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Find a balance between work and life

Rens: Sneaker made from coffee waste and recycled plastic

Why don’t you briefly introduce yourself and the startup Rens to our readers?

I’m Jesse Tran, Co-Founder and CEO of Rens, the Finnish eco-startup behind the world’s first sneakers made from coffee waste and recycled plastic. I’ve lived in Finland for 10 years, since I moved from Vietnam to pursue my bachelor degree at Aalto University.

My co-founder – Son Chu – and I founded Rens back in 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. We both have extensive backgrounds in Fashion, manufacturing and e-commerce as Son worked at Zalando and I had founded my previous startup FactoryFinder, that helped to connect small European fashion brands with sustainable manufacturers in Asia.

In 2019, we launched the World’s First Coffee Sneaker via Kickstarter, raising over half a million euros from over 5.000 customers in 100+ countries worldwide and became the all-time largest fashion Kickstarter campaign in the Nordics. Since then, we have been continuously growing and expanding, with Germany and the UK being within our top markets in Europe.

Why did you decide to start a company?

Son and I have been “veteran” sneakerheads since forever. Everything started in a coffee shop, when we were discussing 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 we ourselves want to wear everyday.

What is the vision behind rens?

We see Rens becoming the global leader in sustainable athleisure. 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. 

From the idea to the launch, what have been the biggest challenges so far and how did you finance yourself?

Funny enough, we launched our Direct-to-consumer webstore right before the pandemic happened in early 2020. That was probably one of the most exciting and challenging experiences of the entire process. Production was delayed, logistics was heavily interrupted and we struggled to get customers their products in time. However, we still managed to weather the storm and grow the brand´s global presence via our own webstore and Zalando with our biggest markets including US, Germany, Finland, and UK. 

Rens started as a brand for the community as we launched and financed our first product – the world’s first coffee sneakers – on Kickstarter. This time around, we are back to our roots with our new performance Sneaker, NOMAD, which we were able to design from the feedback of our backers from the first campaign, who specifically asked for a sneaker made for sport activities. Launching the second model on Kickstarter as well, allows us to keep developing community-focused products while letting our customers participate in the creation process.

Who is the target group of rens?

Rens was created for the emerging generations of conscious consumers, who are advocates for the wellbeing of the environment. Our logo (#) represents the hashtag which is used by these generations to start impactful movements as well as joining them. We believe our customers and supporters should never have to sacrifice fashion for sustainability and vice versa.

What is special about the sneakers? What are the advantages? And what differentiates you from other providers?

Our Coffee-Sneaker line, launched in summer 2019, was the world’s first sneakers made from coffee waste and recycled plastic. We aimed to create the perfect sustainable pair for every-day activities and exploring the world without limits, under any weather conditions as they are 100% waterproof, vegan and ultra lightweight.

Taking into consideration that our customers demanded a new product that is more performance-focused, we created Rens NOMAD, using the same sustainable materials. Notably, with breathability being the key of performance, we equipped the sneakers with an original ventilation system, the SkyStep.

On top of that, as a further commitment to sustainability, NOMAD will be our first climate neutral sneaker modell.This way, our customers don’t have to worry about the sneakers’ impacts on the environment.

Rens, where is it headed? Where do you see yourself in five years?

We aim to elevate our unique and proprietary sustainable manufacturing network to turn Rens into a world-leading sustainable brand. Our goal is to make use of more waste-based materials (bamboo, coffee, pineapple skin, etc.) and ultimately extend the life cycle of this supposed “trash”.

In conclusion: What 3 tips would you give to aspiring founders?

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 competences 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.

Thank you Jesse Tran for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

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