Rens Original has saved over 250,000 bottles of plastic from going into the landfills and oceans
“We realized how there are so few options of sustainable sneakers that actually look good. Most of the time, sustainability equals sacrificing style and vice versa,” Jesse Tran, founder of Rens told me. “That’s when we decided to create the pair of sustainable sneakers that not only we ourselves but also sneakerheads we know would want to wear every day.”
Based in Finland, Jesse and Son Chu who were born in Vietnam met at Factory Finder where the pair used to work together. Jesse, who was the founder of Factory Finder, hired Son Chu to join his team as a developer and the pair quickly became friends. One day, they decided to meet up at a local cafe to talk about their common passion – sneakers. They realised there was a gap in the market when it came to sustainable sneakers that looked good and were also environmentally friendly. That day, their idea for ‘Rens Original’ was born.
My co-founder Son Chu and I founded Rens back in 2018. We are both sneakerheads and we have actually known each other for quite some time already,” Jesse said. “One day, we met up in a coffee shop and talked about our favourite topic: sneakers. We realized how there are so few options of sustainable sneakers that actually look good. Most of the time, sustainability equals sacrificing style and vice versa. That’s when we decided to create the pair of sustainable sneakers that not only we ourselves but also sneakerheads we know would want to wear every day.
After months of trial and failure with different materials, we came across the innovative coffee yarn with all the cool functions and features. Turns out, where we met up was quite prophetic, the idea of Rens coffee shoes came out of a meeting in a random coffee shop.”
Through crowdfunding, they managed to raise funds for their initial product – the world’s first coffee sneakers. The vegan, waterproof, sleek, shoes are made with coffee yarn, with flexibility, functionality and comfort in mind. They launched their product in 2019 and a year later, launched their web store right before the pandemic in early 2020. However, the pair had a tough time navigating through the pandemic as they struggled to distribute products to customers in time.
Despite the challenges, they managed to grow their brand and sell their products on major retailer websites, including Zalando. “That was probably one of the most exciting and challenging experiences of the entire process, navigating the brands through the COVID era,” Jesse said. “Production was delayed, logistics was heavily interrupted and we struggled to deliver the products to customers in time. However, at the end of the day, we managed to weather the storm and grow the brand’s global presence via our own web store and Zalando with our biggest markets including the US, Germany, Finland, and the UK.”
They then launched their second product, NOMAD, on crowdfunding platforms and managed to gather funds in less than two hours. Rens Original has now become a global sustainable business, creating eco-sneakers for customers from over 100 countries around the world. They have produced 40,000 pairs of sneakers, recycling more than 750,000 cups of waste coffee and saving over 250,000 plastic bottles that go into landfills and the ocean every year. They have grown their team from two to 20, taking their business to the next level in the past two years alone.
Jesse and Son Chu aim to take Rens Original to an international level and create a world-leading sustainable brand. They also hope to incorporate more wast-based materials including bamboo, coffee, pineapple skin into their products. “We see Rens becoming the global leader in sustainable athleisure from Europe,” Jesse said. “The current and future Rens’ offerings will be made from waste-based materials and packed with innovative technologies. My wildest dream would be to see a day when the world will run out of trash because society and the fashion industry have both understood the concept of sustainability and recycling.”
In a few words of advice to other SMEs, Jesse said: “Your first investors are the most important ones, even though they might not be the biggest. They will shape the company’s growth and help you to develop and become the best founder. Recruiting and HR processes must be focused on people with competencies that fit the vision of the company. However, diversity of thoughts, background, and culture should always be considered and encouraged as they will provide fresh perspectives and different international points of view. Founding a business is not easy. Success never comes with a cheap price and sometimes personal sacrifices have to be made. With your growth as a founder and leader, it is important to learn how to find a balance between work and life to avoid burnout and to have a clear mind.”