Join us for an enlightening episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast as we sit down with José Maria Reffoios, Co-Founder of JAK, the renowned minimalist and timeless sneaker brand. Since its establishment in 2014 by Isabel and José Maria in Lisbon, JAK has been driven by a compelling vision. They strive to create modern designs using high-quality materials that age gracefully, enhancing their appeal over time. With a focus on urban lifestyle and everyday use, JAK crafts sneakers and accessories that seamlessly blend style and function.
Discover the essence of JAK's production process, situated in the revered northern region of Portugal, renowned for its multi-generational family-owned factories. Embracing a strong ethical code, JAK sources materials locally and responsibly, ensuring reduced environmental impact and fair treatment for their collaborators. By hand-picking suppliers and regularly visiting their facilities, JAK upholds their commitment to sustainability and ethical practices.
José Maria takes us on a captivating journey, sharing insights into his background and the genesis of JAK as a direct-to-consumer unisex sneaker brand. Engage in a thought-provoking conversation between Peter Brooker and José as they delve into various aspects, including working with family-owned factories, the role of brick and mortar stores, the significance of sustainability, the allure of minimalistic design, the meticulous materials research process, leveraging social media, and exciting future plans.
Don't miss this episode where we explore the world of JAK, a brand that transcends fashion, seeking to create an authentic lifestyle experience. Learn from their expertise in blending flexibility and durability using full grain leather, the highest quality and most coveted part of the hide. Discover how JAK's dedication to simplicity and craftsmanship elevates their Made in Portugal shoes to the status of timeless treasures that age beautifully, much like the individuals who wear them.
Hello and welcome back to another episode of the menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker and today on this show I am talking to co founder of Jack shoes. Jose Maria and Jack was founded in 2014, in Lisbon, Portugal by Isabel and Jose Maria, part of Jack's vision is to create products with modern design that are made of high quality materials and aged beautifully over time. They create sneakers and accessories for an urban lifestyle and everyday use. And you can find all the information over at Jack shoes.com. That's j A k shoes.com. And here to tell us about his story. And his journey is co founder, Jose Maria. Jose, you're over in Portugal, where you're making these shoes. We have so many brands that we are founders of brands that we speak to here in the UK that have their clothes and their shoes made in Portugal, but you're actually out there at the moment making them right. Yeah, we actually don't have our own factory. So we also source factories and syndicate the production. But yeah, Portuguese, textile, apparel and shoe industry is growing. And also it has been growing in quality. So we've we've seen a lot of brands, and I've obviously come across a lot of them producing in Portugal. And that makes us that makes us really proud. Now normally, I kick off the shows and just ask you to introduce the brand and yourself. But I'm gonna jump ahead here, how often do you get down to the factories? Quite a lot, actually. I mean, it's I think that's one of the competitive advantages of having a brand and being Portuguese. Yeah, we are designing them in Lisbon. And then it's maybe a two and a half hour drive to the factories, three hours for some more distance ones. But I tend to go there at least once once a month, either me or someone from from the production or a team or Isabel. But yeah, we keep we keep in close touch and very close proximity. And also speaking the same language is it's just at the distance of a phone call. And you can get things resolved very easily. We don't have to go through the scheduling. So you know, sometimes even on short notice, I can just jump in the car and drive two and a half hours. Yeah, I bet it must be such an advantage to have a great shorthand with your suppliers. What are you doing when you're down there you kind of asking for tweaks in the design? Or are you just overseeing the quality or everything. A bit of everything, I'd say a lot of it has to do with sampling new models. The way the way the design is implemented, the way the modelling is done. And a lot of the fitting is done with the factory looking at where things are better or worse. But also when we source new materials, there's a lot of components involved in making shoes. And so sometimes it's just better to do it face to face. And, but we do a little bit of everything I like I like to go on the production line a lot. And checking things. It's also the factory that we work with the most it's basically a family business. So Mum and Dad are mostly in the production line. That's what they like to do. And the son, which is the one leading the project right now, as long as it's more at the office. So it's interesting to see also the balance there. And we are always very well received there. I think there's also this inherent proudness factor from them, I think it's really cool to see that they like producing a Portuguese brand, as opposed to 90% of their production that is basically exported, right. Yeah, no, I bet I know. And also, I must be quite proud for you as well seeing the sneaker come off the production line there. But it's a nice moment going in the boxes. Absolutely. That's like the most exciting parts sort of seeing like an initial design then materialising into an actual product and like looking at all the steps like the suing and then lasting them and like stitching the soles and cleaning them and putting them in the box and like fine tuning all the details. It's super exciting. That's the best part that and when you get new samples in the office, it's also like it was like crystal it comes in the box to start with right. So gift idea is already there that you're gonna unwrap your own present that you made. Yeah, I can't get tired of the unboxing experience, even if I've done it 1000 times. Well, Jose, I've jumped way ahead but please, perhaps touch upon how you started the brand and your skills and expertise going into The brand. Definitely. So Jack is basically, I mean looking at it, you'd say, but it's a minimalistic unisex sneaker brand it started. As such. It's a direct to consumer business as well. We started this project in 2014, we actually had a different brand before. And that's how I came into the business. So my partner Isabel, fresh out of college, she did a master's in fashion design. And later, she was already focusing a lot on shoes. And she had this huge passion and urgency to jump into the shoe business. So she started making classical women's shoes, I jumped into it, I saw a lot of potential in the in the business, I come from a completely different background, actually in engineering, telecom. And it, though I didn't I never graduated from from college, I spent a good 10 years jumping from course, to course. And I also I've been an entrepreneur since 2004. So I was very excited to see this, like this project coming through my my entire background, or most of it was a lot dedicated to services. It's incredibly frustrating not to have a product to focus and fine tune and like do it like well once and sell it a million times. And so I was very drawn to the business, I suggested that I do a small investment in this classical shoe brand. And that's how the relationship started just in the first year of the of the brand, actually. Then fast forward two years with design Isabel designs, a sneaker, the base of Jack and we we sat on it because it didn't fit the brand that we had. And after a couple of months of thinking and debating, we said why don't we just make a sneaker brands and we cut all the things that don't work with this classical shoe business, which is like season to season, wholesale going on trade shows we didn't like that it was very frustrating to grow a brand like such, we didn't have any brand awareness and it was just very frustrating. So having this IT background also helps with putting up a website and connecting all the dots and starting to promote the brand online. So I did that pretty easily in the beginning 2014. And then for the next two years, we sort of, we sort of fiddled with the design and with improving the samples that were coming through, we started with a single style in like four or five colours and we put it we started selling it in. In the store, we had a very small store downtown Lisbon in a shared space, maybe just eight square metres. But when we put jack up there, people started asking for more colours for more designs for like new products. And it was an immediate success at scale. Obviously, it was a very small store. And that sort of motivated us to focus more and more in the brand. And eventually, in 2000 in 19, we decided that we would stop doing the other brand and we would just focus exclusively on Jack Interesting. Yeah, I mean, you touched upon trade shows there I can imagine I've been to a fair few of them. That model works if you're looking to get into resellers and you know sell wholesale but you're going direct to consumer or you are now so like that kind of going around and shopping it around in trade shows paying for hotels paying for stalls paying for basically putting a lot of capital in getting awareness out that way simply doesn't work. Now it's kind of just a well you have a couple of stores but it's I guess most of your your driving your traffic is ecommerce, right? Yes. And also I think ecommerce and especially since Shopify came around, it's been very democratised. I think the internet itself, it's a shortcut towards building any products. Anywhere in the world, you can just research there's a lot of online courses, you can, you can learn a lot of about any business and someone who's resourceful enough to search and take the time to learn. They can do it. So you know, we've been witnessing a lot of brands emerging in a lot of categories, apparel, and shoes in sneakers, being some of them. And so I think that also, the market sort of gets a little bit more flooded with new exciting stuff going on. And then you have all the Kickstarters in there's a lot of noise around around exciting new products. And so I think the trade shows have, I mean, I'm not saying they're not relevant, but they're missing a part where people buy a shoe in this case, and they're actually talking to the brand owners, they're talking directly to the brand and you know, the experience is a lot more catered to what they're actually looking for So yeah, I think there's space for everything. But But I would say direct to consumer is much more rewarding, in a way for both sides for the ones selling them, and for the ones buying them. The kicksta. You mentioned, were you tempted to go down that route as well? Or, or? No, yeah, we've considered it. And we did a lot of research around it. And we thought maybe if we jump, if one day, we jump into different categories, seriously, we might consider it. It's not within our scope at the moment, we prefer to start something small. And we prefer also, one of the things about our brands, and I think there's a lot of you had the greenwashing and now you have the sustainability washing, these are like sort of keywords that are very present and forthcoming in the market. And we believe that we are at a sustainable brand, but before that, we want to be a sustainable company. So we really don't want to create like oversize our company, and and give these like, huge leaps that sometimes Kickstarters when they're successful, give in I think we'd much rather starts like a product lines smaller with with a smaller production. And then if it is successful, then we'll we'll produce more. But I mean, we haven't decided it's something we could we could think I mean, it's a huge list. It's a hugely successful tool for a lot of brands and products. So I'm not saying no, it's just, it hasn't been in our scope. Yeah. Going back to the sneakers, and the design is very minimalist, like you say, so is that that must be purposeful, right? You're not looking to put too much embellishment on there. Is it? Because it's easier to manufacture these without too many logos and too many accoutrements? No, I think, I think it's harder. Actually, if you look at our brand signatures, we've also thought a lot about that we came up with defy simple, which is, I mean, you looking at a very dressed down shoe, there's like not a lot of panelling in general. Some models actually, we've started doing bits and parts in mixing up but like, I would say, 50% of our sales come from the most minimalistic models that we have, and but also when you cut into them, and when you look at the complexity behind them, and the sort of materials that we have to source to be able to produce such large pedalling with no interruptions. No, no stitching in between. It's incredibly difficult. So in in this apparent simplicity, there's there's a lot going on in terms of construction, there's the way that we see a shoe, or at least issues that we're building right now. They should be well built, they should be like we should use only prime luxury materials in them. And also the layers that we only use, like 90% of the cases except for the new vegan versions, we only use full leather midsoles. We use Shanks inside them. We also use a layer of cork, before we glue and stitch the soles. We have dual density in removable inner soles, we also lined those with calf leather. So you know, there's a lot of a lot of different components into it and how much research has to go into making say one design, like even the vegan one that you mentioned there. I mean, there must be quite a lot of behind the scenes work that goes on not just with the design, but knowing how the fabrics are going to work in a trainer. being completely honest, the building part we've done we already know the way we want to build them. So Construction wise we are I mean we've been doing it now for eight years. And we've we've tried different techniques. We're mostly relying on some into construction. We're not excluding to use other types of construction in the future. But there's a lot of research with materials especially when you jump into the vegan stuff because most of vegan stuff products that you see out there are based plastics, and that's that's also something you have to have in mind when you're talking about going green and going sustainable. There's a lot of carbon footprint in some of these materials. We're using our nuphar with based off Apple peels. We launched that last year. It has about a cotton backing, but it It will always need a binding agent. And that is typically based off plastics. There's a few projects going going on. There have been some prototypes on the market 100%, free of plastics, we are pursuing some of that technology, some of those suppliers and projects, but we are very careful about jumping into a new material. So I would say the research is in the time that we spent testing and asking for technical data is white allies nuts, that's nuts to anyone that just thinks about what they eat can actually be in a shoe. I mean, I, I think I heard something about pineapple skin suits, once I'm pretty sure that's the thing, I can't even imagine it working. So maybe you can just keep me a dummy's guide on how we can get Apple pulp into a trainer. Store. This is mostly Apple waste. And then in sort of simple terms, and I'm not also the best person to explain this. It's not like within my scope. But But you basically just grind it all into a paste, and then you mix it up with eventually a secret formula, this is the competitive advantage of this supplier as well. And then it actually goes through a cure process and a binding agent, again, typically polyurethane or something like this, you can have a percentage of this polyurethane being also of a biological origin, instead of a chemical one. And then you sort of glue it in, and stitch it all together to a backing. And, and in between this process you also diet with with with the colour that that you want. And that's also challenging to find the right colour because chemicals react differently in when you're using bio based materials into the process, different different batch of Apple peels will give a different reaction with with the dying. So that's also one of the problems that we have. And sometimes people on a purely commercial point of view, if you come into a store, and you look at a product, and you've seen a picture online, and it looks pure triple A white, and then you look at it, and it has this sort of greyish greenish tone that can happen. And this is purely the formula is the exact same one. But this can happen based off the the origin of the product. So I think that's an interesting debate to have as well. A lot of people sometimes don't understand when you're working with natural materials, leathers or other non leather based materials, different, you can have different versions of different of the same product. In my in my reasoning, I think that's quite interesting. It's an experience. But some people don't, don't quite most don't agree. So I think it's also an opportunity to educate people into what, like an actual natural based brand. Yeah, I mean, I think it's a fascinating subject, it's basically you're not going to get two trainers that look the same, because you'll have always slight different inflections based on on what's going in and right. So again, it's going to give it that very cool twist, that it's not mass produced. It's something that's a little bit of love's gone into it, and something very unique has happened to it. So I do like that. Jose, I'm curious about your social media, as always, because I think we're brands when you say that you're kind of direct to consumer, you're always going to be the face behind it. Are you behind the scenes with all of your Instagrams and all that sort of stuff as well? That's, it's, it's not easy. I mean, there's a lot of pressure towards building new exciting content, I'm going to be honest, that's one of our that's where we are slacking. And on some occasions, I think we've been lucky enough that we have a lot of repeat customers, and a lot of people that stand by the brand and what we build as a product. And that has helped us grow year over year even during COVID. Even with stores close we've been able to grow the brand. But But But social media is definitely a challenge. We share that responsibility. Mostly it lays on Isabel's lap. We have been working also with a creative agency, we are lucky enough to have an in house photographer. Basically what we do is we share the space with him. So he's readily available when we need something. And, and we're also working with a PR agency and we recently made a few marketing hires to help with that, but it's an incredibly difficult process to get the right message All across when I mean, social media looks very simple, you just have to do a little bit of content. But then there's this balance between portraying the unique features of the shoe, or of the leather, and it has to look perfect because there's too much texture. And there's proportion. There's all of this, all of these factors. So it's sort of a an inner battle. Even for us, like, should we post this picture? Like, it doesn't look as good. But the, and sometimes we have to like, step back and say, No, this is this is good enough. It portrays what we are as a brand. And okay, this is not the perfect impression of what the shoe actually looks like. But I mean, for me, it's incredibly challenging. Coming from the background that I come in being a perfectionist, I like to see things neat and perfect. And sometimes you have to go against. Yeah, that's it. I think a lot of people have that with social media that it has to, it has to look, especially with your page, because all of the imagery, like you say, looks very well polished. It's very informational, as well, sometimes with the infographics that you've laid out, you can't just then go from that. And just take a wham bam picture of your trainers, like from a point of view position, right? Because it goes kind of goes against the brand, almost, you know, you need to have consistency, it can be that one or the professional, but it can't be both in a weird world. So yeah, maybe you can I don't know. I mean, we're learning as we go. I mean, we're not, we're not the best example at anything, we are just trying to do our own thing. We were winging it in a way we were not the I mean, none of us was a professional Shoemaker, shoe designer, or shoe developer to begin with. We so in the in the in the same way, we were not professional product marketeers, we are learning as we go, we gather the feedback from friends, family, and customers. And in the team we have, we're very fortunate to have this amazing team at Jack, so everyone contributes a little bit amazing. Well, the place to hang out on Instagram is at Jack underscore shoes. And I should say Jack is J. K. But we'll put all the links over in the show notes and Jack shoes.com. Also to go and check out the sneakers there and grab yourself a pair. Jose, you got a couple of stores, I think is it Porto and Lisbon in Portugal? Have you got any plans to come to the UK? We do. Actually the UK is our largest markets 25% of our sales come from the UK. The other the other 25 other another 25 come from the US then it's Germany, France and only then Portugal with 5%. I mean, you I think we have a very fair price point for what we build and what the sneakers cost to produce. But unfortunately, the the Portuguese economic situation is not. It's not as good as as we would like. And also this is I think the problem when you have a manufacturing country. There's a lot of good quality products going straight from frack factory to stores. And sometimes people can find good quality products without without without the brand markup on it. We have to have the brand market on it. That's that's how we pay ourselves in this is supposed to be a profitable business. But But yeah, we definitely want to open a store in the UK that's within that that's in our our timeline. We don't have unlimited cash at hand. Maybe we can we can. We can do that in the next couple of years. We'll we're working on it. Okay, well keep us posted. And I guess all the news will break over on the website. So again, people can check that out. Jack shoes.com the place to go. Jose, thank you so much for jumping on. It was really interesting talking to you and best of luck with the future. Thank you, Peter. Thank you so much for having me you've been listening to the menswear style podcast be sure to head over to menswear style dot code at uk for more menswear content and email info at menswear startup code at UK if you'd like to be a future guest on the show. Finally, please help support the show by leaving a review on iTunes or wherever you're listening to this podcast. Until next time