At Crepe City 12 last weekend, we had the pleasure of catching up with the guy who keeps our trainers looking box fresh – Mr. Jason Markk himself. Over the past few years the brand has grown massively, releasing various cleaning products, opening a drop-off trainer cleaning service and recently launching a new waterproofing solution called Repel. We took some time out to find out a bit more about the man behind the brand, his product range and his plans for the future…
TDD: Hi Jason – thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. To get things started, tell us a bit about your background. Have you always been interested in sneakers?
JM: I have always had a passion for sneakers since I was a little kid. Growing up I played a lot of sports, a lot of basketball, football, soccer – what you call football (in the UK) – and I grew up in the golden age of hip-hop, so I grew up just loving hip-hop music; I actually was a DJ for a large part of my life, like 13/14 years, actively DJing. When you love sports and you love hip-hop, sneakers go hand in hand with that. It’s pretty much a given.
TDD: Over the years, people have used a variety of different things to keep their sneakers in good shape. Baby wipes, toothbrushes, you name it. Creating a bespoke product was a stroke of genius. At what point did you come up with the idea?
I came up with the idea to do the Jason Markk premium shoe cleaner around 2005/2006. I was cleaning my shoes one night and I had my home remedy; some concoction that I made – OxiClean, with a little bit of bleach and mild soap. I was cleaning my shoes and I was thinking, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this’. I have used the Foot Locker and generic stuff – I used those ones with the spiky caps for the most part – but I wasn’t fully confident that it was safe to use on my prized sneakers. So I had the idea, started looking around and I couldn’t really find anything that was made specifically for sneakers today. What I mean by that is that today’s sneakers have everything; it can be patent leather, it can be pony hair, it can be ostrich leather; all these crazy materials and I needed something that was safe to use on all these materials. I did some research and found there was nothing on the market. I started asking friends of mine that were into the culture – some of them were managers at sneaker shops – and I would ask, ‘How do you clean your sneakers’? It surprised me because everyone had their own home remedy. I would go to sneaker line ups and talk to people and again it was just like, ‘I use this’ or ‘I use that’, but it was always a remedy; a mix of household products. So at that point I knew I had a good idea and I started the R&D (research and development) process in 2006.
TDD: How do you develop a concept from initial idea to finished product?
I think it all starts with research. I didn’t invent shoe cleaning, but what I did do was create a product that was more focused on sneaker culture and its concerns with different materials, safety and versatility. So the starting point was basically getting as many shoe care products that I could find on the market and analysing them, and saying this is what is available now – and I want to make a better product. After lots of R&D and lots of testing I finally had the product to where I wanted it to be and I was happy with it, so then came the brand. I have some background in branding. I worked in advertising for four years; just kind of bounced around this agency, I was young, fresh out of college and I was in four different departments, just bouncing around, but I learned a lot that way. The whole while I was still DJing at the time – that was what I did and the agency thing was just kind of fun you know. So you create the brand and you put together a press kit, get it to the right people and hope that they like it and that they post it, get some good press from it… and you’re off and running!
TDD: Your name has become synonymous with your shoe care range, to the point where it’s easy to forget that there’s a person behind all of this! Is it hard to keep your business and personal lives separate?
Actually I haven’t really had too much of a problem. I think now that the brand has been going almost eight years now, my face is more exposed, people know who I am, some people come up to me and go, “Oh you’re Jason Markk!”, but I haven’t had any real problems because of that.
TDD: Since you launched your brand, we’ve seen a lot of other people try their hands at creating their own cleaning systems. Your products have a premium feel to them, partly because of your reputation but also because of the packaging and presentation. How do you make sure your products maintain pole position in the market?
For me, because the brand carries my name, I won’t just put anything out there. I won’t slap the logo on just anything, for me it is always about brand and brand first. You know we do a lot of research, a lot of testing, a lot of R&D, we ensure that we have the best product out on the market. We don’t really worry about what else is going on and who the competition is. We focus, stay in our own lane, keep innovating and keep making products that people love.
TDD: Tell us a bit about your new Repel product. Was it hard to develop?
I take a lot of pride in Repel because it took a long time to develop for us and I say that because I wanted to make a product that was safer than anything else out there. A lot of the products out there, when you spray, it literally reeks of gasoline and you know that it can not be good for you or your shoes. That was a challenge because our first few versions of Repel actually worked amazingly well, but it wasn’t the safest product, and so I scrapped all that and went back to the drawing board. We finally came up with a product that is water based, has no odour, is non-flammable – and it actually works. I am really proud about that.
TDD: What’s next for Jason Markk? Any big plans for 2015?
We are continuously trying to innovate and create products that people will love. We just launched our flagship store in Los Angeles and it has been almost about six months since we launched a new service model where it is basically like dry cleaning for your sneakers: you drop off your kicks and three days later you get them back looking amazing and smelling good. That has been pretty successful so far and we are looking to expand: the next shop will be in New York, but we have big plans for it to expand further, even overseas. I would love to have a store here in London some day.
TDD: Cool, that sounds great. Thank you very much for your time – and best of luck with your forthcoming plans.
JM: Thank you!