This Nomadic Running Brand Makes Some Mean Gear — And They're Bringing Water to Every Continent
It's about time you got acquainted with Janji. We recently caught up with the founder.
The “sinusoidal projection” is a map that distorts the shape of the planet to honor area measure. There are variations, but it generally looks like this.
When Dave Spandorfer and friends sat down in Boston over eight years ago to decide on a logo for their boutique running brand, they took inspiration from that projection, from the interconnectedness of the continents. So they adopted it as a logo, shaded it in blue, and settled on the brand name Janji, from an Austronesian word that means “promise.”
In the years since, Janji has kept more than a few promises across the continents. As a nomadic label, Janji makes pitstops in two countries a year (Cambodia and Mexico headlined in 2019), to run, commission designs from local artists, and pair with a local NGO on improving regional access to water. Runners are notoriously picky about their duds; if one shirt chafes one armpit during one four-miler, a brand’s written off forever. But Janji manages to put sneaks on the ground to combat one of the globe’s great injustices, while also making great gear. I know, because I’ve been running in a sweatshirt from their Mexico line nonstop since December.
To learn more about the travels, travails, good vibes and general wizardry coming from Janji, I recently caught up with Spandorfer. Janji just released its latest limited-run collection, following a trip to the Philippines, and it’s as good a time as any for you to take some threads out for a spin. Below: how they select the next country, sustainable materials, and the brand’s September trip to Vermont. You’re invited.
InsideHook: What’s Janji’s origin story?
Dave Spandorfer: The idea for Janji originally came at a track meet in college. We wanted to create a brand that allowed runners to do what running had given us: a chance to explore, connect, and make the world a better place. We stopped focusing on creating a line that was exclusively branded to the top 1% of runners (which, ironically we were) but rather focused on the best parts of running. We wanted running to be a way to see the world around you, connect with new friends, and make the world better. In Janji’s case, that meant showcasing artists from around the world and giving 2% of sales back to clean water. We entered a business plan competition in college, won it, and that gave us both the confidence (and the funds) to get Janji started.
How do you decide which part of the world should inspire the next line?
It’s always tricky to pick our countries, but we look for places around the world that A) are traditionally unexplored (like our current seasonal focus, the Philippines) B) lack access to clean water, but do have an NGO for tackling water issues and C) are safe to roam and travel.
Do you guys run in every country you design a collection around?
Every single season we go to the country where we pull inspiration, we meet with local artists and then we come up with our line. This season is inspired by the Philippines, and we worked with an amazing artist there named Raxenne Maniquiz. Visiting the Philippines was amazing … and full of surprises. When we were in Manila, my co-founder Mike and our male model were playing basketball with a bunch of local Filipinos when suddenly every player on the court had tears coming down their face. Turns out a massive volcano nearby had erupted and ash was getting into everyone’s eyes! As a result of this volcano erupting, our team had to relocate and do a photoshoot in an unsuspecting area.
How have your efforts in supporting clean water managed to help communities? What have been some hurdles along the way?
We love working with amazing partners around the world in giving clean water. For our Janji Collective program, we partner with an organization named Splash that gives clean water to schools around the world. When someone joins the Janji Collective, $50 goes directly to supporting clean water causes through Splash. We’ve helped give thousands of years of clean water to children in Nepalese schools. With clean water, it’s absolutely vital that it’s not just helicoptering in and then leaving — it’s about building permanent solutions to clean water problems. That’s why we’re so selective as to where we give. There have been hurdles around that. I won’t name organizations, but not everyone is as committed to the long-term vision as our partners. It’s extremely disappointing when clean water solutions prop up, but there’s nobody there on the ground to maintain them.
What sets Janji’s gear apart?
We love our designs. They’re bold, they’re fun, and they’re inspired and designed by artists from around the world. Nobody makes gear like it. But what makes Janji really stand out is the product itself. Our AFO Middle Shorts won Runner’s World’s Editor’s Choice for best shorts, and Outside Magazine named them their favorite running shorts. We’ve won a ton of awards, from publications like WIRED to TrailRunner, which all highlight the quality of the gear. We’re especially proud of our durability: we design all of our products to be worn multiple days in a row, and to last for years. But we also think how we make our product matters. Our AFO Middle Shorts, for instance, are made in a safe and clean Vietnamese factory and are produced with 88% recycled polyester. Our shirts are made in Peru using locally sourced Alpaca wool.
Your favorite all-time item Janji has released? What excites you about the latest collection?
Oh man, a tough question. Probably our AFO Middle Shorts. I wear these every single day, either on their own or beneath pants. They’re amazing. Meanwhile, the new short colors we have coming out this season are super striking. My favorite is Midnight Plaid.
Can you talk about the Collective Summit, scheduled for later this year?
The idea behind the Collective Summit is to bring together our Janji Collective members from around the world to come together for a long weekend of running, learning, and eating locally-grown Vermont food beer/cider! We brought in 25 people last year, and it was so popular that we doubled the size of the Collective Summit. Most of those who attended last year have already signed up to come back. The summit is only available to members of Janji Collective. We’ll have amazing speakers and we have amazing trails. While this is in September, the summit is pending any sort of increase in the COVID-19 outbreak (we don’t see that being a problem) and we’d refund everyone if it continues to be an issue.
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