Over the last 12 months, creativity has been on the rise and DIY projects became the new norm. For this special interview, we caught up with Toronto based artist and one of Complex Canada’s Top 30 Female Designers Sylvia Hoang, owner of Studio S, a creative brand founded on the ethos of “doing it yourself”. Coming off of a strong launch with her streetwear inspired concrete home goods collection and most recently a tasteful apparel release perfect for the spring & summer months, Sylvia has been on a roll and has a positive attitude that is taking her to great heights.
Hey Sylvia! For those who may not be familiar, tell us a bit about yourself.
Hey! So excited to be speaking with you.
So, I’m Sylvia and I’m a fashion student at Ryerson University in Toronto, a freelance graphic designer and the founder of Studio S, my home goods and now fashion brand. My entire life I’ve been surrounded by art and started studying art in my early teens. I’ve had incredible opportunities to explore clothing & product design, event planning, retail & merchandising and so much more which has allowed me to work in so many different mediums and led me to where I am today with Studio S. Right now I’m really excited about sculpture and working with concrete which is what kicked off Studio S and I just launched an apparel collection called “The Forest Hill Collection”. I also love biking in the city and my favourite ice cream flavour is Vietnamese coffee ice cream!
Oh so good! Most people that start brands might begin with something more common like t-shirts or hats. Why was it important for you to do something unique like concrete home goods right out of the gate?
While I studied fashion, I took a lot of art history and architecture courses which spawned a huge interest in industrial design. After working with print and digital for so long, I wanted to work with a new medium and making functional and aesthetic 3D objects was really exciting to me. I hadn't ever worked with concrete but I had some conversations with Toronto creative Natalya Amres who is amazing and she really pushed me to give it a shot. With this brand I really just want to experiment with all mediums and this one was a ton of fun to learn about and work on.
Speaking of creatives, who are you inspired by and how, if at all, did that influence your first collection?
First and foremost, my grandfather has always been a huge inspiration to me. He’s a self taught artist who grew up in China and taught himself how to paint, draw and play five different instruments. From a young age, I’ve always looked up to him. I mentioned her before but Natalya Amres is always a big one being from Toronto. She’s been an awesome contact to have as I start my journey. Daniel Arsham and Matt Williams of Alyx are also huge inspirations for me; Daniel Arsham for his large scale sculpture works and MW for his sleek, dark aesthetic.
Lastly, the entire creative community in Toronto that I’ve watched and met parts of is so inspiring. Seeing everyone do their own thing and make their own lane is exactly what I want to be a part of.
We’re sure people are interested, so can you walk us through the process of creating your concrete collection?
Absolutely! Firstly, I knew I wanted it to be sneakers and streetwear inspired which is how I landed on the nike swoosh, Murakami flowers and more recently the Nike and Jordan sneakers. To make it all happen:
Drawing. I drew the concepts a bunch of times first to get an idea of what I’d want to make.
Clay modelling. I used modelling clay to make the 3D shapes so I can get a good feel for the pieces. It usually takes a lot of clay iterations until I’m happy with the design.
3D Printing. I was luckily able to find a great local 3D printer who I work with to make the prototypes. Usually there are a couple iterations but I try to prep with clay and work on digital renderings to reduce the number of 3D printed models which can be expensive to make.
Making the molds. Once the 3D prints are done I bring them to my friend who can help me make molds of the pieces.
Lastly, once I have the molds I fill the molds with concrete and let the pieces sit to dry. This usually takes anywhere from a couple hours for the small pieces to a couple days for the big ones. It was fun experimenting with the different types of concrete mixes to find the perfect one from a texture and colour standpoint.
This is super interesting and we love to see the process. On to the apparel launch, tell us about the inspiration for your recent Forest Hill Collection.
This was actually my first time getting into apparel and it was a lot of fun and learning. This collection was dedicated to personal growth and for me it served as another reminder that it’s ok to keep trying new things. I started planning the collection in January and it took some time to find the right suppliers and understand the supply chain for apparel first hand. Luckily my roommate runs an embroidery business so that helped with the decoration part but it wasn't easy at first to source all the apparel I wanted.
Design wise, I wanted to make something fun and a little different than classic colours like black, white and grey, even though that’s my normal aesthetic. I love forest green and wanted to make something lively for spring and summer and thought the green/gold aesthetic was great for that!
Love that! Any tips or things you learned along the way that others might find useful when starting their own brand?
The first thing I learned is that communication skills are key. The Studio S projects were the first time I really started working with other people like printers, other artists, suppliers, etc and I had to learn how to speak their language to get things done.
I also think patience is important, understanding that new things take time and practice. Things won’t always be perfect on the first try or maybe suppliers won’t always have what you need but being patient and testing a lot will get you where you want to be. Trust the process and have fun with it.
This is great advice! Lastly, while you’re just coming off of a big launch, any idea what’s next for Studio S?
When we get closer to the fall I really want to start experimenting with outerwear like maybe a varsity jacket. I think that would be a challenging project but I love those vintage varsity jackets and the BBC Ice Cream varsities so I think making one of those would be really cool.
I also have been ideating a personal project that will involve the community and concrete at a large scale. This one is in the ideation phase right now so I can’t share too much but if I can rally some people, it will be very cool and bring concrete and plants to a new level!
To keep up with Sylvia & Studio S, check out her Instagram and latest drops available on her website and keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews and stories with the coolest designers, artists, activists, entrepreneurs and more.