In an industry built off the back of 'newness' - the newest tooling, the freshest silhouettes, the latest collaborations or colourways - it's natural that words like 'innovator' and 'pioneer' get thrown about when they probably shouldn't. I get it - I'm probably guilty of it myself. Over the past few decades footwear has evolved from no-frills functionality to become one of the most prolific, passionate, and profitable subcultures of modern times; giving birth to a community which balances on the very tip of what's new in footwear, music, fashion, and art - all defined by an inner sanctum of global tastemakers who predict trends more often than they follow them. Wherever this kind of intensity and demand exists, you'll find commentators rushing to baptise every new idea as pioneering, even when it's probably not (just look at what happened to the Betamax). When it comes to Jason Markk however, pioneer is the only word that makes sense.
Undeniably the OG sneaker-care entrepreneur - who decided to elevate his sneaker care routine from lukewarm soap suds and dedicated sneaker toothbrush to a tried, tested, and trusted sneaker care solution that actually works - Jason Markk's business and success came from a simple desire to solve a problem he had experienced first hand. Offering an antidote to the same problems which had plagued sneakerheads the world over, Markk set out to deliver a series of solutions to two key questions. How do I clean my sneakers without tearing them to shreds? How do I protect them from getting beat up to begin with?
Now into his second decade in business, what began as a labour of love in his parent's garage has become Markk's life's work. Having paved the way for an entire micro-industry which runs alongside the mainstream sneaker game, Markk's business has successfully built a relationship based on knowledge and trust to become to the last word in sneaker care and protection, now stocked in over 2,000 stores worldwide.
END. joined Jason for a day in his personal sneaker archive to learn more about his story so far, and to get the inside scoop on the sneakers that should never have happened and the sneakers he wishes they'd bring back.
END.: What’s the first pair of sneakers you remember buying as a kid?
Jason Markk: My first pair were the Nike Air Flight 89s. As a kid, I loved watching and playing basketball and my parents weren’t about to buy me Jordans, so the Flight 89s were it.
END.: What was the catalyst that made you want to work in the sneaker industry?
Jason Markk: From a young age, I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, but I didn’t have a clue as to what or how. I knew whatever I started, I wanted it to be based around something I loved. Then one day I was cleaning my sneakers and it dawned on me that a specialized sneaker cleaner did not exist. The rest, as they say, is history.
END.: What drew you towards working in sneaker care versus working on design or marketing for example?
Jason Markk: I actually was working in advertising before Jason Markk. I enjoyed it but was left feeling unfulfilled because, at the end of the day, I was working for someone else. Once I realized there was a void in sneaker care, I jumped at the opportunity and haven’t looked back since. It’s been over a decade since I started JM and I’m still excited to get up and head into the office. I think that says a lot.
END.: What do you enjoy most about working in this industry?
Jason Markk: I get to be creative. It’s fun and revolves around sneakers…what’s not to love? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all fun and games, but I genuinely love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like “work”.
END.: What is it about sneakers that places them on a pedestal with this collector culture that surrounds it that you don’t see so much in fashion and apparel?
Jason Markk: In my opinion, it’s stems from sneakers and basketball. As a kid I remember watching Jordan win the ’88 dunk contest by flying through air in his IIIs…the connection to the sneakers was instant. Today, when NBA stars arrive to the stadium for a game, it’s basically a fashion runway. And although the whole drip is on display pre-game, when the game starts, it’s still all about the kicks.
END.: Here, in your personal sneaker archive, lay it down for us. What are your top 3 sneakers of all time?
Jason Markk: Okay, here we go:
Nike Air Max 1 OG Red/Grey/White. That's the one that started it all. The shape, the colourway, the materials are all timeless.
Air Jordan III Black/Cement. Elephant print - enough said! No, but seriously, that's a classic you can rock with anything.
Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star. Growing up in Southern California, this was a staple of your wardrobe no matter if you were a thug, skater, or a punk.
END.: Okay, quick fire questions. What are the hardest and easiest materials to clean?
Jason Markk: Hardest material is canvas. Easiest is leather.
END.: What's a sneaker silhouette that should never have happened?
Jason Markk: Adidas Kobe 2.
END. A discontinued silhouette you wish they would bring back?
Jason Markk: Nike Air Footscape.
END.: What's your dream sneaker collaboration?
Jason Markk: Nike x Jason Markk ACG Mowabb maybe? I love nature and I love the Swoosh.
END.: What's the most overrated sneaker collaboration of the past decade?
Jason Markk: Any designer collaboration which used a familiar silhouette and charged crazy retail prices.
END.: What's your take on resale culture? Pure entrepreneurism or killing it for the true fans?
Jason Markk: On one hand, it sucks for the true fan who just wants to cop a pair for their collection and is unable to. On the other hand, with today’s technology, reselling is easier and more profitable than ever, so can you blame the opportunist?
END.: From an expert's perspective, when do you think it’s finally time to call it a day and let a beat-up pair of sneakers go?
Jason Markk: If the pair is ruined beyond cleaning, another pair of beaters isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all love a fresh pair of kicks, but there’s something very satisfying about a comfy pair of beaters that are still fire. Sneakers are meant to be worn after all, so I say wear and enjoy them.
END.: Trust is a massive part of the Jason Markk brand. Customers are super protective of their sneakers - how do you make sure your products are safe to use across materials so that customers can be confident their shoes are in safe hands with your products?
Jason Markk: Starting over a decade ago, our products were developed with the sneaker enthusiast in mind. Countless hours of testing goes into every product we develop and our products do not contain any harsh chemicals or abrasives. My Sneaker Care Technicians (SCTs) have cleaned well over 50,000 pairs of sneakers and are hands down the best in the world. That said, we are working to improve how we educate our customers about our products and how to properly use them. Soon we will be launching an initiative that will give our customers access to exclusive techniques used by our SCTs. Stay tuned!