Takona: talking mental health and GT86s

By using motoring-inspired designs, Takona is aiming to build a strong connection between the male-dominated car community and the struggles of men’s mental health.

Via the slogan #itsoktotlk, the clothing company wants to make it socially acceptable for men to open up about their mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding the topic. We spoke to the founder, Lewis Warren, about his business, the positive benefits of driving, and his GT86

Firstly, what made you chose the Toyota GT86 as your current car?

Takona GT86

Takona GT86

Lewis Warren: “When it came to changing cars from my big Audi estate, I drove a few sporty cars before finding a GT86 within my budget. I drove it around the dealership and knew this was the car for me. It ticked so many boxes for me: the handling is amazing, it’s surprisingly practical, it’s not too fast to cause any trouble. Everything that I need it to do, it does, and it always puts a smile on my face so it’s hard to find any faults with it.

“When I drive it around, it certainly gets attention everywhere I go, with the bright gold stickers on the side and making plenty of noise, but at the same time, it isn’t too ‘in-yer-face’. Plus, as soon as someone reads the mental health tag underneath the sticker, it gets a conversation going, which is the whole point of it really.”

For those who don’t know, what is Takona?

LW: “Takona is an automotive-inspired clothing brand aiming to raise mental health awareness within the car community. The name came from when I was a child scribbling in the back of textbooks, aiming to be the next Ferrari, so didn’t really mean that much. When looking for suitable names and their meanings for the business, I came across an Easter Island tradition called Takona which is a type of body painting that loosely translates to ‘leaving a mark’ which I thought seemed appropriate for what I wanted to do.”

Why did you decide to support men’s mental health?

LW: “Mental health has always surrounded me throughout my life, so I wanted to do something to help rather than ignore the problem. When I was about 18/19, my family was very dysfunctional and my escape was always jumping into the car and going for a drive, clearing my head, and getting away from it all. 

“My car has also been the way I’ve made friends and the thing that has connected me socially and brought people together. I previously worked as a health care worker in a secure psychiatric health care centre and my partner is a forensic psychologist, so I have first-hand knowledge of the impact mental health can have.  

“Mental health has always surrounded me throughout my life, so I wanted to do something to help”

“The more I have been working and speaking to people in the car community, you discover that it is a much more common issue among men than it appears, which is an eye-opening experience. With me being able to talk about this subject upfront, it ties into what I am trying to do with Takona by making it more normal to talk about men’s mental health in general.”

Why do you think that men struggle to talk about mental health?

LW: “I think there is still a stigma around mental health for men, as well as the ego-centric, masculine world that we live in. It’s all about men being strong, being a provider, and being a fighter and not showing weakness. I think for a lot of men, they find this subject difficult to talk about because it is admitting that you are finding things hard and that you aren’t impenetrable. To admit that you are vulnerable is a hard step and men don’t like to talk about this topic as they don’t want to be seen as weak.”

Do you think there has been a noticeable change in attitudes towards men’s mental health in recent years?

LW: “I think there has definitely been a noticeable change recently, with a number of high-profile celebrities and high-profile motorsport stars becoming more comfortable with discussing the difficult times that they have had and the things they have found challenging. As a culture, it appears to be becoming that little bit easier as a conversation point. I still think there is a long way to go before it is talked about as normally as any other health issue like a cough or a cold.”

How big of an impact is driving towards keeping good mental health?

LW: “’I’d say that driving is one of the most beneficial things anyone can do. The ability to go out for a little drive with the windows down and the music or radio off in order to clear your head is a massively important thing. Personally, I believe that driving is another form of mindfulness therapy. You are fully focused on the task at hand so everything else seems to drift away and you’re able to clean your mind and thoughts.”

Do you think cars themselves can have the same positive impact on mental health as driving?

LW: “I’d say that the car is one of the best tools to help with mental health. Just basic tasks like cleaning your car can be hugely beneficial to your state of mind. I’ve been known to disappear for eight hours or so, scrubbing and polishing away. Cleaning is a great form of mindful thinking as you are doing something that has an end goal that is both positive and achievable.  

Just basic tasks like cleaning your car can be hugely beneficial

“The same applies when you’re working on a car. You get that sense of accomplishment when you finish doing a job and the car fires back up for the first time. It acts as a good method of positive reinforcement which helps grow your headspace and clear whatever issues may have been bugging you.”

What advice would you give to anyone who may be struggling with mental health issues?

LW: “People feel that talking to a friend, or someone that knows them is burdening them with your issues. Everyone knows that everybody has a life and things to do so nobody really likes to feel as though they are unloading onto somebody else.

“My advice would be to talk to a professional first, a simple conversation with someone impartial often helps a lot more than any medication. The Takona site has a list of places where people can contact to get some help and support.”

Lewis Warren was speaking to Jake Weaver