By Anya Shukla
Lauren Ko is one of Instagram’s most famous pie designers, with a feed covered in eye-catching fruit slices, wavy strips of all-butter dough, and mouthwatering funfetti Oreo crusts. She started her pie account in 2017—growing her following to more than 418,000 people over the past three years—and recently published a book, Pieometry. Although she never dreamed that she would become a full-time baker, Lauren’s success is well-deserved: her colorful, geometric pies elevate her medium from a dessert to an art form.
Q: How did you get into your current profession?
A: It was kind of an accident. I just happened to stumble across some really beautiful pictures of pie on Pinterest and thought, I've been cooking and baking my whole life, but somehow never made a pie. And so I went for it. The pie was edible, but I didn’t change my life and become a pie designer.
Over the years, I kept baking. At one point, it just felt like I was putting too many food photos on my personal account, so I started my @lokokitchen Instagram account. It so happened that the first post that I published was a geometric peach pie. Against all odds, I got a couple 100 likes instantly. My follower count started growing. A month in, I hit 1000 followers. Two months in, I gained 12,000 followers. And here we are three years later. You just never know where life will take you.
Q: You describe yourself as a “pie designer”... do you think of yourself as more of an artist or a baker?
A: I mostly identify as an artist first because my favorite part of the process is creating new designs. I’ve never had formal training in art, never considered it as a career. But I've always loved it. I think that just drives what I do and how I see myself.
I'm drawn to great design, to color, to flavor. I love creating something that is delicious and visually striking. And I love feeding the people around me; I pretty much give everything I make away.
Q: Where do you get your design ideas?
A: I'm inspired by architecture and textiles and patterns. I have pies in my feed inspired by storm drains. (Laughs.)
Sometimes, the creation process is also driven by seasonal produce. Let's say I have one mango and two kiwis. Those flavors pair well together; they also provide great color contrast. So I will try to come up with a filling—maybe a red one—to contrast with those colors and flavors.
Q: You’ve also used your platform to share your heritage and spotlight stories by people of color. I’m thinking specifically about your “My American Pie” series, where you explored what it means to be American. Could you tell us a little bit more about what that looked like?
A: Yes! For the series, I partnered with an ad agency in New York. We paired visuals—a pie and a portrait of the human subject—with the subject’s written story. It wasn't just, “here is my interpretation of my heritage through this one specific object,” but it was a story told in their own words, plus a physical manifestation of the storyteller themselves. People got to hear the story, see the storyteller, and also see an interpretation of their story in my pies.
We started the series by sharing my own experience of being a first-generation American citizen. I talked about my dad coming from Hong Kong and my mom being Chinese, but being born and raised in Honduras. Then, we featured a spectrum of stories: for example, we had somebody whose parents had lived in the Japanese internment camps.
Q: What was the impact of that project on you and on your followers?
A: Often the stories of people of color can be told through a lens that somebody else determines. But one of the most powerful parts about this series is that we allowed people to tell their own story in their own words. It felt like a huge privilege to take these stories, incorporate that into my art practice, and then to share them back out with the world.
We got a lot of comments from people saying, “Wow, this is really beautiful.” But also, “The story really made me think,” or “The story made me feel like I'm not alone.” It's that kind of response that makes your art feel worthwhile.
Q: Beyond that project, how has your cultural background or race impacted your arts experience?
A: There are a lot of conversations about how race and identity and place are affecting the food industry right now.
My book was released in October, and there were nine pie books released this fall. But I am the only author of color in that entire bunch. So I feel very, very lucky to be able to do this. And also, more importantly, I get to write a general pie design book; I'm not writing a cookbook on ethnic cuisine.
It's not the responsibility of people of color to change systems. But we definitely want to see more non-ethnic-food cookbooks written by people who aren't white, right? That has a lasting impact.
Q: More broadly, what do you feel is the importance of racial equity in the arts?
A: We want to see a diverse spectrum of individuals that represent all facets of our community. When artists or creators reflect only one aspect of a community, that art can be skewed towards a single perspective. When you allow a broader range of people to be putting art out in the world, you get a much more well-rounded view of things. That allows us to expand our worldview.
Q: What can young people do to improve diversity in their communities?
A: Even if you don't have access to the power to make direct change, you can constantly be educating yourselves and educating others. There's a misconception that you have to have a huge social media platform, or have a lot of friends, or have a lot of money to wield any sort of influence. But you don't have to be incredibly articulate; you don't have to be a skilled artist. It's daily conversations with your network that drive change.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. All photos by Lauren Ko.