Old pointe shoes remind this biomaterials founder to embrace her creative side.
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I always assumed I’d work in academia, but then I took a ballet course in my 30s. I did it on a whim while getting my Ph.D. in English, thinking it might be fun. Instead, it was transformative. It empowered me to identify as an artist and to redirect my professional path.
This shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’ve always been drawn to both science and art, a tension rooted in my childhood. My parents were research scientists in molecular cell biology and microbiology, and I grew up in their labs, gaining an appreciation for how things are made. But outside the lab, our free time as a family was spent exploring New York City’s art scene, and I was constantly painting, drawing, and sculpting at home and in school.
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Art and science: Was it possible to pursue both? I wasn’t sure — until becoming a dancer pushed me to trust my creativity.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Sophia Wang
In 2007, I met an artist named Philip Ross. He was creating artworks grown from mycelium (the fine threads that form the vegetative part of fungi) and curating an exhibit on the history of biotechnology through the lens of culture and design. I joined him as an artist’s assistant on the project, and we kept in touch after it ended.
Six years later, we decided to team up again. We cofounded a biomaterials company called MycoWorks, based on Phil’s mycelium materials and our shared vision for the role art can play in scientific discovery. Our first product, Reishi, is a natural, non-animal material that offers the durability and hand-feel of fine leathers. We have raised $62 million and are starting to scale production, hoping to significantly shape the fashion industry.
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Today, when I see my worn-out ballet shoes, they remind me how important it is to embrace the full range of your passions; your creativity is powerful when it’s portable across different fields. At MycoWorks, we use science to help propel design, partnering with creative people at high-end fashion brands who are using their expertise to discover what Reishi makes possible. The intersection of diverse paths, after all, is often where we create something truly new.