It’s all come full circle for Huddersfield entrepreneur and global brand designer James Sommerville.
James was a teenage pavement artist fresh out of art school when he and college pal Simon Needham secured a £2,000 grant from The Prince’s Trust.
That was back in the 1980s and, fast forward to 2023, and James – now a patron and enterprise fellow of The Prince’s Trust – was in Westminster Abbey to witness the coronation of HM King Charles III, founder of The Prince’s Trust.
With the support of The Prince’s Trust, James and Simon founded their own design studio in the attic of James’ grandmother in Paddock in the mid-1980s calling it, appropriately, ATTIK.
James, who later became head of global design at The Coca-Cola Company, is now based in Atlanta, Georgia, and runs consultancy KnownUnknown and is a donor to The Prince’s Trust.
James recalled: “In 1986, £2,000 felt like we’d hit a jackpot when we were basically penniless students. It immediately gave us the opportunity to gamble on a relatively unknown tech that became the tool of our industry today.
“However, as I reflect back, I feel The Prince’s Trust gave Simon and I much more than money. They gave us confidence and self-belief, having been turned away by traditional investors. Those qualities last forever.
“Simon and I are only two people from the 1.25 million young people The Prince’s Trust has helped since 1976.
“Their mission hasn’t changed. His Majesty’s founding vision was that every young person deserves a chance to succeed, and that is the same today.
“Emerging young creatives and budding entrepreneurs – 16-30 years old – can benefit from many things the Trust offers. From enterprise and business courses, tools, mentor programs and support.
“If I was in my 20s I would definitely talk to The Prince’s Trust. There’s no downside.”
In 1983, the 17-year-old James walked into Huddersfield town centre late one Friday afternoon from Mountjoy Road, Edgerton.
As a student, he passed under the Polytechnic ring-road tunnel and decided to buy some chalk from Ryan’s newsagent to attempt his first ever pavement artwork outside Huddersfield Bus Station.
It was a successful day with £37 in takings (minus the cost of chalk). So much so, the very next day James once again attempted to chalk, but this time setting his sights higher to where more pedestrians would be, under The Piazza canopy on King Street, around the corner from WH Smith.
James said: “I looked up at the real businesses on King Street above the shops and wondered if there might be a day when I could be in those buildings.”
Two years later, along with Simon – his friend from Batley Art College – James jotted down a plan to start a graphic design studio.
“With no clients, no experience, no money and no studio, it wasn’t looking too promising,” recalled James.
“We went to every bank on New Street in Huddersfield town centre and asked for a loan and they all said that we should maybe come back when we are a little more established. We took that as a flat ‘no.’”
A few weeks later James’s dad Martyn was talking to a local at The Junction in Marsh who pointed out a newspaper article that spoke of a charity, founded by the then Prince of Wales, helping young entrepreneurs set up in business.
With all other avenues explored, the teenage duo applied for a grant as a last resort and within a week were told ‘yes’ and received a cheque for £2,000 to start their venture.
James’ grandma provided the space in her top floor bedroom in Paddock and they invested their royal funds in a first generation Apple Macintosh. ATTIK Design was officially open for business in April 1986.
Thirty-seven years later, over 1,000 staff worked at ATTIK across five studios and built an impressive Fortune 100 client list in three countries.
Then the company was sold in a multi-million dollar deal to Dentsu, an advertising and media giant in Japan. ATTIK achieved all it set out to do, and more.
After the sale to Dentsu, James then went on to become Global Design VP at The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, rebranding many of their billion dollar portfolio of famous beverage brands.
After leaving Coca-Cola in 2018, James founded a creative network called ‘KnownUnknown’ and is now prototyping new products to help creatives around the world. One product is a generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool specifically for brands and brand designers.
With all he’s achieved over the years, James had never forgotten it was The Prince’s Trust that was the catalyst for his success.
“Many of us have stories of someone, or something, that gave us a first break and for me it was The Prince’s Trust,” said James.
Over the last 25 years James has put considerable time back into helping the next generation of entrepreneurs as well as helping find funding from individuals and organisations.
James and Simon are now helping The Prince’s Trust to experiment with new forms of marketing to appeal to the next generation of young people.
Last week, James and Simon leveraged their emerging generative AI platform and their global creative community to create a street art campaign in downtown Manhattan, New York.
This campaign coincided with the Trust’s annual fundraising 2023 Global Gala that raised $1.8m on the night to support young people and give them a chance to achieve their dreams.
Then came the invitation from Buckingham Palace for James to attend the coronation of King Charles and that brought his story round full circle.
“I found myself staring up at the Gothic architecture ceiling at Westminster Abbey and thinking of the offices above the retail shops of King Street and my grandmother’s attic bedroom,” said James. “All very different but all possible because of The Prince’s Trust.”