Waterproof sneakers made from coffee waste
Competing with the big brands in the business
‘In 2017 a chance encounter in a Starbucks between two expat sneakerheads quickly turns into a discussion on fashion and its impact on the environment. An idea is formed: make the perfect sustainable sneaker.’ That is how the story of Rens begins.
“We opened up and reached very big markets.”
A lot has happened since that day in July for this former ClimateLaunchpad participant. Such as their Kickstarter campaign launched last June and reached its goal within 24 hours. Within 52 days, they raised over $550,000 with 5,033 pre-orders from customers in 69 countries. They also got picked up by quite a lot of media and recently featured on the World Economic Forum.
We got on the phone with founder Jesse Khanh Tran to talk about their business.
A new generation of footwear
“What we are doing is creating a new generation of footwear with the world’s most advanced technologies using sustainable materials. So the first product is the sneaker made from used coffee grounds, combined with recycled polyester from plastic bottles. The shoe is 100% waterproof, extremely comfortable, lightweight, breathable and anti-odor due to the antibacterial qualities of coffee.
We believe that by combining sustainable materials with technology and style, we can create the world’s best sneaker. We are sustainable by default. However, many consumers don’t care about sustainability. They care about design, functionality, price. Above all, our mission is to create awesome footwear that takes the next generation of world changers anywhere they want to go.”
“We believe that by combining sustainable materials with technology and style, we can create the world’s best sneaker.”
Our goal? Launch the product and find paying customers as quickly as possible
We have been working on our idea for two years now and with the Kickstarter campaign, we already raised over $ 550,000. The predictions are now that we could reach $ 1 million. That is amazing. With currently 8 members on our team, it is an impressive result. Ever since the start, our main goal was to create the perfect sneaker and to get it out there for people to use and wear. Being a start-up is only fun for so long, we want to move as quickly as possible in building our business and finding paying customers. Our 2019 revenue forecast now is € 1.5 – 2 million.
We carefully built up our team with people from diverse backgrounds across the globe. All based in Helsinki we have people from Vietnam, Finland, Hungary, Nepal, and the US on our team. Our long-term vision? We are building the first unicorn eco-fashion brand for the generation-Z and beyond.
The vast majority of the footwear industry is not eco-friendly. According to a recent MIT lifecycle assessment, a typical pair of running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. By using waste materials and a low heat/low energy process as well as a waste-reducing minimalist design, preliminary research shows that Rens has an 80% lower GWP than leather shoes and 60% less than textile.
Using materials made from spent coffee grounds and plastic bottles drastically extends the lifecycles of these single-use materials that would otherwise end up in landfills or oceans.
Worldwide we are competing with the big names in the industry
Economically speaking, we’re definitely a new type of start-up to the industries in Finland. Aside from having a really diverse team, what we stand for and the type of products we create is quite new. As we are a small start-up, we need to make sure we use our resources the best we can, so recruiting the best people is one of the most important things we do.
Overall, people are just generally really excited to join our team. We spend a lot of time and effort finding the right people to match our team, also because the market is so competitive: we are competing against the biggest names in the business - worldwide. Our customers are mostly from the US, the UK, and the Nordics. The money that comes in mainly comes from the US and from the UK. So we’ve opened up and reached very big markets.
Finding the right partners
Besides finding the right people for our team and attracting paying customers, another big challenge is finding the right partners, both for investment and production. We are really lucky with the investment partners we have right now. We are working with some of the best performance sneaker manufacturing partners available. The vetting process is slow and demanding, but ultimately, it's crucial. Scaling to meet global demand also means it's not a one-and-done process. It's critical to find contingencies, overflow facilities, and alternates. A one-plus-many approach is key. This requires a ton of communication juggling and a rigorous sampling process to ensure that each supplier has the means and the quality control to meet our customers' standards.
Lastly, you just have to do the legwork and physically be present in the facilities. While all of our partners are either Blue sign certified or have been audited by third-parties to ensure compliance with BSCI codes of conduct, certifications simply aren't enough. You have to have a person on the ground to ensure that ethical, sustainability, and quality standards are achieved. You truly just have to be present.
“All the benefits of an awesome shoe while reducing the amount of plastic waste and methane-producing organic waste in landfills.”
Biggest change? We shifted our focus from environmental marketing to design and branding.
Before entering ClimateLaunchpad we felt that environmental marketing was a good fit for us because our product is sustainable and we wanted to get that message across. What we found out is that many consumers actually don’t care about sustainability. It is mainly people in a small green bubble that really care about it. Most consumers care about other stuff: the design, the quality, price, and functionalities. That’s why we had to change our mind-set.
Yes, we are sustainable by default, but that is not how we are going to sell our products. In our marketing, we shifted towards branding and design. We show that we created a beautifully designed sneaker with lots of benefits like the fact that it is waterproof, anti-bacterial, light-weight and extremely comfortable – with or without socks. With Rens sneakers, you are always ready for anything. And yes, naturally they are made out of waste materials and produced in a sustainable way.
Creating buzz and getting media attention
To build our name and brand and to make sure people would know about us, we did a lot of pre-campaigning, with email marketing and social media. We also recently rebranded everything as well. So yeah, we do heaps of brand building and campaigns.
“We didn’t win at the ClimateLaunchpad Global Final, but we continued our journey anyway.”
But actually the first time we started doing a testimonial video campaign was after the 2018 ClimateLaunchpad Global Final in Edinburgh. We didn’t win anything there and we were quite sad about it. But we wanted to continue our journey. So we just went out and created a testimonial video where we let people test the shoe, and that was such a hit. So that worked incredibly well as an ad. So that was the first time we created something like that. Of course, our videos now are much better, but that was basically how we started.
Our story has been picked up by a lot of media, both in Finland and abroad. Websites like BuzzFeed, Treehugger and Ekko wrote articles about us. A highlight was that we recently got featured on the World Economic Forum blog and Ilta Sanomat.
“Our main goal was to get our business going as quickly as possible. Joining ClimateLaunchpad was pretty awesome, the event and everything was great. The program was incredibly informative and the panels were really competitive. We used the experience to build our business. We did not enter any other start-up programs, we used all our energy to find investors, work on the product and find paying customers.”