Nana: Fashion has infinite possibilities, and new power is born from it. As a carrier of culture and times, fashion encompasses everything. From trendy to traditional culture, from celebrities, idols to everyone’s daily life, and from West to East, it is our discourse, our power, our time. Through Asian Voice, we hope to spread the local Asian fashion culture to the world by moving cross languages and borders.
If you examine Sophia Chang’s work, such as the recently released Puma Plexus series in June, you’ll witness a captivating fusion of US streetwear and Chinese traditional culture. Her art represents her Asian American identity and the significant mission of expressing it through the medium of art and fashion. This interplay between her cultural background and creative expression holds great importance and lies at the heart of her artistic endeavors. In addition to her focus on identity, she is dedicated to embracing diversity and challenging conventions through vibrant and bold art expressions.
During this interview, she delved into the stories behind her collaborations and work processes. She also shared her views on the development of AI and technology, along with offering valuable advice to the new generation of creative professionals in the fashion industry.
First of all, congratulations on the successful launch of the Puma Plexus series in June! This collection draws inspiration from Chinese traditional culture. Could you share the reasons behind choosing this theme and provide some insights into the story behind these collaborations?
Sophia Chang: I’m originally from New York, born and raised. My parents are from Taiwan. And so, growing up in New York, I’m an only child, and I grew up with a lot of inspiration all around me, like in the ’90s. The influence of music, artwork, graffiti, and streetwear fashion, especially sneakers, was always a huge inspiration for me. It’s a big part of my upbringing and who I am today.
So, that has always been a significant common theme in my work. Most of my work in this collection started when I was first approached by Puma. It’s my second collection with them; the first one was in 2013-2014. This collection was initially about celebrating my Asian American background, particularly with the rise of the “Stop Asian Hate” movement in America.
The initial inspiration for the designs came from exploring my Chinese name, “Zhang Xi Wen,” with “Xi” originating from Kang Xi, the emperor in China. I looked at paintings of him and delved into his name’s history. The colorways were initially inspired by old Asian paintings, but we adapted and modernized them.
The “Friends and Family” colorway, in particular, was inspired by an old Chinese painting of him, while a significant part of my previous collection involved creating products for a wide range of people, including preteens, fashion enthusiasts, and older women who care about sneakers and footwear.
With this collection, I aimed to explore identity and create something that spoke to the future, catering to the Chinese American and Chinese markets, as well as preteen teenagers. We introduced different colorways, such as emerald green, resembling jade—a prized material in China—along with pink, peach, and blue.
In summary, my collection’s initial inspiration revolved around exploring my identity as an Asian American and creating products that would resonate with diverse audiences. The colorways and designs were influenced by both traditional Asian elements and modern aesthetics.
In addition to incorporating Chinese traditional culture, the Puma Plexus collection beautifully blends elements of New York street culture, creating a harmonious fusion of Western and Eastern influences. How has your Asian American identity influenced your career and creative endeavors?
Sophia Chang: I believe that in America, identity holds significant importance. It’s a crucial aspect of our everyday conversations, particularly regarding race and ethnicity. However, with this project, it’s quite different for me because I’m not creating something for the American market. Instead, this is a China-exclusive product line. Thus, I see this opportunity as a way to use product design to narrate my story as an Asian American, presenting it in an aesthetically appealing manner.
The design holds a story and intention behind it, and even the sneaker box and other details in the illustrations incorporate elements like my Chinese name stamp. Essentially, I’m using my illustrations to create engaging artwork that beautifully captures my heritage.
What initially sparked your interest in the art and fashion industry, leading you to choose it as your career?
Sophia Chang: I grew up with a passion for drawing, so it wasn’t a sudden decision to pursue this path; it was always an interest of mine. Alongside my love for drawing, I also developed a keen interest in music, fashion, style, and self-expression, as I mentioned earlier. This combination became a common theme in my life.
I decided to apply my drawing skills to an industry that truly fascinated me. Consequently, I attended the Parsons School of Design, where I studied illustration. During my time there, I had the opportunity to work on various projects, including fashion, product design, architecture, painting, and more. However, my personal focus was on fashion, as I had a strong interest in the fashion industry.
Throughout my career, my portfolio has expanded to include projects in different areas, such as magazines, websites, and packaging design. I firmly believe that having skills allows you to adapt and thrive in any industry. Whether it’s healthcare or any other field, with the right skills, you can excel.
For me, fashion has always been a natural fit, and I gravitated towards it wholeheartedly. It allowed me to combine my passion for drawing and self-expression with the dynamic world of fashion.
Besides the Puma Plexus collaboration, you have worked with prestigious brands such as Nike, Apple, and Adidas. Could you kindly share another memorable experience from your collaborations?
Sophia Chang: It’s been a huge honor to be able to collaborate with so many brands over the years in various forms from product design, campaign work and installations. A memorable experience I have from my collaborations is really the opportunity to be considered for it. The next job is always the most exciting job. I am grateful to be able to speak to clients and sometimes they are the ones selling me on the opportunity! I’m excited to continue to build my client list over the years to come!
As a creative professional, how has digital art or AI influenced your work, and what are your thoughts on their impact?
Sophia Chang: I still prefer to draw everything by hand. After that, I proceed to add colors and compose the final artwork digitally. So, I’ve always utilized various digital formats in my work. I haven’t relied on AI too much, although I have participated in a few NFT projects. I don’t have any particular aversion to it; I view it as a useful tool, much like Illustrator or Adobe software.
In my opinion, human creativity can’t be easily replaced by technology. Although I understand the concerns some people may have, I personally don’t feel threatened by it as a creator. Perhaps in the future, I might explore it further, but for now, it’s something new to learn and consider.
What part do social media play in your work process ?
Sophia Chang: Social media has played a significant role in my life for the past 10 years. It has been instrumental in propelling my work and providing a platform to showcase my creations. I view social media primarily as a portfolio, using it to display my work and share my artistic journey. While I don’t reveal much of my personal life, I leverage it as a powerful business tool to promote my brand and artwork.
In addition to using social media for my own endeavors, I have also shared my knowledge and expertise by conducting workshops and teaching small businesses and creators how to utilize social media effectively.
From my perspective, social media is a valuable tool that I actively want to learn and master. I consider the time and investment required to make the most of it and how it can further my business, which is essentially my own brand and artwork. Consequently, I prioritize platforms that best suit my visual-oriented work, with Instagram being my primary choice. While I may not use other less imagery-based apps like Twitter as extensively, I focus on making the most out of the ones that align with my artistic vision.
Nana: I believe that the platform is essential for executing a comprehensive visual strategy while incorporating effective marketing techniques. In our case, we are utilizing both Instagram and TikTok, particularly in Japan, where these platforms have a significant impact, especially on younger generations. They provide a substantial number of impressions and engagement, helping us reach a broader audience. Currently, we have achieved around 200k followers on Instagram and 200k on TikTok.
Sophia Chang: It’s very interesting how each country and each region of the world uses different types of social media platforms.
What obstacles or challenges have you encountered as a creative professional in the streetwear and fashion industry?
Sophia Chang: In general, being a female creator in the predominantly male streetwear industry can be perceived as a challenge by some. However, I have invested time in acquiring numerous skills and have built a strong history in this space. My successful collaborations with diverse brands and involvement in various projects have allowed my skills and output to speak for themselves. It’s a significant compliment when people appreciate and hire me for my work.
At times, there’s surprise when people learn that a woman created certain designs. I take pride in creating gender-neutral pieces that resonate with diverse audiences across gender and identity. This achievement is a big success for me.
Another point I’d like to emphasize, which relates to one of your previous questions, is that the collection was also designed to celebrate and honor the new generation of young Asian individuals, particularly Chinese youth. I apologize for the repeated mention of Chinese Americans; that’s not the case. Instead, I intended to focus on Chinese young people.
In the world of fashion, there’s a growing trend of blurring boundaries, whether it’s gender, expression, or even color associations like pink being exclusively for girls. I deliberately created the pink colorway to challenge these norms. Fashion should be about self-expression and personal style, where anyone can confidently wear any color they like. It’s time to break free from traditional stereotypes and embrace the diversity of expression in the fashion world.
What advice would you offer to the aspiring new generation of artists who are looking to establish themselves in the creative industry?
Sophia Chang: I often get asked this question in interviews, and my answer remains consistent: the best investment you can make is in yourself, by continuously learning new skills. In English, there’s a phrase like “a jack of all trades,” someone who isn’t a master of any specific skill but is proficient in various areas.
Throughout my journey, I’ve adopted this approach. While my major in school was illustration, I took the opportunity to study graphic design, typography, magazine design, packaging, silk screening, and more. I was eager to acquire as many skills as possible. Having diverse skills allows you to create multiple income streams, not limiting yourself to just one source of revenue. By broadening your knowledge and expertise, you open up various opportunities to generate income.
Creatively, there are countless ways to combine and apply these skills, making your work unique and special. By learning different types of skills, you gain the ability to create a distinctive blend—your own recipe of talents that sets you apart from others. Embracing this mindset and continuously developing your skills will undoubtedly lead to growth and success in your creative endeavors.
The best investment you can make is in yourself, by continuously learning new skills.
Text by Yiyao Zhang