top of page

Driving Matters - The Takona Story

Takona is a men's mental health and suicide awareness charity based around the car community. We are strong supporters of their mission. Founder Lewis Warren explains how the company came into being

By Lewis Warren

Image by Takona

his story starts, as many do, with an email. Unlike most emails I get, this particular email asked me to write about myself and what I do, which sounds easy as who knows me and what I do better than I do. It transpired that it’s actually quite difficult to write about yourself without immediately feeling sheepish, unfortunately for me, that feeling is exactly why I should be writing about what I do.


That is because I’m the founder of Takona, an automotive clothing brand that is encouraging people to talk more. So for fear of being branded a massive hypocrite, here’s a bit more about me, Takona, how it all came about, and what it’s all for. I’ll try and keep it linear.


Like a lot of guys, I’ve inherited my love of cars. My grandfather had an Austin seven in pieces in his garage when I was a kid, the first car I remember my dad having was a 205 gti (the 1.9 in black, I know you want to know), and my first car was a 1988 mini mayfair, for context I was born in 1993 so my mini was already a classic by the time it got to me. This love of cars runs deep and has been the source of many adventures, many friends, and many conversations.


Since receiving that email, I’ve debated back and forth about just how much sharing I should include in this. Takona itself represents a lot of what I hope to achieve and my working in psychiatric hospitals prior to starting it leads very well into why Takona exists. “Mental health worker starts brand driving mental health awareness” has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?


Whilst it is true that I did work in psychiatric hospitals, and I did learn that getting a person to talk is a far more valuable tool than being able to restrain them. The underlying reason why Takona exists is because my cars, in essence, saved me. And if they can help me they can help others.

his story starts, as many do, with an email. Unlike most emails I get, this particular email asked me to write about myself and what I do, which sounds easy as who knows me and what I do better than I do. It transpired that it’s actually quite difficult to write about yourself without immediately feeling sheepish, unfortunately for me, that feeling is exactly why I should be writing about what I do.


That is because I’m the founder of Takona, an automotive clothing brand that is encouraging people to talk more. So for fear of being branded a massive hypocrite, here’s a bit more about me, Takona, how it all came about, and what it’s all for. I’ll try and keep it linear.


Like a lot of guys, I’ve inherited my love of cars. My grandfather had an Austin seven in pieces in his garage when I was a kid, the first car I remember my dad having was a 205 gti (the 1.9 in black, I know you want to know), and my first car was a 1988 mini mayfair, for context I was born in 1993 so my mini was already a classic by the time it got to me. This love of cars runs deep and has been the source of many adventures, many friends, and many conversations.


Since receiving that email, I’ve debated back and forth about just how much sharing I should include in this. Takona itself represents a lot of what I hope to achieve and my working in psychiatric hospitals prior to starting it leads very well into why Takona exists. “Mental health worker starts brand driving mental health awareness” has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?


Whilst it is true that I did work in psychiatric hospitals, and I did learn that getting a person to talk is a far more valuable tool than being able to restrain them. The underlying reason why Takona exists is because my cars, in essence, saved me. And if they can help me they can help others.

That little mini mayfair was my escape from a troubled place, a house in the middle of the countryside, filled with trauma, fear, and abuse. Not only was that car a way to physically leave, it also gave me something to focus on, something to take pride in, and something that opened the doors to the car community. It’s impossible to drive a bright orange mini without meeting new people, the beauty of the car world is that everyone you meet from within it wants to be your friend, and when times are at their darkest these friends pull you through. Be it a 3 am Mcdonald's coffee after a late night drive, or hitting the road at 6 am with a few mates to go to a car show, the memories made and the relationships built around cars are invaluable and precious.


So how does an old mini lead to a mental health awareness clothing brand? Well there are many steps in between that aren’t all that relevant to this story, and I’ve talked about my time working in healthcare already, but in essence, Takona started as an idea whilst I was renting a room down in Brighton having relocated there for work.


This idea was to create a way to establish connections with the other car people I would encounter whilst working in sales. I’d found that during a new business meeting if it transpired the other person was into their cars we instantly connected and the conversation began to flow easily. I was making a new friend and the business side of things became less pressured, as I said, car people want to be your friends.


This idea then transformed from making business meetings flow easily into my passion for mental health. What if rather than making business conversations flow better because of cars, we could get people to connect with one another through that love of cars but build that connection on a foundation that understood it's okay to talk. In a predominantly male dominated community, what if we could make it normal to talk more openly, and to not feel ashamed or scared to feel emotions, and what if we could use the power of brand awareness to make that happen.

That little mini mayfair was my escape from a troubled place, a house in the middle of the countryside, filled with trauma, fear, and abuse. Not only was that car a way to physically leave, it also gave me something to focus on, something to take pride in, and something that opened the doors to the car community. It’s impossible to drive a bright orange mini without meeting new people, the beauty of the car world is that everyone you meet from within it wants to be your friend, and when times are at their darkest these friends pull you through. Be it a 3 am Mcdonald's coffee after a late night drive, or hitting the road at 6 am with a few mates to go to a car show, the memories made and the relationships built around cars are invaluable and precious.


So how does an old mini lead to a mental health awareness clothing brand? Well there are many steps in between that aren’t all that relevant to this story, and I’ve talked about my time working in healthcare already, but in essence, Takona started as an idea whilst I was renting a room down in Brighton having relocated there for work.


This idea was to create a way to establish connections with the other car people I would encounter whilst working in sales. I’d found that during a new business meeting if it transpired the other person was into their cars we instantly connected and the conversation began to flow easily. I was making a new friend and the business side of things became less pressured, as I said, car people want to be your friends.


This idea then transformed from making business meetings flow easily into my passion for mental health. What if rather than making business conversations flow better because of cars, we could get people to connect with one another through that love of cars but build that connection on a foundation that understood it's okay to talk. In a predominantly male dominated community, what if we could make it normal to talk more openly, and to not feel ashamed or scared to feel emotions, and what if we could use the power of brand awareness to make that happen.

So Takona was born, with the fundamental principle that through familiarity and consistent branding it is possible to help change the mentality of a community, such as the automotive one, to be more open to talking about mental health.


A question that I am asked frequently is “What does the name mean and where does it come from?” So in anticipation, I’m going to answer that here. Whilst having dinner with a friend who is a bit of a serial entrepreneur I noticed that none of his businesses used recognisable words, his advice was “When starting something new, use a unique name, that way what you do with that idea becomes synonymous with that word”. So Takona effectively means “cars and mental health”.


The word itself I have traced back to being a kid that wanted to design cars, and as my surname isn’t as exotic as Ferrari or Lamborghini, I took inspiration from two things I was a bit obsessed with, Tokyo and the Pagani Zonda, to create a new name for my imaginary car company. Seemed rather fitting for what I’m trying to do.


After three years of trying, it looks like I’ve just about cracked it. From a few simple designs printed onto some low-quality t-shirts, to a new design of pretty good artistic merit (if I do say so myself) each month and a range of high-quality products I’m proud of. Alongside this Takona has its own podcast that’s featured guests such as Alex Goy, Ian Callum, and Henry Catchpole. And has a network of 4 monthly coffee and car meets happening on second Sundays across the country. It’s still early days, and there’s a lot of work to be done, the signs are looking positive for this to be something that makes a difference. It’s creating connections through clothing, giving examples of how conversations don’t need to be daunting, and creating the space for communities to flourish. I'd say it’s ticking some good boxes.


As I’ve found is often the case, this 750 word feature now being 1,090 strong, once the barrier to talking about yourself comes down, you find it hard to stop. And that’s the point - we just need to break down those barriers.