People of Swish : Dr Loretta Chen
Swish | 18 April, 2023
To kick off our interview, can you share a little bit about your journey in becoming an acclaimed creative director and professor?
Dr Loretta: Firstly, thank you so much for having me! My journey as a creative director started as a child, while growing up in an atypical progressive household surrounded by the arts, culture, music, and theatre. Growing up, my siblings and I were often told to believe in ourselves and blaze our own trail, and it was this familial influence that encouraged us to embark on our individual pursuits of self-expression.
Meanwhile, as the youngest sibling, I have a great sense of wanting to take care of people through mentorship and empowerment. Coupled with my strong belief that education holds the key to upward social mobility, a career in teaching came naturally to me.
That’s very fascinating! What inspired you to combine these elements of arts, culture, and media into what Smobler is today?
Dr Loretta: The initial idea for Smobler started at the height of the pandemic in late-2020, when I received a call from my current co-founder, who requested for a couple of paid projects to tide him through a period of unemployment. Around the same time, I came across the Sandbox, an open metaverse platform which offered no-code design tools for creatives to design and sell digital assets on an open marketplace.
What really enticed me about the Sandbox was its ability to offer individuals the opportunity to monetize on their creativity. Jumping onboard through the game makers’ fund, an incentive program for creators to design new experiences, my current co-founder and I were able to catch the attention of various brands through our creations, and as luck would have it, the rest was history!
It’s amazing how this space has the potential to continuously reward creators in a fair and sustainable way. With such a diverse background in theatre and brand direction, how do you think your experiences have contributed to your unique perspective and teaching style?
Dr Loretta: I’m so glad you’re asking all these questions! It’s these past experiences that really shape who I am and what I can bring to the Metaverse. As an artist as heart, my job is to humanize the Metaverse by teasing out the stories behind what brands, communities and IPs want to show, and create a vision to portray these stories.
Fundamentally, my role is similar to a theatre director's, where I unite creatives under a common vision. This ability to bring everyone together while tapping on their diverse strengths and abilities is something I enjoy and do best.
And I bet your years of ups and downs have contributed to your successes in equal measure! Going back to the idea of virtual architecture, can you briefly explain the challenges and opportunities when it comes to designing for a virtual world?
Dr Loretta: I think the pandemic has really increased the amount of time spent in the virtual world among the younger generation. As younger individuals increasingly shift their social lives into the digital space, ownership of digital assets become more important than ever, either as a form of status symbol or self-expression. This demand for digital goods is one opportunity businesses can latch on.
Brands are also getting involved by tapping on the metaverse to create replicas of their physical spaces to engage a younger demographic. Personally, I think this is where companies can exercise their creativity in building new and fantastic structures. One example would be a concert venue we've recently built for a client, comprising of a subterranean aquarium with a stage on top. This allows fun and fantastic spaces to be created to appeal to the younger generation.
Your personal tagline, "People, Purpose, Possibilities," truly reflects your passion for educating and accelerating the next generation of leaders. How do you envision the role of education and mentorship in shaping the future of the metaverse?
Dr Loretta: I think raising awareness is key, and we really need good people in the space at such an early stage of the Metaverse. That is why I constantly go around consulting on the real-world benefits and use cases of the Metaverse, while building strategic partnerships with the right people.
At the heart of Smobler, we also have the Metaverse For Good Initiative, which seeks out partnerships around our strategic thrusts. This includes Aventis, who we worked with to establish a one-million dollar scholarship fund to onboard scholars from the ASEAN region into a Metaverse Masters' program.
On a larger scale, we’ve also been working with educational institutions like SkillsFuture and IMDA to train more individuals on relevant roles for building out the Metaverse. As the industry becomes more sophisticated, proper training and learning is required, hence our constant conversations with these stakeholders.
The metaverse is an ever-evolving landscape with countless possibilities. In your opinion, what are some key trends or developments we should watch for in the coming years?
Dr Loretta: As the industry matures, we'll see a greater demand for real-world use case scenarios. Even now, our discussions with brands mostly revolve around matters like how to integrate employee engagement, promote mental wellness and create training programs into the Metaverse.
Additionally, most socialising takes place in the virtual world among the current generation nowadays. If we can construct virtual spaces that are safe and fun, while empowering uplifting social bonds, I would say that we have succeeded.
This is such an amazing conversation that I would love to take offline. However, I have just one question to end off this session – what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs and changemakers looking to leave an impact?
Dr Loretta: I'll offer the same advice I usually give – have a grounded understanding of yourself, your purpose and passion before starting out. Having concrete goals prevents you from being sidetracked, while knowing who you are will protect you from beaten down by naysayers and critics, whose criticism might leave you feeling disempowered. It really pays to invest the time in building up self-awareness and a robust support system.
As an entrepreneur, it’s also important to separate criticism and feedback – be open to critical discourse and separate the destructive from the constructive. Again, your sense of self and grounding is very important here – and it’s essential for you to stay firm but open as you go out there and change the world.
🎬 That's a wrap! Sign up for Swish to get access to our curated community of thought leaders here.
People of Swish provides you with all the knowledge and expertise our key opinion leaders have to offer. Who would you like us to feature next? Let us know in the comments below.