Fashioning the Future With: Sophy Wong
Welcome to Style Engineers Worldwide's interview series, "Fashioning the Future With…", where we will be talking to influential and inspiring pioneers in STEAM, and stampeding sweet potatoes, do we have a marvelous maker to feature in our inaugural interview! Meet Sophy Wong.
Sophy Wong is a designer, maker, writer, and speaker. She has a B.F.A. in Graphic Design from the University of Hawaii. She's worked for Gap, the Seattle Opera, and as an independent fashion designer. Sophy also has her own fabulous and futuristic jewelry line called Asteroid Blues. She was recently featured on the cover of HackSpace magazine and spoke at Maker Faire Bay Area 2018.
Sophy uses wearable tech to bring her epic – and we mean truly epic – creations to life, and we were excited to ask her about what makes her – and her projects – tick. Here's what Sophy has to say about her creative process, how sci-fi and anime inspires her, and how to get started on your own truly epic projects.
Where does your interest in design come from?
I love design because it’s a powerful, universal tool, and there’s so much more to design than just the way something looks. Design is a way of thinking that can be applied to anything you want to do. I studied graphic design in college, and although that is a specific application of design, the concepts I learned translate to everything I do now. Whether I’m building a mask with LEDs in it, or writing an article, I use design.
What was the first costume you made? Where did you wear it to?
The first very elaborate costume I made was my Marie Antoinette costume, which consists of a robe á la française and a wig that I styled and decorated. I wore it to a Labyrinth-themed masquerade ball at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. It took me about two months to make the dress, and it was my first big project that I patterned completely from scratch. It was a ton of work, and I loved every minute, even the very difficult parts.
Tell us about NULL 1, the original character you created! How does VR play into the character? What’s NULL 1’s backstory?
Null is one half of Null and Void, which is a set of characters my husband and I invented for some of the projects we do together. We are big fans of Daft Punk, sci-fi, and anime, and we love the idea of having pseudonyms and playing with identity. We think of Null and Void as two people who meet in a virtual world that transcends time and space. In the virtual world, they can be anything - artists, musicians, architects - and create without limits.
What is some of your favorite wearable tech in movies/TV/books/et cetera?
I love all of Shuri’s wearable tech in Black Panther, especially her gauntlets! Another one of my favorites is the Stillsuit from Dune (1984). I love that it looks technical, but also biological. I’m always geeking out on movie spacesuits, and I particularly love the newer ones designed by Janty Yates for The Martian and Prometheus. I’m also a huge fan of the Japanese pop group, Perfume. Their live shows and music videos feature innovative integrations of wearable tech like projection mapped dresses that use servos to fold and unfold like origami.
If someone is looking to get into wearable tech, where would you suggest she start?
Sewing some LEDs into clothing is a great first project, because it’s simple enough for beginners to do, and yields a high-impact, blinky piece at the end. It’s so satisfying! You’ll also learn design and construction concepts that will help when you get to larger projects later. Sewn circuits can teach you the basics, and as your design ideas get more complex, you’ll learn new techniques with each project.
Fortunately, you can learn almost everything you need to know on the internet! Browse the learning guides on adafruit.com and find a wearable project that you’re truly excited about. And then go for it! When you hit a snag, ask the community for help and learn from others who have encountered the same issue. Your excitement will carry you through the tricky parts of your first project so you can finish and feel successful. Then celebrate by starting another project!
For a primer on wearables, check out my article in issue number 4 of HackSpace magazine. It’s an introduction to wearable concepts, techniques, and materials, and includes a tutorial for an LED hat, which is a great first project. A free PDF of the issue is available for download here: https://hackspace.raspberrypi.org/issues/4
How would you describe the aesthetic of your jewelry line and your fashion design?
I’m always inspired by the visual language that’s developed around science fiction, and my work usually draws from that aesthetic. I often use clean geometric shapes and I’ll usually restrict my designs to just a few colors or materials.
Why the name Asteroid Blues for your jewelry line?
"Asteroid Blues" is the name of the first episode of Cowboy Bebop, one of my favorite anime series of all time. The world of Cowboy Bebop is futuristic, but still feels like a natural evolution from who we are today. It’s science fiction, but also timeless, and I wanted that feeling for my jewelry.
What are you working on now/most recently?
This year, I’ve been designing and building tutorial projects and writing them up as guides for Adafruit and HackSpace magazine. I really enjoy writing the guides because I get to do all my favorite things in one project: designing, making, photography, writing, and sharing. The biggest thrill is to see that someone has followed my guide to build their own version of the project and make it their own. I also love speaking at events like Maker Faire and am planning to visit more events to talk about design, making, and sharing.
If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?
My device would be a headset with an AR heads up display, and an integrated AI assistant, like KITT from Knight Rider. I’d trick it out with sensors and scanners for collecting data from my surroundings, and connect it to a full body suit with chromatic camouflage for blending in like a chameleon. Maybe one day I’ll be able to build that!