Illustrator Sophia Chang talks to us about side hustles, receipts, and the secret to her top knot

Illustrator Sophia Chang has one helluva resume. She’s worked with brands like Foot Locker, Adidas, Smashbox, and the NBA, she designed her very own Puma sneaker. At a recent event at GOAT Sneaker Marketplace‘s pop-up museum, Sophia took an informal approach to a Q&A, speaking candidly about her career and work ethic.

Her first lesson? Don’t quit your day job — at least not yet. When you’re first starting out in a creative field you’ll have to balance a job that pays your bills and passion projects, she warned. Easier said than done for anyone who hates a desk job, but until you can live off your side gig, keep it cute. She followed it up with a simple “Take care of yourself,” which is a major part of being a creative. Sophia sees wellness as a passion project with her brand UNDO Ordinary, sponsoring events, yoga sessions, and cooking classes.

Lastly, Sophia encouraged giving back. “You haven’t made it until you’ve cut checks for your community,” she said. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Following the Q&A at GOAT, we got to chat with Sophia Chang about her background and career. She shared advice for creatives, first generation kids, and anyone balancing a 9 to 5 with a side hustle.

HelloGiggles: When did you know you wanted to get into illustrating?

Sophia Change: I personally always enjoyed drawing. I did it as entertainment as an only child (and now), just doodling to pass by time. 

HG: You’ve talked about your days at Parsons School of Design. What made you make the switch from fashion design major to illustrator?

SC: I initially wanted to pursue a career path in fashion design. However, after getting into accepted to Parsons School of Design, I got to witness firsthand what that major and industry entails. I realized I disliked the materialistic superficial culture within the high-end fashion industry and decided to change my major and focus on my passion, my roots, which was drawing. That’s when I decided to change my major to illustration and learned more about the commercial world behind drawing and how you can build a business around it.

HG: It’s not easy for first-generation children to get their parents to understand careers in the arts. Was this an issue for you, and what advice do you have for college students heading in that direction?

SC: Absolutely. Immigrant parents don’t drag themselves to a foreign country to start a family so that their child can become an “artist.” I grew up with traditional parents that wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer but I knew it wasn’t my calling. It took about six to seven years for my parents to get a grasp of what I do. They still don’t fully understand, due to generational and cultural gaps, but they understand that I’m happy, successful, and financially stable.

HG: By the time you graduated, you had internships with Complex and Ryan McGinness. How important do you think interning is for artists?

SC: So important. I got firsthand experience behind the curtain to see how a fine artist runs his business and how a media outlet operates. As a student, theres no price tag for these experiences. Interning is super important because you may think you like a job, but interning gives you the opportunity to dip your toes and try it out. Similar to dating, you think you may like someone but you learn the truth after. You take what you learned and enjoyed or hated with you onto your next job opportunity. Plenty of room for growth.

HG: When you’re not designing or working as the art director for We Ascend, you’re publishing a self-funded magazine. Can you speak about what drives you to invest in the project?

SC: It’s just passion. I thoroughly enjoy drawing, designing, exploring, storytelling, solving problems, designing websites, designing a magazine, searching for vendors, planning the content rollout, developing launch strategy, revamping a small business, and most importantly, seeing the fruition of your work. I guess some would label me as ambitious, but I turn that ambition into actual work, and I’m not afraid to fail.

HG: For our readers who want to pursue a career in art, what advice can you offer?

SC: Give it a shot, you’ll never know unless you try. Most importantly, there are 10,000+ other people chasing the same check as you. So how will you carve your territory in the market? No matter what industry we are in we need to prepare ourselves professionally, and make sure our business, approach, and execution is perfectly polished.

HG: Are there any common mistakes you see entry-level artists making that could hurt their career in the long run?

SC: They think they’re an art director off the bat because they studied art direction. Or they think they’re a painter because they painted a few times. We’re nothing until we’ve put in the work and time to earn our titles. In this day and age of instant gratification, we don’t invest years — I mean 5 to 10+ and onwards — to studying and mastering our crafts before assigning titles. Make sure you keep your receipts to back up the title that you’re telling everyone about.

HG: Last question — the bun. We’d love to hear about your favorite hair care products and any tips for a sleek top knot.

SC: I personally don’t really use conditioner and I never comb my hair. I have knots, some dreads and a ton of dust and dog hair sometimes just stuck in it. That’s my secret to making a full and thick top knot. Who knew?