Shoshana Swell, one of the most driven and down-to-earth people we know, is doing quite the opposite of bringing herself down to earth with her company THIS IS MY SPACESUIT. Instead, Shoshana is lifting herself, and all of us, up closer to space! We had the chance to sit down with Shoshana to discuss everything from her entrepreneurial start, her dreams of making it to the moon, to her advice on how to lead a passionate life.
First of all, do you mind introducing yourself? What are you studying and what are your passions?
Hi! I am Shoshana Swell. I am a senior at Cornell University double majoring in Information Science & Performing and Media Arts. I am passionate about making design and creativity more accessible for others to pursue. I am the founder of THIS IS MY SPACESUIT.
For those who do not know the story behind THIS IS MY SPACESUIT., can you tell us more about its origins? Where did the idea come from?
Last March, I was sitting in Starbucks and I was on LinkedIn and I saw an article (not quite sure why I was on LinkedIn *laughs*) about how NASA cancelled their all female space mission because they lacked the proper spacesuit size. Upon hearing this, I had a mix of emotions. I was very mad and confused; I wanted to look more into it to see what was actually going on. I found out that one of the female astronauts assigned to this mission was training in a large spacesuit that did not properly fit her, and she needed a medium. Instead of providing proper fittings, NASA decided to replace this astronaut with a man. I sat in Starbucks and immediately started thinking about ways that I could address this issue.
I impulsively opened up Figma software and wrote “@NASA.THIS IS MY SPACESUIT.”
From this, I was empowered to start my own clothing line since I had recently learned how to sew in January 2019. I actually designed for the Cornell Fashion Collective and created a space-themed collection for it called “TO THE MOON” which incorporated wearable technology and other unconventional materials. What I learned from CFC was eventually incorporated into the creation of THIS IS MY SPACESUIT. and my new project PROTOTYPE.
Although your company was created to call out NASA’s shortcomings, you were actually invited to NASA over the summer. Tell us more about that experience!
I found out that NASA opens up select launches to celebrities, role models, and influencers, and I remember watching a Casey Neistat vlog of him going to the SpaceX launch. I remember thinking that it was the coolest thing in the world. When the opportunity arose to apply to go, I remember telling myself that I am not Casey Neistat...I do not have millions of followers, but all right let’s do it! I applied and sure enough I received an email invitation from NASA over the summer. Let’s just say that I was in shock. I received the email while I was eating lunch with my coworkers at Facebook and they seemed very concerned why I suddenly became speechless during lunch!
While at NASA, I got to have lunch with the first Brazilian astronaut, Marcos Pontes. When he saw my spacesuit, he expressed how much he loved it. I brought him a THIS IS MY SPACESUIT. crewneck and when he received it, he mentioned how this was his real spacesuit. The irony of and the thoughtfulness of his remark made tears definitely flow down my face. He was already wearing a spacesuit made by NASA. This moment felt surreal.
Getting invited in to NASA is a HUGE deal. Do you consider this to be your company’s greatest accomplishment?
Although going to NASA was huge, I wouldn’t consider it my greatest accomplishment. Instead, I think the greatest thing I’ve witnessed so far has been the community centered around this brand.
Through THIS IS MY SPACESUIT., I’ve been able to bring the seemingly impossible idea of “space” into people’s everyday lives. I love how I’ve seen people affected by this message since they have been empowered to dream the impossible.
This notion aligns with my mission to spread the message that “anyone can blast off!” The PROTOTYPE. collection embodies this idea and serves as a way we can build a community full of people who are ready to “blast off!”
On the flip side, we know that starting a business is not an easy undertaking. What was your greatest challenge you encountered as an entrepreneur?
When I started this mission, I was racing against time because I knew I needed to act now. I wanted to do something that directly challenged NASA and their inability to provide proper design specs for their suits. But, I kept asking myself: Is this issue already solved? Can I solve this issue? How long will fixing this take? Can I do this? I’m not in fashion design, is this possible? But with time limitations, I didn’t have the chance to dwell over these questions, so I got to work and launched the company in a short three weeks after the news of the suit dilemma came out.
What are you future goals for THIS IS MY SPACESUIT.? Are you going to continue running it post-graduation?
My end goal for this company was never to make money or to even gain NASA’s attention, it was and still is all about education and empowerment. I’m graduating this year and will be working as a Product Designer full time at Facebook which I am so excited for. I will continue to work on various different projects including THIS IS MY SPACESUIT. I always see this staying alive and growing. Now, I’ve made a big switch into bringing education into the brand. Originally my intention was to launch a full clothing line, but I want to pause and look closer in how to make a larger impact in the community around me. I’m testing a part of this mission through a four-month long workshop series to get makers of all experience levels to design the new collection: PROTOTYPE. I am launching new items VERY soon so follow @thisismyspacesuit to hear about it!
We cannot stress enough how much we admire you for taking on this issue and for trying to educate others through your educational series called PROTOTYPE. about the intersection of design and technology. How do you manage creating these projects while still being a full-time student?
Honestly, you end up making time for things that you’re passionate about. I always found a balance between leading a passionate life, as cliche as that sounds, and work.
I value experience over any type of job qualification or booster I can put on my resume. When something inspires me and an opportunity arises to chase it, I prioritize it.
And with that, the community and support system you surround yourself with are so important. Having people who also have this mentality of prioritizing experience is such a crucial asset.
Going along with the THIS IS MY SPACESUIT. lexicon, Camp Cadmium is our “space mission” and we hope to inspire others through our platform to launch their own missions! What advice do you have for others in our community who want to follow their creative pursuits, but may not have the courage to do so?
I would put all barriers and boundaries behind you. It’s easy to get caught up in things like grades or what you’re expected to be doing, but trying to focus on finding a community or making a community around that will support everything you would do is important.
I don’t think many things are impossible...I still think I can go to the moon. I never grew up thinking this way, but through this project I have come to realize that you can really do anything.
I want you to know that your dream--whether it’s to go to space, starting to design, or enter any field beyond what they are doing now--is achievable.
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