This designer and illustrator has a wit as sharp as her pencils.
“I can’t wait for this social media thing to be over,” says Sophia Chang, which sounds funny coming from someone with 33,000 Instagram followers. “Granted,” she says, “I’m part of it, but I’m trying to establish a career. If you’re cute and you have all these cute things, sure, you can make a living, but we’ll see what happens five years from now when Instagram is on some Buzzfeed #tbt list.”
Chang doesn’t mince words, nor does she have much tolerance for people who are looking for shortcuts to success. When I meet the 26-year-old graphic designer and illustrator for coffee, she’s escaping winter by spending a month in Los Angeles. “I was born and raised in New York, and I’ve lived there my whole life, and it never gets easier,” she says. “I don’t get anything done when it’s so cold, and being freelance is all about self-discipline and motivating yourself. Now I’m ready to go—I’m working 12-hour days!”
Growing up in Queens, Chang originally thought she wanted to be a fashion designer, until her first week at Parsons The New School for Design convinced her otherwise. “I was like, ‘I hate everyone in fashion!’” she says. “Everyone was rich and didn’t give a shit about their education and just wanted to look pretty for one another.” She laughs now and calls herself out: “I was very judgmental, but I was trying to save my money for food, not trying to buy the latest Céline bag.”
Instead of fashion, Chang channeled her childhood interest in drawing into an illustration major, and interned with magazines, studios, and artists every chance she could get (sometimes by tracking people down on Facebook). By the time she graduated, she had a full portfolio and a solid client list. She didn’t last long at a job that was “total BS” and decided to freelance instead. “I’d worked so hard in school, and was confident in myself and my potential, and I was waking up every day unhappy,” she says. “I decided I was just going to take the risk and see what happened.”
She hasn’t looked back, and now counts Nike, Urban Outfitters, Marc Jacobs, and Proenza Schouler as clients, and even illustrated her own collection for Puma. Her hustle is evident in a recent collaboration she did with the NBA: When the vendor she was working with jacked up the price at the last minute, she was forced to make a tough call. “I could get the job done and not make any money, or say, ‘Sorry, I can’t do this,’” she recalls. She chose the former. “Now I can say I worked with the NBA,” she says. “I even kept the envelope the check came in.”
Words by Kate Williams