Renowned sports and lifestyle brand PUMA has partnered with the celebrated artist and illustrator, Sophia Chang, to create a remarkable collection of PUMA Plexus designs. These designs not only push the boundaries of sneaker aesthetics but also serve as a powerful reflection of personal identity and cultural heritage. In an exclusive interview, Chang shared insights into the inspirations behind the captivating designs, the fusion of Asian American and streetwear influences, and their perspectives on the evolving fashion landscape.
Chang’s journey with PUMA’s latest Plexus collection began with an unexpected twist. Originally presented with a different theme, they were prompted by the ongoing COVID situation and the movement against Asian hate to delve into their own cultural identity. Extensive research into their Chinese name and its historical context led to the incorporation of elements from Chinese emperor’s paintings into the vibrant colorways of the sneakers. The result is a collection that beautifully captures the essence of the Chinese Asian story through Chang’s creative vision, blending traditional motifs with a modern twist that resonates with the younger generation.
The artist’s unique perspective is further exemplified by her choice of specific motifs and graphics within the designs. Her Chinese name, passed down by her grandfather, holds a central place on the box, symbolizing a deeply personal connection to her heritage. Additionally, elements inspired by their upbringing in New York, such as street culture references and iconic symbols like taxi cabs, infuse the designs with a fusion of Asian and American influences.
Chang, hailing from the borough of Queens, New York, has made a remarkable impact in the art, design, and streetwear community worldwide in a relatively short period. With a BFA from Parsons School of Design and a natural business acumen, Chang has collaborated with A-list names across various fields, including Samsung, Nike, Refinery29, Adidas, Apple, Footlocker, HBO, and the NBA, to name a few. One of the significant highlights of Chang’s career was the design of her own collection with PUMA in 2014, which became the brand’s top-grossing lifestyle range and was exhibited at renowned international museums, curated by the American Federation of the Arts. Her work has also been featured in collectible books and publications worldwide.
We connected with Sophia Chang to discuss her latest designs for the PUMA Plexus, her cultural upbringing and how she balances work and life as a new mom. Read our exclusive interview below and expect the Sophia Chang x PUMA Plexus collection to be available via cn.puma.com, PUMA stores, and select shops in mainland China on June 12 for ￥1199 (approximately $168.61 USD).
“The designs represent the journey of the Chinese Asian story through my creative lens, blending Asian identity with a modern twist for the younger generation.”
How do these latest PUMA Plexus designs showcase your personality?
Initially, the collection opportunity came in, but with the ongoing COVID situation, the theme got morphed and pushed. The Chinese team saw the political happenings in the States and wanted to contribute to the movement against Asian hate. So, I took it as a prompt to explore my Asian American identity. I researched my Chinese name and its historical context, which led me to incorporate elements from a Chinese emperor’s paintings into the colorways. The designs represent the journey of the Chinese Asian story through my creative lens, blending Asian identity with a modern twist for the younger generation.
Among the vast history of Chinese art, what specific motif stood out to you for inclusion in the design?
In terms of the design itself, not so much the box, I wanted to integrate my art and personal interests. My Chinese name, given to me by my grandfather, is featured on the box. I also included graphics inspired by my upbringing in New York, such as a taxi cab and references to street culture. The design is a fusion of my creative interpretation as an Asian American.
How would you choose to style the PUMA Plexus sneaker? What’s your personal preference in terms of your own wardrobe?
Personally, I would wear them with baggy clothing because of how the shoes fit on me. But I think they can be styled with denim, cargo shorts, or even lace socks. The shoes are bold and colorful, catering to young adults who enjoy experimenting with their fashion choices. They can add a pop of color to an all-black outfit or complement vibrant looks.
“Fashion is a dynamic space, and as a creator, I believe it’s all about personal self-expression.”
What do you enjoy most about collaborating with culturally impactful brands like PUMA? How has your relationship with the brand influenced your perspective on streetwear and sportswear?
My previous collaboration with PUMA was almost 10 years ago, and it was a significant milestone for me as a small-budget artist. Now, coming back to collaborate with PUMA on this sneaker design feels like a full circle moment. PUMA has a strong presence in both sports and streetwear categories, and the plexus model they chose for this collaboration fits perfectly in the streetwear space. It’s a brand that has grown a lot, and it’s an honor to work with them again.
Considering your strong connections to the fashion world, what would you like to see more of in the current fashion space? Are there any experimental concepts or designs that align with PUMA’s mission that have caught your attention recently?
Fashion is a dynamic space, and as a creator, I believe it’s all about personal self-expression. I’ve always looked at clothing through a genderless lens, integrating different styles into my own. It’s exciting to have the freedom to choose how I want to dress each day based on where I need to be. Living in LA, I enjoyed the thrill of creating different looks for various occasions, whether it was going to the gym, attending a work meeting, or an art show opening. It’s a shape-shifting experience that fulfills my need for self-expression.
How do you see fashion integrating with digital art? What developments are you excited to see in the future and how will it impact pop culture?
When you mention digital art, are you referring to NFTs? It’s a sensitive topic for some people, including myself. As a person, I find AI and its implications nerve-wracking and scary. However, as a creative, I see its potential to integrate seamlessly into a creator’s toolkit, just like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. Fashion designers using digital art resources to produce exciting creations is always fascinating. Although there are concerns, such as photo shoots featuring AI models, when considering it purely from a creative perspective, the possibilities are thrilling. I’m currently working on a project that integrates the NFT metaverse with real-life fashion products, specifically in the sneaker space. It’s a collaboration with stadium goods, and while I can’t provide details yet, it’s going to be a fun venture.
Additionally, the concept of owning and valuing artwork is being translated into the digital world, and it’s an interesting dynamic to explore.
“Ultimately, as humans, we are dynamic beings, and creative expression knows no bounds, regardless of the tools we use.”
It seems like the answer to the question about slow craft and analog methods in art and design is gradually evolving. From your perspective, do you think there will always be an appreciation for handcrafted art despite the increasing use of digital tools?
Absolutely. Just like how some people have embraced film photography or printmaking, creative mediums with deep historical roots will always be explored and appreciated. Artists and designers often dig into the archives and pick up different skills to further their creative journey. Nowadays, we see a resurgence of interest in paper mache, for example, which was previously seen as a less mainstream technique. Ultimately, as humans, we are dynamic beings, and creative expression knows no bounds, regardless of the tools we use.
How has your Asian American and immigrant upbringing influenced your career path? What challenges have you faced as a woman in the male-dominated streetwear and sneaker culture?
Growing up as an Asian American with immigrant parents, I had to navigate the cultural expectations from both my Asian and American identities. As an Asian American, you constantly make choices about which aspects of your cultural background to retain and which ones to let go. This journey of self-discovery is exciting and common among individuals who come from multicultural backgrounds. Personally, I had to challenge the traditional expectations placed on Asian women to be submissive and quiet. I embraced a more vocal approach, which aligns more with American cultural norms. Pursuing a creative career is also not the norm in the Asian community, where professions like medicine and law are often favored. It took time to show my parents that a creative career can be successful and respectable. Gender has been less of a barrier for me because people tend to respect hard work, dedication, and the quality of the output rather than focusing solely on gender or identity.
As a new mom, how do you manage the balance between work and life?
It’s incredibly challenging. Parenting and motherhood, in particular, have their ups and downs. It’s a truly intense experience, and I have so much respect for all the women who go through it. I can’t imagine how they handle it with multiple children. But despite the difficulties, I’m making it work. I have very little time, and everything I’m doing right now is squeezed into those moments when the baby is napping or when I have some support at home. Along with taking care of my child, I also have to find time to cook, eat, shower, and take care of myself. It’s been quite a journey.
Photography by Eddie Lee for Hypeart and PUMA