Running on Passion: The Story Behind Janji
Brookline-based Janji, an athletic apparel company that donates a portion of proceeds to organizations around the world, is run by two friends who met while running on their college’s cross-country team. Dave Spandorfer and Mike Burnstein say that the company’s slogan, “Run for Another,” captures the company’s mission, which is: Using the power of running to promote positive social change. Janji partners with organizations around the world (as well as the Greater Boston Food Bank) to do what they can to help global food and water crises.
The company’s products are divided into different lines that represent different nations— from Bangladesh, to Kenya, to Peru— and a portion of the proceeds for each line go to Janji’s partner organization in that country. In Haiti, for example, Janji collaborates with Meds & Food for Kids, a group whose peanut butter-based nutritional medicine, “Medika Mamba,” helps to reverse malnutrition. The supplement is produced in Haiti using local peanuts, helping to alleviate poverty by providing jobs to Haitian workers and supporting their own agriculture. Each piece of apparel from the Haiti line provides eight packets of Medika Mamba to a Haitian child.
While on the bus to the NCAA national track championship in 2010, the two passionate runners started talking about how to give back to the sport they loved. They realized that charitable road races are common, but those efforts always seem to end on race day. The teammates longed for a meaningful way to create a lasting change through running, and through that vision, the idea for Janji emerged. “We wanted to find a way for runners to give back whenever they’re running,” Spandorfer says.
The path from the initial idea to the Janji’s implementation was not easy, but the duo felt strongly about putting their “aha” moment into practice. Burnstein jokes about the following fall, when they first entered a business pitch competition and “were torn apart by the judges.” But they never felt defeated, and set out to patch up the holes in their plan before going on to win two different startup contests and take home some respectable prize money. Spandorfer and Burnstein used their winnings to make Janji a reality.
“Like any startup, at the beginning there’s really no system in place,” Burnstein says. “We really had no idea what we were doing. We just had all the apparel stacked up in my apartment and there was no real method to the madness.” This year, the company has expanded their line and implemented more organization. “Doing a startup is like dog years,” Spandorfer says with a laugh. “One year is like seven years.”
Both Spandorfer and Burnstein say that working with their partner organizations is their favorite aspect of Janji, and one of their main sources of inspiration. Spandorfer explains that, like Meds & Food for Kids, all their partners go to the root of a problem, rather than trying to find solutions on the surface level. And Burnstein lauds their ability to think systemically. “The reason we picked these organizations is because they devised such innovative solutions to these global problems.”
Going forward, the guys behind Janji have big goals in mind for the brand. The fall line launches this week, and they anticipate it being very successful. “We want to be one of the first in people’s minds, and get people excited to wear Janji apparel on every run,” Spandorfer says.
In addition, they know there is still a lot to learn. “The thing about startups that I’m realizing is that the more you learn and the more you improve, you’re always finding these new areas that you realize you just had no idea about,” Burnstein says.