For many, Mondays are something to be endured. But for James and Tony Soames, owners of the branding and design company Subkarma, kicking off the week is something they look forward to.
Fifteen years ago, Tony Soames accepted an invitation from a Taiwanese-English friend to come to Taiwan.
“I met him [the friend] in sixth form — in UK we don’t say ‘high school’ — and he just said, ‘Hey how about coming out [to Taiwan]?’” Tony said.
The two brothers arrived together, but only one of them returned to the UK after their two-week vacation ended.
“I had no idea where Taiwan was, did no research before we came over,” Tony said in an interview with the Taipei Times. “Just came here and that’s it, never went back.”
He was 19 years old at the time.
“A month later I met my wife, so she was the main reason why I decided to stay,” he said.
At first, Tony did small designing jobs. But one day, his boss walked up and asked him, “Hey, if you like what you do, why don’t you start your own business?”
So he did.
“In 2002, I set Subkarma up properly as a company limited, with full design services, and James joined me in 2004,” Tony said. “We’ve enjoyed every minute.”
In the beginning, Subkarma was only a design company, but it has grown into a company with 23 employees that offers branding consultancy, commercial design, product design, Web design, advertising and market research and analysis.
“We really love what we do,” James said. “It’s not a job for us. Sometimes it is because you have to have deadlines and pressure, but actually it’s not a nine-to-five job. On the weekend, we look forward to Monday.”
The two brothers say that although not all of their projects make money, they are trying to give back to the Taiwanese community.
Many of Subkarma’s projects are about promoting and branding Taiwan as a country. One of their current projects, “We are Taiwan,” invites businesses and individuals to select photographs of Taiwan from Subkarma’s photo bank and print the pictures on the backs of their business cards, much like a small postcard.
“I came out here with absolutely nothing. Now I’m married, my daughter is half-Taiwanese, our customers are mainly Taiwanese, so everything we ever got came from Taiwan,” Tony said.
The two brothers say that they believe Taiwan is “a nation of survivors.” But in the sense of branding, Taiwanese “have to have a consensus on what the country stands for, what the strengths are, and how to promote the country as a whole,” Tony said.
“A lot of [the] success of Taiwan is going to depend on how we read Taiwan in the international market,” said James. “Foreigners have a high responsibility to build up an image of Taiwan.”
“Taiwan needs to have a sense of identity before we can start creating the Taiwan brand,” he said. “If Thailand says, ‘We’re the country of a million smiles,’ well, people have to smile, right?”
When asked why the company was named Subkarma, Tony said: “Actually, Subkarma has no meaning … It just sounded good.”
Having graduated from the Blake College of Arts, Tony studied art most of his life.
“I’m not the biggest business person. I got the company as big as I thought we could go. [In the second year we had] 12 people, a full schedule, lots of delays and we were losing money every month, even with a full schedule, which didn’t make sense,” Tony said. “So I called James.”