Jo Farah Sneaker Lab

Words: Brooklyn Pakathi

Unpacking Sneaker Lab – A Conversation with Jo Farah

Water is irrefutably the most significant asset on Earth. Each living being on Earth requires water for survival, yet just 2.5% of all water is freshwater making it an unimaginably valuable asset. With the quickly developing human populace, it is essential that we begin to reevaluate our demeanor towards water. Water requests are required to develop exponentially, so quick way of life changes are so as to save water and diminish water shortage. 

It’s with this global crisis in mind that Sneaker Lab, a leading sneaker care company promise to clean, care and protect your shoes and the environment whilst doing so.

This is no easy feat but one that is of crucial urgency and necessity. We caught up with Jo Farah, founder and CEO of Sneaker Lab to chat culture, environmental impact and creating sustainable legacy brands that will help sanctify the earth rather than hurt her.

Who is Jo Farah? 

[JF]: I grew up in Johannesburg, in a family that understood the value of entrepreneurship. My father started a business in his 20s that grew into an international IT company. He had a huge influence on me and became my mentor, so it was only natural for me to follow in his entrepreneurship footsteps.

I lived in San Diego in the USA, and when I returned to South Africa in 2008, I felt driven to help change the socio-economic challenges here.

Moving into street culture was also a natural fit. I’ve always had an interest in clothing and fashion and in my youth, I enjoyed listening to old school hip-hop, including the Beasty Boys and NWA. Hip-hop had a huge influence on my youth and this sparked my interest in sneakers and streetwear culture.

I have made it my personal mission to ensure Sneaker LAB makes a lasting positive impact in the world.  From our social upliftment programmes to planting trees and ongoing research and development to create innovative green products that make a real difference, we are on a drive to change the world. In addition, we spend a great deal of time analysing how we as a business can be more environmentally friendly. 

Let’s talk Sneaker Lab – How did the brand formulate?

[JF]: After returning to South Africa from the USA, I went into business with two friends who owned a streetwear store in Cape Town. We founded a guerrilla marketing agency, which produced ads for the likes of Adidas, New Balance and Puma. But I wanted more: I had always dreamed of building my own brand, one that would complement my love for sneakers, while creating a sustainable difference. 

With my position in the streetwear industry, I had noticed shifting trends: Sneaker culture was growing and big brands like Nike and Puma were creating demand. Although there was no sneaker cleaning product in the retail space, I had a gut feeling that there was a market for a premium brand of sneaker cleaner to speak to this growing culture.

I started with a small order for my retail partners at The Foschini Group to test the market. The stock sold out in two days, and we’ve been growing ever since.

From the start of Sneaker LAB, sustainability has been non-negotiable. I wanted the brand to be environmentally friendly, but with better results than anything currently available in the market.

Developing our specialized biodegradable and environmentally friendly cleaning solution took a great deal of research, but today our formula is a big part of what sets us apart. 

Sneaker Lab does quite a bit in informing and sharing news around the intersection of green living and street culture. What’s the philosophy behind that?

[JF]: Sustainability should be driving every brand. Consumers are becoming more educated and are looking for brands who care about sustainability. I believe that if brands aren’t socially responsible, their business will suffer in the long run.

While there isn’t a direct link between sneakers and green living, consumers around the world are becoming green conscious and looking for sustainable ways of living. The fashion industry is seeing a surge in the demand for upcycled and recycled products. We support this movement and are striving to be as green a company as possible.

Sneaker LAB is a proudly South African brand taking on a fresh approach to shoe care and is inspired by minimalist street culture and the people who create it. We take a passion for sneaker culture and match it with science to create environmentally friendly products that promise to clean, care and protect your sneakers. 

Sneaker LAB is built on a Green philosophy. The 100% biodegradable solutions and recyclable packaging have been independently tested and GreenTag certified – one of the worlds most trusted ecolabels.

Jo Farah Sneaker Lab

Sneaker’s Lab’s products are described as GreenTag certified utilizing biotech to produce the range of offerings. Walk us through that?

There is an initial cost to have the products tested and certified to ensure they meet GreenTag’s stringent requirements. There are also annual fees for the certification. When weighed up against the volumes of product and the differentiator it gives our products and brand, it’s a small price to pay and has a minimal impact on the overall cost of production. 

We’re a proudly South African product. A big motivation behind creating Sneaker LAB was to create jobs in South Africa. This is why we’ve kept our commitment to manufacturing our products locally. The only elements we import are items that are not manufactured in South Africa – leaving us no choice but to import them. 

At our factory in KwaZulu Natal, our product solution is mixed, bottled and packaged, ready to ship to over 60 countries. 

Jo Farah Sneaker Lab

Regarding the packaging materials, there’s still some form of waste that occurs after use of Sneaker Labs?

[JF]: All of Sneaker LAB’s packaging is recyclable.

To ensure the product is available at an accessible cost, we make use of HDPE in our bottles. HDPE is the most widely recyclable plastic and a percentage of our bottles is made from recycled plastic. 

Despite what most think, the environmental cost of using materials like glass is greater than recyclable plastics. We need to all do our part and recycle until we have a biodegradable solution. Until then, we firmly believe HDPE is the best option. 

We have been exploring re-fillable solutions and may launch a refill solution at select locations to start, such as our store in Johannesburg and Los Angeles as well as possibly in Japan and Australia.  

Sneaker Lab does a lot outside of just retailing a product, i.e working with Greenpop and the likes. What are a few of the things you’re currently involved in?

[JF]: Sneaker LAB is built on innovative products that make a real difference in the world. Our brand has an ethos of giving back which runs alongside our green philosophy, which we do through supporting charities and uplifting local artists. 

We run Artist Series events, which provide a collaborative platform for artists to connect and share their work. Sneaker LAB is currently working with WeForest, a global organisation committed to restoring forests for climate change and conserving and restoring ecosystems. Through WeForest, we have committed to planting 2000 trees in Africa by the end of 2019.

We are also constantly evolving to be more environmentally friendly, both in our products and in our office space. 

The two biggest challenges we face in the world are climate change and inequality. It is everyone’s responsibility to make the changes we need to. It’s our vision and goal to be part of that change. In the near future, businesses that are not socially responsible will not be in business.

Our suggestion to other brands is to make sure that the changes you are making, to be more environmentally friendly, are scrutinized. If you are going to do good and be environmentally conscious, make sure you really are doing the good you speak about. 

Sneaker Lab has two physical stores, let’s talk about the culture in relation to this idea of being responsibly green.

[JF]: We strive to be environmentally friendly in all we do, and we are constantly working toward improving what we do and how we work.

Our ethos of sustainability is one of our biggest unique selling points. We spend a great deal of time educating the staff of our global retail partners to ensure the staff can speak to this and can communicate how, and why, we are unique to the end consumer. In addition, our office is covered in our green speak and our vision “to be the number one in sneaker care in the world, for the world.”

Who we’ve worked with has formed a huge part of our message. We’ve always chosen partners who have bought into our brand ethos. We chose retail partners and distributors who are passionate about our product and we realised early on that we needed to invest in in-store training to ensure store staff understand the brand and can speak to our ethos.

Jo Farah Sneaker Lab

The brand uses the term ‘The Future Of’ quite regularly in its messaging. 

[JF]: Our slogan is “The Future of Sneaker Care”. This speaks to the idea that the future is here, now.

Innovation is at the heart of our brand. If you’re not innovating, you’re going to be left behind – especially in a world where consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with the future of our planet and making sustainable choices.

We’re future-focussed because we believe in looking forward to what the world could be and being a part of shaping that.

This is evident in our plans: We plan to open more brand experience retail spaces around the world, have expanded our range into products for hat care and denim care, with other verticals in the pipeline. Our vision is to be the number one in sneaker care in the world, for the world, and to deliver innovative solutions, through cutting edge science and technology.

At the end of the day, Sneaker Lab is about sneaker culture and a broader sense of a street lifestyle. 

[JF]: It is a cutthroat industry in which there are many malpractices at work. There is work to be done in rectifying the entire fashion industry and we are excited about brands that are working to change this, from within the industry. We consider ourselves part of creating a new, more sustainable future from our place as a complementary industry. 

Our artist programme is about upliftment and highlighting up and coming creatives, giving them the opportunity to showcase their work. Many of the artists we have collaborated with have gone on to very successful careers and we like to think we played a role in making this happen. We purposefully work with creatives that have a unique vision of the world and are trying to influence and make changes in their own way. 

Our work is the opposite of throw away culture. We give people the means to invest in their sneakers by ensuring they can keep them in good condition, for longer.

Sneaker LAB was created to speak to more than just big brands – we work for something bigger than that. We create meaningful change for a culture and community that we love.

”We create meaningful change for a culture and community that we love”

Jo Farah Sneaker Lab

Jo Farah Sneaker Lab

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Unpacking Sneaker Lab - A Conversation with Jo Farah
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