Building a Brand and Staying Authentic With Designer Sophia Chang

Sophia Chang is a Queens born entrepreneur, illustrator and designer. She works across multiple mediums, embracing her creativity through forms like printmaking, graphic design, web design, illustration, marketing, event hosting and art curation.

We caught up with Sophia to find out how she continues to stay inspired and hone her craft.

Can you tell us about 2-3 projects which you're really proud of?

I think I’d say Pintrill, UNDO-Ordinary and Skillshare.

Pintrill because it was my first time collaborating with a brand to test my brand image. (For context, Pintrill is a pin accessory and lifestyle brand. They create pin designs that are inspired  heavily by popular culture -- anything ranging from emoji designs, popular sayings, fun memes, and much more). The goal with the Pintrill collaboration was to see how my online community would respond to merchandise that was inspired by my social media identity (for example, my trademark hair bun), rather than merchandise that was inspired by my artistic projects. My previous brand collaborations were strictly based around my artwork or my identity as an artist/creator. They didn’t really incorporate my social media image like my Pintrill collaboration did. It was a huge success and a fun way to see what markets I could expand to. Plus, Jordan and Andrew of Pintrill (Founders of Pintrill) are good friends of mine and I’m a big supporter of working with such a tight community.

UNDO-Ordinary is a training platform focused on fitness and wellness. Designed and packaged by creatives, it “blurs the lines between fitness and fashion,” and does a great job of highlighting the importance of staying healthy. UNDO started out as a running community which then branched off into a bi-annual magazine (still going!). It’s also expanded further into a larger network of talented artists. There’s an UNDO blog you could check out (www.undoordinary.com) as well as our Instagram account (@undoordinary_), and of course, make sure you check out the print magazine. You can also find our events happening throughout LA and NY.  There are many inspiring aspects of this project that make me proud. Particularly, I really enjoyed working collectively with like minded creative peers, as well as being able to take an idea and work to bring it to fruition. It was also really fulfilling to be able to expand the story of fitness in a way that is widely appreciated by our surrounding communities. Perhaps, most importantly, it was great to hear success stories about people feeling encouraged from UNDO.

Lastly, Skillshare was an amazing experience (and I’m not just saying that because of this interview) Here’s why: while I was in college, I loved attending panels and speaker talks. I loved school, and especially liked learning about subjects that I was personally interested in. You got a chance to choose what classes you actually wanted to take. I could take an intensive course on Rembrandt and Vermeer, and a PSA-design strategy class, and even a luxury brand design course with Columbia Business School students. The beauty of Skillshare is that it’s very accessible, affordable and you can take amazing courses just on your computer with successful & established creatives. Seth Godin, trashhand and Jeff Staple all have great classes that encourage you to be hands-on and their classes equip you to embrace creative projects with new knowledge. I was psyched to hear about the success of my class because I often have students contacting me for tips, and I speak at a lot of events including TEDx, SXSW and various universities. My goal at each talk is to inspire at least one person because, it can turn into a sort of snowball effect for their artistic community. As a teacher, being able to see all the positive reviews from my students, that’s something I’m extremely humbled by.

Where do you typically find inspiration?

I find inspiration all around my surroundings. I walk outside my home, or browse the internet with a different “lens” on. I think it’s important for a curator to be able to switch that on and off. If I’m working on a project with a music label like Stones Throw, the way I look for inspiration online will be different than if I were to work with a client like HBO. I always keep my eyes and ears open for inspiration. Everything from color palette, texture treatment, layout, all the details are woven together to tell a story. As a creator, I’m extremely conscious of how I compose my stories, my art.

Who are some of your inspirations/heros?

Creatively? Tons. I love illustrators like Jillian Tamaki, Hannah K. Lee and Jason Polan. I feel that there are also hustlers I know that inspire me such as Vanessa Chiu of Agenda Tradeshow. My business partner, Nai Vasha, is on the same hustle wavelength as well. It’s important to surround yourself with people who can inspire you and critique you and your work.

You've developed an amazing brand for yourself, how do you think about building your brand? What are some of the most important lessons you've learned along the way?

I think some people think it’s a conscious effort. It’s not like I sat down one day and thought, "hmm, I’m dope, I should make my own brand.” I honor vocational skills. So I know what I’m good at, and I understand what my skills are. I started with my illustration and design work, and as that grew, there were moments where new canvases were introduced to me, like Instagram. It was a social network where people could tell stories through images. I just had a fun idea of sharing my day by including my hair bun. But then I started adding things I was interested in, or I owned, or things in my environment. Turns out, people felt like they could relate to it and I started to build a community. I think the most important thing is to stay AUTHENTIC. In 2016, social media has been used as an advertising space. I’ve turned away a lot of jobs and checks simply because it is not on brand. I know what my online presence stands for and I refuse to dilute it. Knowing that it’s OK to say no is an important lesson.

What's the best advice you ever received?

My global studies teacher in junior high once told me ‘Whatever you end up being, work at it like you’re trying to be the best ever.’ If you’re a janitor, be the damn best janitor anyone has ever met. Same thing goes as your occupation changes. It’s an endless uphill journey, but make every day worth it.

What advice would you give to fellow aspiring freelancers?

There’s a lot of buzz and junk out there that dilutes taste. We are all different individuals. It’s also important to stay authentic to yourself, your taste, your interests and your personal expression. As a creative, you need to look within, and see what the source of your passion and interest is.

How do you keep your skills sharp?

I keep my creative skills sharp by always practicing my craft. I surrounding myself with people who keep me accountable to keep my hustle on point.

What are your most used apps? What do you use them for?

Trello, Slack and Airmail. I love productivity apps that help me organize my work.

What is your dream project?

I would love to work on a collection with another sportswear brand in the near future. It’s a dream project because everyone wants to do a brand, but few do it right. The storytelling may be there but your product sucks, or vice versa. I’m hyper aware of what the market presents and would like to partner with a giant to bring my ideas to fruition. Something that serves a purpose with a solid story and is aesthetically pleasing. It’s a simple formula but a difficult task.

What's next for you?

I recently started a creative agency called Weascend. I work behind the scenes. Instead of telling stories for myself, I help brands tell theirs. It’s been an amazing journey with the awesome team I have and hope to continue to grow that. I value my skills more than my personal brand, and building a career more than hype.

Learn more from Sophia in her Skillshare class Analytics & Authenticity on Instagram: Crafting Your Digital Presence and follow her on Instagram @esymai.

 

photo by nai Vasha