For our latest In Conversation, we are joined by Jason Markk, the coolest clean freak in the sneaker game, who has built a brand around keeping kicks looking pristine. What started as a dish soap fueled obsession directly tied to his love for sneakers would eventually grew into a passion driven operation with a range of premium sneaker cleaning products at its core.
From finding a chemist to help create his formula and leaving the ‘home office’ aka his parents’ house for a real office space to the decision to open up a flagship store and shoe cleaning service in Little Tokyo, LA, Markk’s growth has been organic at every step and it shows. So when we heard JM was taking the plunge into hat cleaners, you already know it was meant to be.
Check out our conversation below to learn more about this new line, what drove Jason to start his own brand, get a look into the early days of the empire, gain insight into the influence that DJing had in his life, and much, much more.
Thanks for your time Jason!
Q: Back in those dish soap days, what sneakers do you remember cleaning and did any of them in particular motivate you to create your own sauce? Like what sneakers did you need to be clean in order to wear?
A: I used to be meticulous with every pair no matter what it was - it needed to be spotless. If I had a tiny scuff it would bother me all day!
One of my favorite pairs that I'd keep fresh was the AM1 OG Red/White which are so clean and such a magnet for dirt for whatever reason.
Q: When it came to product development back in '07, how'd you know had found the right chemist to help out and how did you know when to stop messing with the formula?
A: After meeting with a couple of chemists, I felt one really understood what I wanted to create and was equally committed to get it just right. When I'm testing new products, I want to check all the boxes, and maybe most importantly it must be a great experience using our products.
Q: First the sneaker care products and then the sneaker 'dry cleaning' service, what does it take to develop an eye for seeing a need and filling it?
A: I'd say just being on the ground to experience things for yourself and to believe in what you're doing. The idea for a dry-cleaning service was actually born from our original old school shoe shine chair. We would ship this chair around the country offering free on-shoe cleanings. The first time was at Reed Space in NY. We saw how much people enjoyed having their sneakers cleaned while they are sitting up in the chair. So when we opened the first store in LA, we began offering drop-off sneaker cleaning service and the rest is history!
I'd say just being on the ground to experience things for yourself and to believe in what you're doing. The idea for a dry-cleaning service was actually born from our original old school shoe shine chair. We would ship this chair around the country offering free on-shoe cleanings.
Q: For the to-be entrepreneurs out there, what was it like making the jump from a professional career to working for yourself?
A: It was exciting and something I knew I needed to do. It's a lot of work, but it didn't ever feel like work.
Q: On the surface you're cleaning sneakers but you're products and services are really helping people extend the lives of their prized possessions, do you ever think of yourself as a caretaker of sorts?
A: I'm really honored that people invite our products into their homes. It's something we don't take lightly. It serves as motivation for us to deliver the safest, most efficacious care products for your sneakers, hats, handbags, jackets etc.
Q: Were you a hat kid growing up? Any favorite styles or specific ones you remember rocking?
A: As a teen, I had a handful of random snapbacks, buckets, and beanies nothing too specific. Today, I'm pretty much in a hat every day.
Q: So were hats always the next logical step after sneaker care products and if so, why now?
A: To be honest, our focus over the last 15 years has always been shoe care. It's where JM was born and where we cut our teeth. When we asked ourselves what innovation/expansion makes the most sense, what feels most natural - it was hat care because sneakers and hats go hand-in-hand. We also sensed the growing need from our retailers and the market.
Q: What are the fundamental differences between a sneaker cleaner and a hat cleaner?
A: The main difference is the hat care solution is much gentler and was specifically formulated for more delicate hat materials. The hat care solution is also fragrance-free and certified biodegradable.
When we asked ourselves what innovation/expansion makes the most sense, what feels most natural - it was hat care because sneakers and hats go hand-in-hand.
Q: You've said that LA has had a big impact on your style while growing up but you also moonlighted as a DJ, how did that world influence you?
A: Those years from '96-'06 DJ'ing were some of the best times of my life. It was also a crash course on entrepreneurship. I learned that I could make money doing something that I loved. I don't think I would have started Jason Markk if I hadn't been a DJ.
Q: How about now, what is influencing/inspiring you?
A: We want to continue to create products that people love. Continue to solve problems. I'm inspired by everyday living. Experiences like routinely caring for my home, my shoes and clothes, plants etc. serves as inspiration.
Q: You can't work at DQ growing up and not be asked what your favorite flavor was/is - are we talking Blizzard, dipped cone, sundae?
A: Much of my teen life was spent roaming Del Amo Mall. Shout out to Tarantino for preserving the golden age of this South Bay institution in Jackie Brown! At DQ it's all about the Cookies & Cream Blizzard!