Mark Ong: Watch This Space

Image Compass Communications

Sneaker designer extraordinaire, Mark Ong, has been recruited by award-winning Scotch whisky brand, Johnnie Walker, to redesign the iconic Black Label bottle together with fans of the drink by communicating with them through an app on Facebook. A product of Singapore, Mark is renowned for his out-of-this-world designs and cutting edge techniques, and has designed sneakers for celebrities Mike Shinoda and Joe Hahn of Linkin Park, James Lavelle, JJ Lin and Q-Tip. He also designed our JUICE masthead for our April issue! JUICE takes a quick peek inside the head of the art mogul, which we have determined to be full of sky-high ambition, focus and words of wisdom.

Hi Mark! Other than shoes, what other mediums have you worked on?
To make a list of it, I’ve done sneakers, spray cans, lamps, chairs, tables, daily stuff I live with. Other than that, I have designed backpacks, hats, headphones, and even a shop.

Are you experimenting with any new techniques with designing at the moment?
Currently, I’m very into painting on wood and weathering it to look vintage.

That’s cool. We experiment with wood too, but in a different way… If there was one person you could design for, who would it be and why?
I would love to design sneakers for the Singapore military. I have been fantasizing about our troops owning a designer pair of shoes that the global sneaker community would talk about. I also imagine our soldiers going for overseas exercises and using the shoes as a gift exchange with the foreign troops.

Do you ever get designer’s block? How do you overcome it?
Well, yes, once in a while. I have analysed that the cause of my designer’s block is when I’m not inspired, or when I’m viewing the design as a problem I have to solve instead of a piece of art I am creating. One way is to identify it. I would also step outside that zone to reinvent my approach. For me, running and skating also helps. I believe any form of exercise helps when it’s done with intention.

What factors do you consider when coming up with a new design? Why?
I believe in truth and honesty in design. The style and concept that I choose has to resonate and inspire me so I can inspire my audience. I also make sure that the design is simple enough visually so it communicates to more people easily.

Which part of the process of designing sneakers do you enjoy the most?
Seeing my ideas come into physical form quickly.

If you hadn’t gotten into designing sneakers, what do you think you would be doing right now?
I would still be a designer/artist that is well-known in another medium.

Have you ever thought about designing for charity? Is there a particular charity you feel strongly about?
No charity in particular, but I would be inspired to design for a cause that educates creative individuals to operate independently and live life passionately.

You know, maybe you should design for JUICE.. We try really hard to educate people! Is there another sneaker designer you look up to?
Not a sneaker designer, but Tetsu Nishiyama from the brand WTAPS has never failed to inspire me since the ‘90s.

Your process of designing is very hands-on, even with designing t-shirts. Do you prefer that to designing things on the computer?
I do both actually, I plan it with the computer and execute by hand. I’m addicted to the process!

In the We Are 138 film by Vita Brevis Films, you mentioned that you are one of the forefathers of the sneaker subculture in Singapore. Have you ever thought about taking on “students” to learn your trade?
Yes, given that Singapore is such a young nation, it is by default that our generation would be in a position that would impact our nation. In 2010, my company Royalefam has taken in a bunch of interns and we train them to brand themselves as professional artists. We teach them everything about the business and the craft.

What makes a good sneaker to you?
A good design should contribute to who you already are as an individual. When people see it, they can identify your style and appreciate you for your taste.

How did the collaboration with Johnny Walker come about?
Several months ago, Coral from Diageo came by the studio for a meeting to discuss the possibilities of us being keen on embarking on a crowd-sourcing project like this for the Johnnie Walker brand. The final bottle label would be the outcome of Mr Sabotage’s interaction with 100,000 Facebook fans. It was gonna be the first time both brands have done anything like that. We were keen as the brand philosophy resonates with us. Last December, Coral came back to us saying that the project is on and asked if we were still on board. We were game and have conducted 2 very successful workshops in Singapore and Malaysia with Johnnie Walker’s chosen opinion leaders and have started interacting with the JW fans through a Facebook app. All very exciting!

What inspires you to create?
The reason to inspire others.

Woo, that’s deep. You’ve gone international with customised kicks, what can we expect from SBTG next?
You can expect more reinterpretations from us through big brands like Johnnie Walker, workshops sharing the skills of DIY and exhibitions of our artworks in galleries around the world. 

SBTG (Sabotage) was created in 2003 by Mark, and has been commissioned to design for sneaker industry giants such as Nike, New Balance and DC Shoes. Log on to to check out the designs.