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Sophy Wong is trained as a graphic designer and is now an artist dabbling in anything she finds interesting, from spacesuits to jewelry. Fascinated by wearable technology and digital fabrication for the sake of creativity, she’s always learning new skills and techniques to incorporate into her process. Wong also writes tutorials for a variety of publications, including HackSpace Magazine.
Scrolling through Wong’s vibrant portfolio is like stumbling through a futuristic dream. If you’re wondering how someone decides to and goes about building a spacesuit, you’re about to find out.
TMS sat down with Wong to chat about her spacesuit, other projects and upcoming events and designs to keep an eye out for.
The path to everything interesting
Most professionals have a niche, but Wong uses her background in design to pursue whatever interests her.
“My professors in my BFA program were really focused on sort of a holistic experience of design and design education," explains Wong. “So they were teaching us more than just about graphics and visual communications. They were teaching us about architecture and modernism and industrial design and the ways that design can influence people’s lives beyond just visual communication.
“So I had this understanding that design can be applied to anything. Even though my specialty is graphic design, I’ve always had this idea that I could apply it to anything I wanted to make."
Wong began as a graphic designer for small firms and eventually transitioned to corporate marketing. Her work has appeared both in local businesses with limited audiences and in renowned corporations with global audiences. While she found success in that field, Wong didn’t find it fulfilling. She wanted to explore her craft; thus began her involvement in fashion.
Through launching her own design brand, Wong discovered her love of wearable tech, but she also realized she didn’t want to sell her designs.
“I moved to Seattle, and then I started working at the costume department and really got excited about the kind of design requirements for garments that really have to perform," says Wong. “I also, at the time, got really interested in electronics and started to integrate electronics into my personal projects. So I could put lights in costumes or just my idea of what futuristic fashion design and accessories could be. How could I get technology into that? How could I get lights into that? How could I make these things move with motors? I just kind of was interested by the possibilities of what I was encountering.
“I just happened to be going through that journey while in the electronics world there was an explosion of components and microcontrollers and small bits of technology that were made for people who wanted to get these things into their DIY project," says Wong. “It was just really lucky for me that I discovered it at a time when all these things were becoming available. So I just started kind of exploring, adding things together."
Now armed with a 3D printer and laser cutter, among other tools, Wong makes creative wearable technology, some personal projects and others commissioned.
“Now I look back and realize like, wow, this is actually a directed path that I was taking," says Wong. “[I] didn’t know it at the time. But now I realized I’m really interested in technology and design and how we can put those two things together to create expressive work for the human body. Anything wearable."
What is wearable technology?
When we generally think about wearable technology, things like smartwatches and VR headsets typically come to mind. But Wong sees a whole world of potential when it comes to wearable tech.
“We often think of it as being something like a smartwatch or a fitness tracker or something like that," explains Wong. “But it really goes back way to wristwatches– any kind of technology that goes on your body. It’s going to face the same challenges that any other piece of technology is going to face, which means it has to be comfortable, it has to be portable, rechargeable; it has to be cleanable."
Wong also points out that our modern-day understanding of technology is evolving as innovation makes its way into more diverse markets.
“We typically think of technology as being some kind of device that has electronics in it," says Wong. “But there’s a lot of technology that’s now being put into material development as well. So technical fabrics are a form of technology. There’s all kinds of new synthetic materials that have properties that are considered technology and that is being worked into wearable garments.
“So for me, I like to define wearable technology as far as what I’m doing as anything that includes technology in the final piece."
Created for Wong’s personal use, the space suit is an original design meant for visual impact rather than functionality.
“I wanted to make a costume that had that kind of visual impact of when you’re watching “Aliens" and you see Sigourney Weaver super close up through her helmet, and the lights are just shining on her face and it’s really dramatic," says Wong. “I know that internal helmet lighting is not practical, and that’s not what they do in spacesuits, but I liked that cinematic visual moment and that’s really what I wanted."
She built the helmet and made several modifications in the process. Wong then began to construct the rest of the suit. When she finished the costume, Wong wore it to a few conventions. If you search Wong’s name online, you’ll find a deluge of images of her face gently obscured by the dark blue glow inside the helmet.
Soon after, she began wearing the spacesuit to conventions. Scott Hansen, an award-winning director, approached Wong and asked to rent her spacesuit for a Saul music video. Filmed in the Badlands, the project has the desolate, other-worldly aesthetic of a sci-fi movie.
“That project ended up connecting me with some other filmmakers," says Wong. “So another filmmaker who’s making a short film that’s a sci-fi story reached out to me. So now I’m making a custom spacesuit for his project. I’m going to incorporate a lot of things that I learned on the original spacesuit that I made and make this one a little bit better. Make it a little more robust. I didn’t know when I was making the first that it was going to end up actually going out and being used on shoots, so it isn’t really built for that purpose.
“But this new spacesuit I’m building with that in mind, and incorporating some conceptual things that will narratively make sense in films," says Wong. “So there’s another level of spacesuit costume design and creation for me, which is super, super exciting. And I get to bring all of my skills and everything that I’ve learned so far and kind of put them together in this one piece. It’s gonna have electronics in it, it’s gonna have some 3D printed parts and build parts, fabric sewing, lots of hot glue."
What’s next for Sophy Wong?
One thing Wong particularly enjoys in her ongoing projects is 3D printing.
“My favorite part is that I’ve been doing a lot lately with 3D printing on fabric, which is really exciting to me," says Wong. “Because it is this kind of combination – technology is a process, and then technology [can] be sort of visible in the finished case. So this was a process where a 3D printer is printed directly onto a flexible piece of fabric, and then I can take that dimensional flexible 3D print and sew it into a garment.
“There are other people working in this field also and working with this technique as well, and everyone’s doing really amazing, interesting work with this technique. What I’m doing is trying to see what [I] can do with my whole 3D printer that is consumer level."
Wong believes the future of wearable technology is full of potential and possibilities as technology becomes more advanced, innovative and intuitive every year.
“Honestly, I can’t even comprehend how far it’s gonna go in my lifetime I think," Wong says. “I think people are becoming more comfortable with the idea of integrating technology into their daily lives and into their bodies.
“I think there’s also a pushback and [the] realities that people are going to have to face when it comes to integrating technology in such an intimate level. But I think that the possibilities are really endless."