Designer, illustrator and self-professed Bun Queen, Sophia Chang has created an impressive portfolio in her short tenure. The Queens-based artist often look to hip-hop and pop culture in her caricatures, presenting simple yet compelling renderings that have garnered collaborations with the likes of Staple Design, Baohaus and Undefeated. For her latest project, PUMA tapped Sophia to produce a collection dubbed “Brooklynite” — a bold repertoire that blends together PUMA’s technical designs with Sophia’s New York-inspired illustrations. Continuing with such motifs, Sophia moved onto footwear, designing an updated collection to the PUMA Trinomic Disc. In this segment, we catch up with the young artist to learn about how she interpolates her illustration skills onto footwear design, her views on women in sneakers, and UNDO-Ordinary Magazine — a platform she co-created that celebrates fashion and fitness.
How different is footwear design from your experience with strictly illustrating?
My college studies were grounded in illustration. I spent my free time mentoring and studying under some of the greats in the design industry. Since my graduation in 2010 I have expanded my practice to many different creative fields including graphic design, web design and art curation. Since I’m familiar with creating on different platforms, working with footwear was just a blank canvas to me (also I’m a huge fan of sneakers so my heart was in it too!). I was given the opportunity to translate my understanding of art and design (simple things like color palette and space distribution), and mix it with my personal interests in fashion. Cultural influences came into play as well. Being a native New Yorker I wanted to embody the flavor of the city in an apparel collection that would speak to a global market.
“To succeed in the design market, you need more than just talent. You need hustle. You need a niche market that you can work in.”
Has growing up in New York provided you with any advantages creatively?
I’m so blessed to be able to live and work in this creative hub. Of course growing up in this urban city has definitely influenced me early on. For my personal history, the cultural influences of hip-hop music, style and creative arts has definitely been a part of my entire life.
When I was studying in school and identifying myself amongst my peers, it was clear the talent to draw was there. But to succeed in the design market, you need more than just talent. You need hustle. You need a niche market that you can work in. I realized that my passion projects really helped lead me to my clients. When I say passion projects I mean non-commissioned work that I wanted to do just for fun. I love digging into New York culture and pop culture for my personal artistic inspiration.
Females in streetwear have been gaining a lot of traction recently, why do you think this is?
I believe it’s gaining traction because the internet allows for greater transparency. In a male-dominated market like streetwear, there is little room for women with talent to shine. Well, compared to women with a nice set of tits and ass. The internet as a communication tool allows women to show off their own accolades with little constraints.
“I want to take advantage of my time out of school to really test the waters. Struggle, fail, try, make attempts, succeed (maybe) and see how far I can take myself.”
You’ve worked before for creative companies/agencies and as a freelancer. Do you feel more creative now that you’re working for yourself?
Absolutely. It’s like how they say college isn’t for everyone. A full-time job with a system might not be for every person. I’m still young, and I still have a lot to accomplish. I want to take advantage of my time out of school to really test the waters. Struggle, fail, try, make attempts, succeed (maybe) and see how far I can take myself. When I am ready, I will definitely enter back into the full-time market. But for now, I’m just trying to see what I’ve got.
How do you ensure that you’re being pushed and challenged when you work for yourself?
I surround myself with people who push and challenge me. I’ve been blessed to be in a beautiful city, one of the hardest cities to work in as a creative. I’ve got a great community of people who support me and a lovely web community of people who criticize me. Even the living standards in NY is a good enough push. Trying to pay the bills and still cop the latest kicks!
You recently collaborated with PUMA on the “Brooklynite” collection and the Disc Blaze Lite line. How much of the project centers around sports/functionality versus lifestyle?
The collection itself is carried under the PUMA lifestyle collection. None of the designs really have anything to do with sport performance. However personally I live an active lifestyle and I am deeply influenced by sportswear fabrics. Select pieces of the collection echo designs found in technical activewear. The Trinomic Disc sneakers include materials such as neoprene, mesh and reflective stripes. These fabrics are often found in sportswear and in the event years, due to fashion trends, have made appearances in the fashion market. As a New Yorker who is constantly on the move from meetings, to the gym, to dinner with friends, it’s important for my outfit to be flexible for all occasions.
“No client, no commission – we created our own path, our own direction. Thanks to Without Walls to sponsored our book, we were able to print our magazines.”
You have participated the UNDO-Ordinary Magazine project, tell us how it got started and what’s your main focus on the layout design and visual direction of magazine?
The UNDO-Ordinary Magazine was created because the marketed needed it. The founders of UNDO-Ordinary are Robin Arzon and Nai Vasha, who built a global running movement centered around fitness and fashion. They’re both good friends and huge inspirations for me. We decided to team up and create a print magazine based on their ethos. The vision was clear. It’s a lifestyle we all live. Art, fashion, health, charity, living without walls. We all brought our strengths to the table to compose the book. I have experience in print design, Nai is an amazing visionary, and Robin is one of the best copy writers I know. We joined forces like Voltron and created because we wanted to. We reached out to our community of artists, photographers, stylists and writers to join us in our journey. No client, no commission – we created our own path, our own direction. Thanks to Without Walls to sponsored our book, we were able to print our magazines. We are proud to announce that the book is available globally in various boutiques. And yes, there’s more issues on the way.
What do you think of the trend of women styled in cool sneaker designs?
I don’t think it’s new at all. I’ve been mixing female fashion with sneakers my entire life. I was never much of a “shoes” girl. It’s only during these recent years that I’ve noticed there are other out there thanks to the internet. It’s amazing that we can all connect because of our interests and hobbies. It’s still a bit of a shock to me but I love seeing it and I find it very encouraging especially when women are posting my PUMA sneakers!
A few years ago we did a successful “A Day with Sophia Chang” editorial. Three years on, how has your daily life changed?
Wow! Where to begin? Nowadays I pretty much have the same schedule. I’ve always been very organized and schedule days for meetings and certain days for just working at home. In the recent years I’ve been traveling a lot more for work which has been a huge blessing. I’m happy that my client base is expanding and turning global.
Possible to share any cool projects coming up from your side?
I’ll leave it as a surprise. Stay tuned via my Instagram @esymai.
- Jeremiah Wilson