We Who Seek: Naomi Phan-Quang

One of the things we love most about Naomi Phan-Quang is that she is a creative in the truest sense of the word. Whether practicing professional photography, restoring vintage furniture, running her creative studio, CLOVE + WHOLE, or caring for her four children, Naomi leads a life fueled by curiosity, experimentation, and creation. She is also a passionate advocate for creative community. Read on to learn more about how Naomi got started, what influences her, and how she fosters and turns to community in her life and work. 

1. First, can you tell us about your path to starting Clove + Whole? You’ve been a teacher, a photographer, and now you’re doing a lot of restoration—we’d love to hear a bit about how you arrived here.

My path is far from linear, as you already know. Education has always been a part of my heritage. My grandparents were educators. My mom and sisters are all educators, so teaching felt like the natural career path. A few years into my teaching career, I became a mother. In those years of running after small children, my creativity and love for photography was reignited. I began taking photos to document everyday life. The more I practiced, the more intentional I became with exposure and composition. Before long, I was creating photos for other people, and now I get to do it for a living. Restoration is something that was always there, even before I could put a name to it. Even as a kid, I loved fixing things. I can remember, distinctly, the moment I discovered how to use a wrench. I was 8-years-old and determined to take the training wheels off of my bike without any help. In college, I thrifted the living room furniture for our tiny apartment. I recovered a love seat using old curtains and a stapler. My restorations have since become a bit more sophisticated, I think. 


2. We love the multipurpose nature of Clove + Whole—it incorporates restoration, retail, creative community, and more. What inspired you to create such a unique and dynamic creative studio? 

It’s strange to admit, but I started CLOVE + WHOLE with no real business plan. It began as a creative project and was born out of a place of brokenness and healing. “Clove” meaning a “splitting apart” was something I felt most acutely in the Fall of 2015. A few weeks after the birth of my fourth child, I experienced debilitating anxiety and depression. It was a dark time in my life, but it brought to light a deep desire to make broken things whole again. Creation and restoration are at the heart of CLOVE + WHOLE, and it was important for me to build community around those guiding principles. In January of 2018, I stumbled upon a studio space for rent in West Oakland, perched at the top of an old yogurt factory. It was rough around the edges (peeling paint and old brick) but I saw it’s enormous potential. At the time, I still didn’t have a clear plan, but I was ready to take the next step. So I signed the lease. In the subsequent months, I hosted photo shoots, creative workshops and pop ups, facilitated conversations on race, equity and mental health. I connected and collaborated with some of the most genuine and gifted women. 


3. What is one of the most surprising lessons you’ve learned during the process of starting your own business?  

The most surprising thing I’ve learned through this process is that inspiration and motivation come after doing, and not the other way around. I could not have predicted the successes nor the challenges I experienced along the way. I just had to start somewhere. As the saying goes, the water doesn’t flow unless someone turns the faucet on. When we experience failure, the knee jerk reaction is to give up. Setbacks feel lousy, but they teach us a lot. We can simply think of them as course correction. 


4. What are your hopes and plans for the future of Clove + Whole?

In the near future, when it’s safe to do so, I would love to host creative workshops again. It brings me so much joy to create with, and learn from, other artists/makers.


5. You have such a stunning family—including four little ones—and it seems like you really prioritize playing and creating together. Any advice on balancing work and family/personal well-being?

When it comes to your time and energy, be ruthless. It’s ok to say “no” every now and then. Your energy is currency. Spend it wisely.


6. As a mother and small business owner, what are your thoughts on how artists—and women artists in particular—can support and collaborate with one other?  

Being a mother, a creative, a solo entrepreneur can be daunting and really lonely. It was important for me, early on, to find and commune with other like-minded women who share the same goals and unique challenges I was experiencing. It is empowering when we can create space for each other, to share in both the successes and struggles, to find common ground and appreciate our diversity of perspectives, to compliment instead of compete. 


7. At Seek, we value style as a tool for creativity and self-expression—and you have such an impeccable sense of style. How do you use style to express yourself, and how has your style evolved over time?  

My style has become paired down over time. It’s kinda like when you go to the grocery store hungry. Everything that looks delicious goes into the shopping cart. Then, after careful consideration, you end up putting most of it back. My creative process is a lot like that. I typically start with all the good ideas all at once. Then, I take a step back and start taking things away until it feels unifying and cohesive. My style is a reflection of my creative process. 


8. What do you do when you’re seeking inspiration? 

I play with my kiddos! I get a lot of inspiration from them. When they create, they don’t think or overanalyze. They are in the moment, purely and uninhibited. 


9. What do you wear to feel the most free and confident? 

I love a good jumpsuit, like the Amelia Romper. It’s the instant ensemble. I feel comfortable yet put together, playful and ready to work at the same time.


10. How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?

Thrift stores and salvage yards are my happy places. My idea of a good time is  refinishing a chair or re-wiring an old lamp. I make it my business (quite literally) to take the discarded and overlooked and give it new purpose. 


11. What’s the most recent book you’ve read and felt moved by? 

Embarrassingly enough, I haven’t carved out much time to sit and read a good book. My reading material these days consists of trending news, school e-mails and social media updates. Although, I have been able to revisit “A Quiet Place” by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s like reading a letter from an old friend. I feel her when she opens with this sentiment: “Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody—away from all these people I love most in the world—in order to regain a sense of proportion.”


12. What is the best advice you’ve received so far and who did it come from?

When considering my place in this world, Frederick Buechner encapsulates it beautifully as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” When I feel like I’m meandering in my purpose, I return to these words. The intersection of what brings you the most joy and what the world needs is most likely the thing you were built for. So do that!


13. As a multidisciplinary artist and creator, what advice do you have for creatives who are still trying to discover the best medium for creativity and expression? 

As someone with an insatiable curiosity, I am in perpetual discovery-mode. My advice would be to keep learning, keep growing. Try new things. Experiment. When you land on something you love to do, keep practicing and working towards mastery. We are not static beings, so give yourself room to unfold. 


14. What are you seeking more of this year?

This has been quite the year, and a lot has been brought to the surface. I’m seeking space (both literal and figurative) to unpack, reflect and recalibrate. 

Clove + Whole: cloveandwhole.com/new-page

Naomi on Instagram: @naomipq

Naomi was photographed here by: Priscilla Gragg

In these pictures Naomi is wearing the Amelia romper and the Drawstring pants.

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