Photography by Liz Barclay
Walking into Sophia Chang’s Queens, New York, apartment you’re immediately surrounded by boxes upon boxes of magazines, as she greets you with a warm, welcoming "Hi!," and excuses the "mess." The boxes all around are actually packages of UNDO—the quarterly lifestyle magazine she co-founded back in 2014. "It's a fun way for us to flex our creative muscles," Chang explains. But, "we don't make any money off of this, it's completely self-funded."
The 28-year-old Queens born and raised illustrator and designer is also a creative consultant and art director for her own creative agency We Ascend. "It's called We Ascend because it's about uplifting our community as a whole," Chang says. She still continues her personal design work—collaborating with the likes of adidas, Puma, Undefeated, Nixon, and more—but she decided a few years back that it was time to re-brand herself, and that's essentially how We Ascend came about.
"How can I better brand myself so people understand what it is that I do, to continue doing what I do?" she explains. "And, I don't want to be so reliant on my image as a thing because that only lasts for so long."
Her passion for all of her projects is palpable. But, before diving into many questions on her various and varied work, life learnings, and more, she needs to finish up her makeup and perfect that signature #bun.
You may have come across Chang's work through one of her mentors and close collaborators Jeff Staple—founder of creative consulting firm Staple Design and NYC boutique Reed Space. The two have worked together often, and both are avid supporters of each other’s work—often sharing praises on Twitter, Instagram, and more.
So once Chang finished up her makeup and proceeded to get settled on a large gray couch in her living area—sporting a black-and-white adidas dress, signature "Sophia" necklace, and jet-black eyeliner, applied with an illustrator's precision—she got to talking.
Discussing the trajectory of her career, from the very beginning, Chang explains how she first developed an interest in art mainly out of only-childhood boredom. "I had to find a way to entertain myself."
Her parents, both Taiwanese immigrants, didn't have much of an artistic influence on Chang—although her mother was a singer who designed her own dresses and often drew female figurines.
Things got more serious, though, when she attended Parsons School of Design in New York. Originally, she planned on majoring in fashion design, but quickly realized that wouldn't be the right fit.
“What I really love to do is draw.” So after a swift switch in majors, she honed in on illustration and began her tireless pursuit of becoming a “well-rounded designer.”
She took on a full schedule of classes, and audited extra classes in packaging design, web design, logo graphics—you name it. And then there were the many internships she had with none other than Complex, the famed Ryan McGinness, and Peter Chung.
"By the time I graduated, I had all these skills under my belt.” So the only piece of advice she would give her 20-year-old self: "Save money more. That's pretty much it!" she laughed.
In an interview with Highsnobiety back in 2014, she spoke on the struggles of being a woman in streetwear saying, “You’re always approached as a female first, instead of a professional.” So when asking her about this, and if she still experiences setbacks today, she proceeded to clear things up a bit: "I mean, I don't think it's a huge struggle, but it is a struggle in any type of workspace, for females as a whole."
That doesn't mean you'll find Chang frequenting female-only, women empowerment groups anytime soon. And she definitely won’t be calling herself a “#Girlboss”—the female friendly term made famous by NastyGal retail founder Sophia Amoruso.
As Chang herself brought up while explaining her quote from the Highsnobiety interview, "I don't believe in the term 'Girlboss.' I just believe in someone who works really hard, and is a boss themselves. I don't think it needs to be gender specific if we're going to be talking about that kind of stuff." For Chang, it's more important to keep everyone in the conversation (males included), even if the playing field isn't always even.
She then discussed some of her favorite apps, specifically Instagram, since she has a solid 64.8K following and maintains such an effortless balance between work, social, and personal content. “Really, it's just an extension of my life," Chang explains. But artistically, "it is more thought-out, in terms of how frequently I post and how I post, because I do one dark and one light [photo], and I purposely post so that my grid looks good."
As for other apps she uses—such as for photography, illustration, or design—Chang says her favorites, "for photo editing, obviously, VSCO, Snapseed, that kind of stuff. And then everything else is on my computer." But she doesn't like to edit her photos too much.
And as for her Taiwanese background, and how it has affected her work, she describes, that like many first-generation children who end up with careers in the arts, there's a pretty big disconnect with her parents.
"There's not only the age difference, but also the huge cultural difference. So for a very long time, and still off and on now, they don't really know what it is I do."
But it's that confusion that spurred arguably her biggest project to date. As Chang explains, it was after her big success with Puma that she became too overwhelmed and overworked.
"I was doing interviews and video shoots every day, and I didn't have time to work on my own work." She realized she needed to re-brand and start her own creative agency. So with the help of Nai Vasha, Chang co-founded We Ascend in 2014 and has gone on to work with the likes of adidas, Sennheiser, and more, all under the umbrella of her own full-service agency.
"What we specialize in is storytelling, whether that's a physical experience, like an event, or it's your social media page,” Chang says.
She still does her personal illustrative and design work, but Chang is also ready to take the next leap in her career and lift off with her agency, We Ascend.
"In the past two years, the whole Instagram, blogger stuff has shed light on a lot of really useless people, I think. And so, I don't really care if I'm in the spotlight anymore."
She wants to take on more projects with We Ascend and UNDO because for her, it's all about creating content that “gives back and has some sort of use."
And with that, you know that there’s only going to be so much more to come from the hard-working, multi-talented Sophia Chang.