several years. Then I moved to LA and I got an entry-level job at a brand design consultancy. I was the lowest rung on the totem pole, so I learned everything. I learned a little bit about social media, copywriting, marketing and brand design.

    From there I applied to IDEO, who are famous for their industrial design. I worked in the marketing department, and that was how I got into fashion.

    I was at one of the most creative places in the world, arguably. We were working with all these really fascinating companies doing cutting-edge design work, but I still didn’t think I'm being creative in the medium that I'm meant to create in. So many people were telling me, “I like your personal style. Will you style me?” or “I have this event to go to. Will you help me figure out what to wear?” or “I've gained weight after my pregnancy. I don't know what to wear and I’m struggling. Can you help me?” These were all through friends. I thought this was something that I should pursue since I love doing it so much.

    So I started helping friends with their own wardrobes and realized how much fun I was having. At the same time, in 2015, I had watched the film, “The True Cost,” which is a documentary about the true costs of fast fashion.

    I went cold turkey and made a promise to myself that I would never buy anything new again. Why would I buy anything new? There are so many cool thrift shops and I’d love thrifting—the hunt of it all—since I was a kid. It was an easy choice for me because I have a huge passion for finding gems.

    I told myself: why don't I be a stylist and also just style secondhand!

  • Styled by Terumi with wardrobe from @goodwillnynj

  • &: Was this whilst you were still working at IDEO full-time?

    TM:

    I did styling just for friends, and eventually I got really tired. I was working a full-time job—it was way more than 40 hours, probably like 60—and doing styling and personal planning on the evenings and weekends.

    I then told myself that maybe I could try and just do styling full-time.

    I moved to New York with a former partner and started working in the industry. It was a lot of “fake it till you make it.” But I was really lucky because there were a lot of people in my network in the creative industry who had contacts in fashion. Also, my cousin had this amazing friend who took me under her wing and was my first mentor as a stylist. I had a lot of help when I first got there.

    Fast forward two and a half years, here I am. I'm still working in the industry. I do both creative consulting and photoshoot production, and I feel like it's going to be some combination of the two as I move forward.

  • You're constantly meeting new people and working with different teams. It's not optimized for efficiency. It's about being able to improvise and be agile and make the best of whatever situation. The conditions are always changing and often not ideal.
  • &: What’s the difference between creative consulting and photoshoot production?

    TM:

    Photoshoots and commercial advertising are extremely chaotic and hectic. The days are very long. You don't know your schedule until the last minute and you travel a lot. It's very exciting but it’s not for the faint of heart.

    You're constantly meeting new people and working with different teams. It's not optimized for efficiency. It's about being able to improvise and be agile and make the best of whatever situation. The conditions are always changing and often not ideal.

    While that's super exciting, it wears on you. There is a point—and I think I've reached it—when I want to start doing projects that I really care about, and when I want to do them really well.

    You can’t do that when you constantly have to have your phone on, your agent’s calling you about one job, you're trying to negotiate another, you have an email coming, you have to do a casting, and you suddenly have to travel to California and all that.

    It's really hard to invest the amount of time that you want on the projects that really matter to you.

    Consulting is not as chaotic as having to be on set.

  • Laru Beya is a grassroots level effort, but it really matters to me. I’m creating time for it, but I’d love to have more time for it. It’s an example of something that I really care about and that I want to dedicate more time to. I really love that a lot of the work that I'm doing as a model or a stylist has tied into work that I'm doing for Laru Beya.
  • Surf & beach cleanup day with @larubeyasurfing

  • &: What are the projects that really matter to you?

    TM:

    I work with a nonprofit called Laru Beya and it's based in the Rockaways in New York where I live. The goal is to provide free water safety education, and surf instruction, including all the materials and equipment, to the youth that live here. They are predominantly Black and Brown kids who have no access to pools.

    In spite of living on the ocean, there are drownings every single year among the community. Meanwhile, you have many privileged kids coming in from Brooklyn and Manhattan spending $800 on surf lessons for a day, or doing kids’ surf camps. The kids that actually live there are not getting the resources.

    We're really trying to change that, because it's really unfair and tragic that so many kids are at risk of drowning, and also just don't have the opportunities to enjoy their own front yard.

    Against the backdrop of today's climate, there's so much systemic racism and that’s a really large, complex and overwhelming problem.

    But the one thing that I've realized is: community matters. Starting to do the right thing in your own community is the most rewarding thing. And it feels like a big hug. This community that I live in has been extraordinarily loving and supportive of me.

    Laru Beya is a grassroots level effort, but it really matters to me. I’m creating time for it, but I’d love to have more time for it. It’s an example of something that I really care about and that I want to dedicate more time to.

    I really love that a lot of the work that I'm doing as a model or a stylist has tied into work that I'm doing for Laru Beya. A lot of companies have had the same realization that they want to make positive change. But they're huge multinational corporates and they're trying to connect with these smaller local organizations. We've had a lot of great outreach from them and I've been able to facilitate partnerships and scholarship opportunities for the surf organization. Bringing those two worlds together is important to me.

  • I was lucky because through Instagram I’d received a couple of direct messages from companies that wanted me to start modeling. I didn’t know how to negotiate or what the market rates were. I did some research—I definitely had some skepticism about the modeling industry—and I found this agency called We Speak. The word “ethical” almost doesn't mean anything anymore, but it really is one of the most ethical, and most inclusive, agencies, and they'd been doing it far before it was trendy.
  • &: When did you start modelling?

    TM:

    Pretty much just the exact same time when I’d arrived in New York to work as a stylist.

    On a photo set, the stylist doesn't take a big piece of that pie. The photographer and talent take home decent amounts, but considering how much work and the number of hours that stylists put in, they get paid very little.

    I'm fortunate because I do a lot of both the creative pre-production and a lot of the actual logistics to make the photoshoot happen. It's a very critical role but I feel like it's not fairly compensated.

    When I started styling, it would have been really hard to make ends meet if I was just styling at a very entry level, where you're assisting another stylist.

    I was lucky because through Instagram I’d received a couple of direct messages from companies that wanted me to start modeling. I didn’t know how to negotiate or what the market rates were. I did some research—I definitely had some skepticism about the modeling industry—and I found this agency called We Speak. The word “ethical” almost doesn't mean anything anymore, but it really is one of the most ethical, and most inclusive, agencies, and they'd been doing it far before it was trendy.

    I reached out to them and I said, “Hey, I have three models and opportunities. Can you help me?” Well, it was free money for them, and they signed me up right away.

    But they also happen to be incredible people and we have great chemistry.

  • Once I started to share with people that this is what I'm passionate about, and this is what I want to do, things really just started to come knocking at my door.
  • &: What a serendipitous encounter!

    TM:

    Yeah, very, serendipitous. I am extremely lucky.

    And I will share with you one quote from Susan O'Malley, one of my friends from IDEO and one of my mentors.

    She’d told me, “Serendipity is deaf to silent intentions.” She told me that when I was leaving IDEO. When I grew up, being in an Asian household, I wasn't really encouraged to be vocal about a lot of things, especially things that I wanted. It was a lot about discipline, rigor and perseverance, but it wasn't about finding yourself, finding your passion and expressing that outwardly.

    When I left IDEO and to try and be this freelancer, it was so helpful when she told me that. I thought, “Wow, if I want to go out on my own and create opportunities for myself, which is basically what freelancing is, I have to put those intentions out into the world.”

    Once I started to share with people that this is what I'm passionate about, and this is what I want to do, things really just started to come knocking at my door.

  • Terumi wearing a second-hand coat for a photoshoot at IDEO

  • &: What did your family say when you told them you were leaving IDEO to become a freelance stylist?

    TM:

    There was a lot of concern, and rightfully so. My parents were like, “What about health insurance? And 401K? And why New York? It’s so far.”

    But at the time I'm incredibly lucky because my former partner was really supportive. That was the thing that made that relationship so beautiful. He said, “Whatever it is that you want, you can do it.”

    He had so much more faith in me than I did in myself, than my parents or anybody in the world had. He just believed I could do it.

    It was pretty great to have such an incredible support system emotionally and professionally. He is a designer, so he loves to problem solve. He helped me on my first creative decks and always gave really good feedback.

    I felt like I had a lot of wind in my sails because of that relationship. I was very lucky.

  • It’s a good one for me because I'm very restless and I'm always in motion. And I do feel lucky all the time. But that makes sense, right? Because if you're moving around constantly and creating all this energy and meeting other people making connections. You're putting yourself out there and then it’s just a numbers game. The chance that somebody is going to say, “I like what you're doing. Can I help?” It's just higher. It takes a lot of energy to do so.
  • &: Do you attribute where you are today to talent, hard work or luck?

    TM:

    I don't think much of it is related to talent because I've seen so many talented people not achieve what they were setting out to do. And it's because they were surrounded by the wrong people or they didn't have the support system or they didn't have the discipline or they weren't lucky.

    Obviously you need to have talent, but that's not the critical factor.

    I just got a fortune cookie—I don't even eat fortune cookies!—but I opened it and it said “Chance favors those in motion”

    It’s a good one for me because I'm very restless and I'm always in motion. And I do feel lucky all the time. But that makes sense, right? Because if you're moving around constantly and creating all this energy and meeting other people making connections. You're putting yourself out there and then it’s just a numbers game. The chance that somebody is going to say, “I like what you're doing. Can I help?” It's just higher. It takes a lot of energy to do so.

    I think it's hard work and creating your own luck.

  • There's always going to be an element of that, just because there are so many people that have a ton of confidence in their skills and maybe more confidence than they're competent.
  • &: Earlier on in our conversation, you mentioned that there was a lot of ‘fake it till you make it’ when you first moved to New York. At what point did you feel that you were no longer faking it, that you were in control, or at a place where you needed to be?

    TM:

    There's always going to be an element of that, just because there are so many people that have a ton of confidence in their skills and maybe more confidence than they're competent.

    You're in a competitive environment where so many people are very comfortable overstating their abilities. This is unfortunate, but if you don't “fake it till you make it” and overstate your own abilities, even internally to yourself, you're gonna get really discouraged.

    What I constantly realize is that, in my household growing up, I was never told to tell anybody, or to even admit to yourself, that you were good at something. Not even excellent at something, but that you were good at something.

    It was just something you keep to yourself, but you never say it.

  • I think it's a humility thing. But also, even if you think you're good, you're never good compared to somebody else who has a higher level of mastery. If you have that mindset that you're good at something, the fear is that you're not going to keep working as hard or you're not going to be as driven to improve.
  • &: Why? Is it humility?

    TM:

    I think it's a humility thing. But also, even if you think you're good, you're never good compared to somebody else who has a higher level of mastery. If you have that mindset that you're good at something, the fear is that you're not going to keep working as hard or you're not going to be as driven to improve.

    When I entered this industry, I thought that I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have the talent, I wasn’t as creative. With modeling, I wasn’t tall enough.

    Then I actually observed, and saw that people that have a lot of gaps in their abilities or their craft, but yet have full confidence and they are getting the jobs that I would like to get.

    I realized that if I want to be competitive and get the same opportunities, I'm going to have to believe in myself a little bit more. Even though I didn’t feel like I'm competent or I deserved this, I had to just tell myself that I did.

  • Terumi and her siblings

  • &: Earlier on, you mentioned that your upbringing was focused on discipline and rigor, rather than self-discovery. Have you found that now—your passion, or what you’re good at?

    TM:

    I'm figuring it out.

    It's a generational thing. My parents, being Japanese in the States, have faced challenges being a minority. I think when you're in ‘survival mode’ you're really trying to operate under the radar, so you don't get hammered down. You take the safest route, because if you grow up knowing and understanding that you will have fewer opportunities because of your heritage and the way you look, you're more inclined to say, “Let's not become an artist. Let's become a doctor or lawyer, because they're guaranteed a job, you can buy land, you'll be regarded with more respect.”

    I completely understand the values that my parents instilled in me. I also acknowledge that I have so much more freedom and opportunity than my mother, my father, or my grandparents did. This happens to coincide with so many other progressive movements for women and advances in technology.

    If my parents were given the same opportunities, they would have “found their passion” or known themselves as well.

  • That love is still there, but it's much less about how high I can perform in that sport. It's much more about how I can increase the amount of people that enjoy that sport with me.
  • Terumi rock climbing

  • &: What are some of your passions?

    TM:

    Community is definitely one of them. Building and nurturing community is what I've become really fascinated by and appreciative of. It's just this thing that gives back. It's like having family, but on a much larger scale.The stronger the community, the more sense of empathy and that's something that we need very badly.

    My passion for the outdoors still remains.

    Skiing, surfing and climbing are all individual sports. They're pretty “selfish” in that they’re not teamwork sports like soccer or basketball. I initially thought it's about me improving and getting to a certain level for it.

    That love is still there, but it's much less about how high I can perform in that sport. It's much more about how I can increase the amount of people that enjoy that sport with me.

    I have a passion for fashion. I'm not a fashion addict at all. I don't shop for myself. I really enjoy the puzzle of making looks and putting things together that might not be expected, but that are really beautiful, striking or thought-provoking, or visually provoking in some way.

    This passion for ‘fashion’ is pretty different from what I think most people would say fashion is.

  • There are so many different pieces and they all have goals—different goals sometimes. Your job when you're a model is to somehow figure out which voice is the most important, or which voices are the most important. And make nuanced changes to your face, facial expression or body positioning to express whatever it is that they're trying to achieve. It means you're saving thousands of dollars.
  • Terumi for @luneverte_studio

  • &: What do you feel when you’re styling or putting looks together, versus when you’re modeling in front of the camera?

    TM:

    I used to think—and I think a lot of people still do—that modeling is just about being a pretty face or body.

    But to be good at it and to actually make a living out of it, there's so much background work.

    It goes back to what I was saying about creating your own luck and opportunities. Being a pretty face is really not everything. There are some people who just have that talent or are born that way, or have an entire team behind them who will help them succeed.

    There’s so much marketing savvy you need to be successful. That entails networking and fostering social media relationships, both with your agent and clients and anybody that you meet. You may meet somebody in the pharmaceuticals industry, who happens to know somebody in the marketing department who is looking to cast somebody for their commercial. That aspect of it definitely parallels the networking you do in styling and creative consulting.

    Then there's the actual time when you're in front of the camera. What people also don't realize is that’s actually a form of acting. The camera does not lie and it cannot hide your insecurity, nervousness or bad mood.

    So many things are happening on set. On bigger commercial shoots, there are teams of 30 people. You have the clients, creative team, photo team, lighting team, video team.

    There are so many different pieces and they all have goals—different goals sometimes. Your job when you're a model is to somehow figure out which voice is the most important, or which voices are the most important. And make nuanced changes to your face, facial expression or body positioning to express whatever it is that they're trying to achieve. It means you're saving thousands of dollars by the minute that you get the shot or don't get the shot.

    I've worked behind the camera as the stylist, and I've gotten to watch really talented, world-famous models, do their job. And I can see that they're processing all of this information instantaneously and can make the tiniest of changes to their body or expression to get that shot on.

    A good model will understand what's needed and will be able to get that shot in 15 minutes, versus somebody who is overwhelmed, nervous or doesn't understand what the photographer means might take an hour or three hours, or might never go and get the shot.

    To do it well is a craft. People don’t realize that modeling is a very complex and intuitive job.

  • &: You said you only shop secondhand clothes. Is that something you apply to your styling jobs too?

    TM:

    Yes.

    When I pull for shoots, I pull secondhand. If I'm working for a retail fashion brand, which happens a lot in the outdoor world, I will style with their own clothing, but any accessories or additional base layers that I pull will be secondhand.

    It’s very labor intensive but also very fun. It also means that my client base is very niche, but I'm okay with that because I'm able to support myself with the modeling work that I get.

    If I had to solely rely on styling to get by, I could probably still do it fully secondhand, but it would be a lot harder to make ends meet.

Between two extremes

Diamonds and Rocks

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  • Terumi for @aetherdiamonds in Vogue

  • &: A lot of your modeling work has been with outdoor brands like Teva and Athleta. But I’ve also seen you modeling diamonds. How do you square those two personalities, or going from rocking diamonds to rock climbing?

    TM:

    That's funny. I mean, diamonds are rocks and I love rocks!

    But I don't find any challenge or tension in that because I find it really inspiring to go between two worlds.

    My own parents are in their own two universes because my dad's in science and my mother's in education. I think I've always felt really comfortable going between two extremes.

    There are times when I will camp for days. This past weekend, I was out of service for four days. It’s camping, so there are no showers and no service, and you’re kind of a dirtbag.

    And there are other times where I'm living in a very different world. I’m dressed in designer clothing; it’s vintage, but there’s jewelry and makeup and all those things.

    They both feel very genuine to me, it's just two different sides.

    I do find it funny when I show up to the diamond shoot and I've got a scar right here. You can see this (shows hand). This scar happened right before that diamond shoot, because I was rock climbing and I took a fall and it was bloody.

    I felt very bad for the makeup artist who did an incredible job. And of course the retoucher!

    It's always funny when it's like, “Oh, you're a model, you're supposed to take good care of your skin and your hands and this and that...”

    I do that. But then I also do the opposite and put myself at risk of getting all scuffed up.

  • I also don't worry about it because you really have got to trust these casting directors, who are able to see the face not for who you are as a person, but who you can be for a campaign.
  • &: Do you worry about getting boxed into being an ‘outdoor’ or ‘activewear’ model?

    TM:

    I don't worry about it, because that's what I enjoy the most.

    I also don't worry about it because you really have got to trust these casting directors, who are able to see the face not for who you are as a person, but who you can be for a campaign.

    I get cast for things like diamonds or a runway for New York Fashion Week. I never saw myself that way, but that's what these casting directors do. They have the skill and eye for it. They can see somebody off the street who is a hoodie and oversized jeans and can say, “You are going to be the next face of Yves Saint Laurent.”

    I trust that, if there is a different arena for me to model, the opportunity will arise if it should.

  • I don't drink myself. I have no problem with drinking. I am pro-cannabis and legalization of everything. But honestly it has to do more with the fact that I work with so many young kids (with Laru Beya). I would never want them to see me promoting anything that I don't think is healthy.
  • &: Are there brands that you would not model for?

    TM:

    I turn down a lot of work. I try not to work with tobacco, cannabis or alcohol brands.

    I don't drink myself. I have no problem with drinking. I am pro-cannabis and legalization of everything. But honestly it has to do more with the fact that I work with so many young kids (with Laru Beya). I would never want them to see me promoting anything that I don't think is healthy.

    Also, I'm somebody that cares a lot about health, and that's why I don't smoke or drink. So I turn those jobs down, even though they always are very high paying. II also turned down fast fashion jobs.

    So I try and be as selective as I can to make sure that the client that I'm working with has the same values that I have.

  • Fashion and rocks

  • I always was comfortable code-switching through different environments. I don't mind being a chameleon. Some people would mind it, but it doesn't bother me because that's actually pretty true to who I am.
  • &: Here’s a picture of your two worlds colliding: fashion and the outdoors. Tell me about this.

    TM:

    I love the styling. This is not my work; it’s by Liz Rundbaken, a fashion stylist. This is for a magazine editorial for Iris Covet Book.

    We shot in Harriman State Park, which is just north of New York City. It’s funny because this is where a lot of really good climbing is.

    I felt totally in my element, even though I was not dressed like I normally would be for climbing. I always have this gravitational pull towards rocks because I liked to climb them. I was walking along the lake in the park, but I would go and touch the rock.

    I was over there touching the rock and they said, “Wait!” and actually snap that picture.

    I think modelling is a really great job for me because I feel like I've always been a chameleon. I have always liked to be a tomboy, but I also really like wearing dresses and fashion, and I care a lot about beauty.

    I would go from being quiet and studious and reserved at school, to running the show at home as a middle child and the bossy one. My parents made us do a lot of martial arts where I got to express another side of me and explore different kinds of strengths.

    Then I was outside with my climbing friends, which was mostly boys at that time, and I had to play a more tomboy role.

    I always was comfortable code-switching through different environments. I don't mind being a chameleon. Some people would mind it, but it doesn't bother me because that's actually pretty true to who I am.

  • I realized that my career and lifestyle, unfortunately, wasn't fair to the people I was playing hockey with. And so I had to stop. You have to be able to skate. Skating to me is so much fun. It's like flying on the ground.
  • &: You’re already doing so many sports. What’s another sport that you would like to do?

    TM:

    I played ice hockey very briefly. I absolutely love it.

    But a team sport is not suitable for the career and chaotic schedule I have. You can't say, “Oh, I'm actually out of town for three weeks” or I can't show up late to this practice because my shoot went long.

    I realized that my career and lifestyle, unfortunately, wasn't fair to the people I was playing hockey with. And so I had to stop. You have to be able to skate. Skating to me is so much fun. It's like flying on the ground.

    I wish that I could pursue it, but also I'm very small and light. It's a fairly aggressive and physical contact sport, so again, my modeling is not really that great for hockey or hockey is not great for modeling vice versa.

  • Terumi with her sister

  • &: Are you an introvert or extrovert?

    TM:

    I was an introvert for a large part of my life, but I am now an extrovert.

    When I decided I don't want to work in research and sit at a computer in a cubicle, I decided that I wanted to be closer to people and have a better social life. It was partially me deciding to be more extroverted, or rather wanting to let that part of myself free a little bit.

  • I think this proves that I'm an extrovert, but I think community is healing. It’s very nurturing to spend time with people that make you feel good, that share values and that validate who you are. I think it’s important self-care because we're a social species.
  • &: What do you do for self-care?

    TM:

    I think this proves that I'm an extrovert, but I think community is healing. It’s very nurturing to spend time with people that make you feel good, that share values and that validate who you are. I think it’s important self-care because we're a social species.

    The next biggest one is health. I put a lot of attention into what I eat and how I sleep and how I exercise because I don’t want to deal with health issues when I have so many other things that I'd like to focus on. I really try and fuel myself and take care of myself as healthily as I can. That's everything. If you're not physically healthy, it's going to be really hard to be mentally, emotionally and professionally healthy.

  • I say that's great for some people, but I try to accomplish so many things in a day, that if I didn't kill multiple birds with one stone, I wouldn't be getting where I want to be.
  • &: Some people think you shouldn’t mix your hobbies and your work. Yours intersect on so many levels. How do you respond to that?

    TM:

    I say that's great for some people, but I try to accomplish so many things in a day, that if I didn't kill multiple birds with one stone, I wouldn't be getting where I want to be. That’s why I like to climb, because sometimes it's my job and my social life and my self-care all in one.

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Off the Cuff

with Terumi Murao

Ampersand
  • Oh, gosh, the first word that comes to my head is bullshit. We're in earth month and there's so much greenwashing. I've heard that term so much that it doesn't mean anything to anybody anymore. Everyone is “sustainable” and that's a shame. But even without the overuse of the word, the fact that we had to come up with this term to market ourselves as doing the right thing by, by way of the environment, is sad to me. And that means that there is a deeper problem at the root of it. Sustainability is a marketing term. I don't like to call myself a sustainable stylist, and I try to use the word secondhand, but people sometimes don't quite get it.


  • Challenge. Surfing is what I call a downhill sport. Same as skiing, snowboarding or skydiving. Very adrenaline-filled. Climbing can be adrenaline-filled too, but it's an uphill sport. Inherently you have to be carrying your own weight to do sport and it's challenging. A good challenge.


  • It’s key to everything. I love chaos so much, and I thought that organization was antagonistic to chaos, but I actually realized that if you don't have organization, you won't be able to make sense of chaos in a productive way.


  • Motion. I was primed for this [laughs]. The fortune that I read said “chance favors those in motion” and I think that's very true.


  • Constraints. Again, I was primed for this. Constraints breed creativity. That's me parroting what I've heard throughout my career in this industry, but also what I was really forced to practice as a young kid without television or video games or toys.


Ampersand Next up

02 / 02

Sana Rao

Art is about creation, and what's more feminine than creation?

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