BY Farah Khalfe 4 MINUTE READ

Sneaker LAB is permeating global sneaker culture not only through their innovative products, but with an ethos of youth upliftment and sustainable community development. 

Founder Jo Farah shared some insight on the societal impact of entrepreneurship and the integral role it plays in solving the world’s most pertinent economic issues. It’s safe to say that Jo is one of the most respected sneaker heads and businessmen in the game, mainly because of his vision of coupling style with sustainability. An ode to this, Sneaker LAB has created a premium shoe care product range that has exchanged harsh chemicals for pro-bacterial biotechnology — benefiting the environment in the long run. Fast Company SA sat down for an exclusive interview with Jo about his vision and business growth. 

What sparked your interest for sneakers and streetwear culture? 
Since I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in clothing and fashion. Throughout my childhood, I was exposed to art and music which developed my understanding and appreciation of aesthetics. Old school hip-hop, the Beasty Boys, NWA and A Tribe Called Quest heavily influenced me as a creative. 

How did you develop the concept of Sneaker LAB and what was your motivation for turning this vision into a reality? 
In 2008, I went into business with two friends who owned a streetwear store in Cape Town. We established a guerrilla marketing agency, working predominantly with well-known sneaker brands and retailers. I noticed there was a gap in the market for a high-end sneaker care brand and I had made numerous contacts through working in the industry. I took my time in developing the brand, product and aesthetics of it before market testing. The initial test-run in stores was so successful that the product sold out in two days. We now have stores in Johannesburg and downtown Los Angeles. 

Innovation lies at the heart of Sneaker LAB’s products and services. How do you believe  YOUR sneaker care products embody this? 
Innovation is extremely important — it is our greatest differentiator from competitor brands. When I started Sneaker LAB, I wanted it to be sustainable and environmentally friendly, but with better results than anything currently available on the market. I spent a great deal of time researching biodegradable cleaning solutions. This resulted in our unique sneaker care and protection formulas which utilise bacteria and enzymes to hyper-escalate nature’s organic cleaning process. The biotechnology functions at a molecular level and continues to work long after application. The products are water-based and the packaging is suitable for recycling. 

How important is innovation when it comes to the success of any business?
Innovation is essential. If you’re not abreast of what’s going on in the world, how will you stay ahead of the competition? If a company is not thinking differently, it will become stale and the consumer will lose interest. Innovation is not just limited to your product, it needs to be practised throughout your business — from the way you approach marketing to the way you speak to consumers.

In six years, you’ve built a brand with a Global presence. What were your key business components for achieving this?
I believe in planning properly and surrounding yourself with people who are exceptional at what they do. As an entrepreneur, you can’t be the best in every facet of the business. It’s crucial to have key people that will ensure business growth. I also believe in rewarding my team for their hard work and ensuring they enjoy their jobs. If your whole team is enthused and energised towards a common goal, you’ll have an accelerated rate of achieving it. Giving back is also a key component. Helping others to succeed plays a role in your own success. We work with aspiring artists and underprivileged youth. People want to belong to something more than just a brand, that’s why we constantly strive to be socially-conscious.

How important is community upliftment and youth development for Sneaker LAB? 
It’s imperative for us. As soon as the business was financially viable, we started donating a portion of all sales to gold Youth Development Agency — a South African organisation committed to developing young African leaders. We’ve been supporting the organisation for three and a half years. They work closely with youngsters in the poorest communities in Southern Africa, with the end goal of helping them obtain a university education. The young leaders are trained to have an influence in their communities through peer education, despite obstacles such as poverty, apathy, inadequate education, unemployment, orphanhood, gender inequality and HIV. One of the their graduates is currently employed at Sneaker LAB.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’ve always envisioned taking the brand to a global level. Things have accelerated rapidly since 2013 and we’re currently represented in 60 countries. Our plans are to open more retail spaces where our brand offers an immersive experience. We have recently expanded beyond shoes into products for hat and denim care. Our aim is to be the number one shoe care brand in the world.