SINGAPORE – The founder of SBTG, Mark Ong, better known as Mr Sabotage, is a legend in the streetwear scene, primarily known for his customised sneakers. In his own words to Yahoo Life SEA, however, he would "consider myself more of a skateboarder first, because it gives me a lot of direction in the approach to how I practise my art. So in layman terms, I would say I'm an artist."
It has been 18 years since Mark started his sneaker customising empire, forming a part of the streetwear culture that many are familiar with. "I kind of caught a glimpse of the future, and I wanted to create the now. I didn't know what to do, so I took matters into my own hands," he shared.
Despite embarking on a different and unique career path, the artist had never felt the need to explain to people what he does, as he has always made sure that like-minded individuals surround him. Furthermore, it helps that Mark's designs are well-received right from the start that even his parents felt that he was doing something good.
I feel that whatever I'm doing right now, whichever the influence being injected into my designs, I'm creating history for Southeast Asia itself
With famous fans such as the late Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, and Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, we wonder if Mr Sabotage himself ever felt the pressure and need to make sure that his designs contain Southeast Asia or Singapore elements.
"But the thing is, and I'm speaking as a Singaporean because we don't have such a long history; we just celebrated over 50 years of independence, and I feel that whatever I'm doing right now, whichever the influence being injected into my designs, I'm creating history for Southeast Asia itself. So there's a lot to invent at this point, and I'm just here for the ride and to write the history books."
The recent hoo-ha over customised sneakers, such as Lil Nas X's Satan shoes, had also prompted brands like Nike to go after these customisers for infringing on their copyright. For Mark, who had previously collaborated with Nike on customised sneakers, he shared candidly that he had "been studying and I'm trying to find out whether I will be receiving a letter next."
The connection with Satanism, Mark believed, was the main reason why Nike stepped in. "Nike doesn't want people to misunderstand that they are backing this move," he shared. But for the others who are pushing the streetwear culture, "using the sneakers as a vehicle to tell stories" and "contributing to the community with your designs, I think that's okay."
Having accomplished so much in the past 18 years, what advice Mr Sabotage would give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
"Don't leave ideas in your head. Keep on trying. Failure is your best friend. Success is a byproduct of failure. Or was it the other way around? You have to fail nine times to get one success, right? I feel like it has always been like that."
He added: "Do what you love. Really ask yourself what you love. Because you're going to work hard for something anyway, and if you're doing something you love, chances of you giving up are much slimmer than if you are not doing something that you love."