Mark Ong: Marching to his own beat and succeeding
MANILA, Philippines – Mark Ong has always been a nonconformist.
When he was a boy, his parents wished for him to pursue a career either in law or medicine. But even as early as then, he already knew that he wanted to do something else.
Mark has always been drawn to the arts – that off the beaten path, so to speak – and felt the strong urge to express himself. It hadn’t been easy, but he was headstrong and determined to see things through.
Just like how he would constantly pick himself up after falling from countless attempts to perfect skateboarding tricks, Mark tried many times to find the direction he wanted to follow for his art and was never deterred by failure. He knew he was going to succeed eventually, and that the challenges he faced along the way were naturally a part of it.
“I guess there were challenges that I overcame without much grief. Dealing with people would be the most challenging, I would say. But still, I don't remember much hardship,” he shared.
With his passion, and eventually, along with the support of his parents, his brand SBTG SURPLUS was born – a marriage of his biggest lifelong passion for skateboarding, music, drawing, and design.
“Skateboarding is a guiding system to the ethos of my life. Punk music is the soundtrack attitude of my work, and art is the expression of the two,” he said.
From Singapore to the world
Mark, who also goes by the moniker Mr. Sabotage, recalled how SBTG started: “I realized that I was very natural at drawing and customizing stuff when I first cut up my beat up pair of shoes and made them look good again. I wasn’t afraid to take the risk of ruining them and always had a way to make them look good.”
With SBTG, Mark and his crew create custom sneakers, jackets, and shirts. They have also done collaborations with other world-renowned brands such as Tiger Beer, Johnnie Walker, CASIO, Nike, Reebok, and PUMA.
Over the years, SBTG has grown into a popular and thriving business that attracts fans and customers both in Singapore and abroad. And it’s not just the music, sneaker, and skate fans – did you know that celebrities like NBA star Kobe Bryant and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda are among his clients?
Mark’s secret to success? Simply going for it and developing an eye for business.
“I always say: never keep an idea in your head. Execute it! Do research, evaluate how your work stands on a global level, and make sure it gets communicated well and makes an impact,” he said.
Building a legacy in the motherland
Singapore is one of the more progressive countries in Southeast Asia where artists can freely pursue their passion, whatever craft that may be. As a pioneer in his field, Mark fulfills a unique role of fostering Singaporean independent art for future generations. He sees so much potential in shaping the young nation, and knowing that he gets to contribute to it and be part of history gives him the drive to give it his all.
“Being part of our young nation’s history really motivates me. Not everyone would have this chance to be a forefather of our culture. I also feel that our nation’s decision for having English as our first language allows us to have a global voice,” he said.
With that, Mark continues to be inspired by the things he loves, travel, and of course, his home country, which to this day also remains his urban playground. On Saturdays, you’d be able to spot him skating under the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands.
“Singapore has pushed me to do what I do because when I was starting out, it was very difficult and you really had to go against the grain to make a huge decision in your life that this is what I’m gonna do. Not many people were doing it and I kinda liked the challenge. It kinda fuels me to wanna do it more and to prove myself that in this city, you can still make it as an independent artist when you persevere and dare to stick to the purpose you believe in,” he shared.
The Lion City is home to creative and inspiring personalities as well as to the many diverse avenues that enable one to follow their own passion, no matter what it may be. Mark believes that young Filipino creatives would find inspiration in this bustling city-state as well, just like he has.
“I would say the fast pace and being able to work under pressure [in Singapore] helps. I’m also inspired whenever I visit Manila – the amount of skill and creativity there is overwhelming.
“I would always advice never keep an idea in your head for too long. Do it,” he said. – Rappler.com
In this series:
- Sarah Chin: A zookeeper’s tale of turning passion into action
- Ruqxana Vasanwala: Sharing her love for food and all things Singaporean through cooking
Singapore is beyond a tourist destination – it’s a place where passion is made possible every day. For Filipino Collectors who are passionate about art, take a cue from Mark Ong’s story and be inspired by the hustle and bustle of the Lion City. Find out more about Mark’s brand, inspirations, urban playgrounds, and more here.