The company has had its share of problems. After a promising start in 2007—including shout-outs from blogs like Hypebeast and Freshness Mag—sales dropped during the recession, forcing Angsuvarn to stock shelves at Trader Joe's to make ends meet. But the brand held on and, now profitable, continues its slow and steady trajectory. It has added products to its line, including accessories like laces and insoles, and a Repel spray that threatens to put his original cleaning product out of commission. And a Jason Markk store in L.A.'s Little Tokyo features drop-off cleaning services, with plans to open two more such shops in New York and London in the coming year. Our conversation has been edited.
Tell me about your advertising job.
I started as a floater at RPA. I was at the reception desk and from there I went to account management, where I was an entry-level assistant. My client was Honda and Acura. But it wasn't quite me—it was too shirt and tie. At the time, strategic planning was a new thing—this big, elite group that was very hard to get into. I found it interesting and when an entry-level strategist position opened up, I went for it.
What was the epiphany behind Jason Markk?
I started thinking, "Why am I mixing my own stuff and not buying stuff from a store?" The reason was I didn't trust anything on the market. That was the aha moment. I decided to dig a little bit deeper and make sure there was a need. I went to a local boutique and asked people, "What do you use to clean your shoes?" I went to sneaker lineups and asked random people what they used. Everybody had their own remedies. I went on Google; stuff popped up, but nothing really specialized for sneaker culture. At that point, I knew there was a void.
How did you transition from advertising to your own business?
I used one of the data research subscriptions to look into the sneaker market and put together a pitch deck. That was what I used to raise my initial capital from my family. When I knew it was a sure thing, that I was going to do it—I had the funding, the product and its packaging were ready to go—that's when I quit.
You needed to show your family a pitch deck? What do your parents do?
My mom is a social worker and my dad worked at a pencil factory. But I wanted to be organized and legit, not like, "Hey, I have this crazy idea. Loan me money!" And I was still living with them. I put together this deck showing the size of the sneaker industry and I invited close family over and told them I wanted to cook them dinner. They were surprisingly supportive and, just from that, I was able to raise $15,000. It's very unusual. Traditionally with Asians, anything you want to do that's not steady income, they're like, "Hell no." But I was a DJ since I was 15 years old and did very well with it, so I think when I pitched this to them, they didn't really doubt me.
What was the initial reaction to your first sneaker-cleaning kit?
II launched the company in 2007. It took off from the day it hit the blogs—everybody was interested and we got inquiries from around the world. We were in all the stores we wanted to be in only 10 or 12 stores, but we wanted it to be select and not have it be everywhere. We had one solid year of, "Wow, this is amazing." I did three collaborations in our first year with very credible brands that really helped propel Jason Markk.
So how did you end up at Trader Joe's?
When the recession hit, business slowed and it was tough. I had quit RPA. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, we were struggling to put gas in the car. It's not like we were broke, but we were definitely living off credit. I used to work at Trader Joe's, so I called in a favor and got a part-time position, all while still running Jason Markk. We were getting orders daily. So I was still having to pack product, do customer service. Next door there's a post office, so before my shift, I would carry that day's orders, then go in and work a six-hour shift.
How did you evolve post-recession?
The original kit came in a mini sneaker box with an 8-ounce bottle of cleaner and a wood brush. It was $25 and I wanted it to be worth it. But that came at a time when the whole trend was luxury, lots of limited-edition stuff coming out, like $200 hoodies. I knew I had to make it more accessible after the recession, so I created another kit that sold at $15, with a 4-ounce bottle. The packaging then evolved into a pouch, which still has the look and feel of a premium product but was less expensive to produce.
How is business today?
Definitely profitable. We're in over 30 countries in close to 5,000 stores. We sell to everyone from most uber-hip sneaker boutiques to Foot Locker, Finish Line and Nordstrom. We're even in the MoMA Design Store.
We're fortunate because the brand is one of the biggest strengths that we have. It's embraced not only by hardcore sneakerheads, but also high-fashion and design communities. It's really a blessing that it's embraced that way because it opens us up to much more.
How have you maintained brand credibility?
For us, it's about continuing to innovate. The products I developed first didn't have patent protection. I couldn't afford it. It would cost upwards of $15,000 and that was my whole budget. It was either build a website or get a patent. That made it easy for competitors to copy what I was doing. So with all the products in development now, I have IP attorneys and we're protecting a lot of the things we're releasing. We aim to create better-designed, functional products.
What does the Jason Markk brand stand for?
For creating the most innovative products people will love. We stand for being conscious of mother nature, creating quality over quantity. When we develop stuff, we like to do it from scratch.
Any advice for young entrepreneurs?
I really recommend building your company around something you're passionate about, because when shit hits the fan—and it will hit the fan—you'll be more likely to fight for it. Once you get a taste of success and it's something you love, I don't think you'll ever go back. It's not a job, it becomes a lifestyle. It's something you live at that point, whether it means having to pick up a part-time job or side hustle, you'll do whatever you need to do to keep it going.
Creativity is thinking without restrictions.
Source : http://adage.com/article/news/creativity-50-2017/311602/1205