Inside Janji, the Upstart Running Brand Dedicated to Giving Back

When asked, the founders of Janji describe themselves modestly “We’re runners. We make stuff for runners.” The truth is much more complex.

Janji in the wild. Photo: Ian MacLellan

Janji started as a class project in college. As collegiate runners, founders Dave Spandorfer and Michael Bernstein saw running as a tool to connect, explore, and even change the lives. But it wasn’t until the 2010 NCAA DIII Track and Field Championships that their “ah-ha” moment struck.

The race was on the hottest day of the year, requiring water stations every 100 meters. Inspired by how important water was for them to finish the grueling 10k, they began to wonder “How many people in the world lack access to water?” The answer, one Google search away, is more than 1 in 10.

Looks good, and does good as well. Photo: Ian MacLellan

Soon after they founded Janji, a brand that distills lessons they learned from running and uses them to give back. Dave and Michael were able to secure funding from their school and launched the business shortly after graduating. It took about a year to get the brand off the ground, and now it’s growing quickly. And, as Janji grows, so does their impact. Janji gives 5-percent of revenue to fund clean water projects around the world.

Janji’s sourcing and manufacturing is intentional, too. Every season the team visits a new country around the world, works with local artists, and designs a line around the style in that country. Dave got excited when explaining “that means, with each season, we get to interact with some absolutely amazing designers like Claudia Gorena, and collaborate with our design team to inspire the new line. We really do want to give a voice to amazing artists around the world through the apparel, through the stories we tell, and through the lens of the country inspiration.”

In sync. Photo: Ian MacLellan

After early mock-ups with these artists, the team takes the project in-house. They distill their new inspiration into apparel fit for the American audience. Once a new series of products are fully designed and tested, Janji manufactures them in small batch runs. This allows the team to focus on quality control and high-performance gear that’s colorful and unique, even in the saturated running apparel market.

Janji’s Bolivia collection, in action. Photo: Ian MacLellan

I can vouch for this personally – I’ve been testing the Transit Pants and Rover Hoodie for over a month and have been impressed with their simplicity and versatility. When you’re wearing Janji gear, it’s clear that it was designed by runners, for runners. It took me nearly a week to take off the Transit pants; they’re that comfortable.

Janji tries to source their materials from the countries they visit, too. Dave explained, “We work with different fabric makers in these countries, adding hints and trims to the line as a way of supporting local artisans and making the gear more authentic to the places we visit and the people we meet.” The more we talked, the more I understood that everything they do is about making connections between people.

Running for a cause. Photo: Ian MacLellan

A large part of this is their giveback program. Janji gives tens of thousands of dollars each year to clean water projects around the world. Dave explained the granular details: “We work with the organization Splash to make this possible. For our Nepal line, we brought clean water and hygiene education to 15 schools, helping 5,000 kids and protecting 75 existing project sites across the Kathmandu Valley.”

In truth, Janji is a clean water company, under the guise of a running apparel brand. It gives them meaning and motivation, and helps them foster a community of activists giving back.

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