Shoe care brand, Sneaklin, has built a thriving business cleaning dirty shoes.
Shoes. One of the most important pieces of clothing anyone can own. They come in different styles, sizes, and designs. Apart from serving the general purpose of protection, acting as fashion statements, and for many shoe collectors, a flex appeal, the shoe business is huge. According to Statista, the global footwear market is estimated to be worth $381.9 billion, and Nigeria’s footwear market is projected to reach $4.03 billion in 2027. Yet, as much as shoes are loved, shoe care and laundry are aspects that don’t get much attention in Nigeria. “This is the conversation we try to champion. People should be able to enjoy the money spent on shoes,” says Tife Pariola, shoe care enthusiast and founder of Sneaklin.
Sneaklin is all about shoe care. It is a premium shoe care brand with services that include shoe laundry and shoe care education. Founded in 2020, Sneaklin is one of the few businesses successfully championing shoe care and laundry in Nigeria.
For founder, Tife, it all started with his love for shoes. “I like to think I love shoes. Even though I do not wear them as often as I would like,” he says. And this love got tested whenever he had to clean his shoes. It was always a struggle to get the dirt out of his shoes. And when he would eventually get them out, they would get dirty within a few minutes. He started thinking of easier ways to get his shoes clean. He wondered why shoe-cleaning services were not as popular and readily available in Lagos. That was how the idea to open a shoe laundry shop came about. “Honestly, I would say Sneaklin was born out of laziness,” he says. Although opening a shoe laundry shop was his first idea, Tife did not open a shoe laundry shop immediately because he did not have the capital. But he was sold on offering shoe care services. So, he pocketed the laundry shop idea and thought of another way to help other lazy shoe lovers like himself.
For so many people regular soap and water is the easiest way to clean your shoes. “Growing up, shoe care meant occasional sun drys and using regular soap, sponge or rag, and water to wash my shoes,” says Joseph, a shoe lover based in Abuja. However, using regular soap for shoe laundry is not always the safest. Tife knew soap and water would not cut it if he were to offer quality shoe care services. “It is a hard job getting dirt out of shoes. Then imagine adding the risk of spoiling the shoe in the process,” he says. Hence, he came up with the Sneaklin kit, a premium shoe care kit.
The Sneaklin essential cleaning kit contains a 170ml sneaker cleaner to make the dirt powerless, a shoe cleaning brush to push out dirt, and a microfiber towel to wipe away dirt. The Sneaklin solution is a soap-like cleaning agent made without abrasive or harsh chemicals and is safe to use. It does not bleach, fade or shrink the shoes. Each 170 ml bottle can be used 66 times. The kit also contains the Sneaklin quick wipes, a handy solution usable on all types of shoes. Each kit costs N8,000. And the care products can be used on different footwear, including the popular crocs. The products are available at distribution outlets across Nigeria and Ghana. Sneaklin has also started Care by Sneaklin, a shoe walk-in, and delivery laundry service, where “shoes are taken care of”. With the Sneaklin laundry service, shoe care ranges from 1,100 to 3000 naira, depending on the number of shoes and the condition of the shoes. A standard clean for a pair of shoes costs 2000 naira, while a deep clean costs 3000 naira.
Usually, shoes do not come with manuals or instructions like “dry clean only” tags. This makes it easy to get it wrong with most shoes. In some cases, one pair of shoes can have different materials on them (this is common with sneakers). And each material may have a different reaction to different cleaning methods. This is why before every shoe care, Sneaklin tests for shoe bleeding, a term used when colours rub off onto other materials. Still, accidents happen; a lesson Sneaklin learned early on.
During one of its first walk-ins, the Sneaklin team experienced a shoe-bleeding accident. The black logo on a white shoe turned out to be dyed material instead of actual black material. “We did not know until it got wet, and the black messed up the white,” Tife recalls. In another instance, a customer’s shoes developed yellow spots soon after it was cleaned at the Sneaklin laundry shop. The customer was not pleased. The company had to offer compensation to the customer for the damaged pair. “We paid for the shoe. Then we had a compensation plan. Now, we do not pay anymore,” says Tife. “We understand many people know little about shoes, so we try to explain the things that could happen before collecting the shoes,” he adds.
Though more Nigerians have become acquainted with proper shoe care, when Tife started out, there were many ignorant comments that tried to derail him. “When I started, I got questions like will anyone pay a certain amount to clean shoes?” says Tife. “It was scary starting. Shoe care was not a business that was already working for people in Nigeria. There weren’t many Nigerian shoe care brands to look up to. So, it was an all-in or all-out situation. It was a dicey decision to make,” he adds. Even after he decided to bet on the shoe laundry business, Tife still had a tough time placing a profitable price on his products and service. He was bent on offering top-notch services, but this also meant his prices might be above what the average Nigerian is willing to spend on shoe care. “I had to ask, “how much will people be willing to pay for shoe care?” he recalls. “
Over the years, foreign exchange has also posed a problem for the business. “The essential kit was N5000 from when we started till last year. Then the foreign exchange doubled. Which meant we had to increase the prices of the products while considering our profit and how much our consumers will be willing to pay for shoe care,” says Tife. This led them to introduce the Sneaklin economy kit. It includes a 60ml sneaker cleaner, a soft-bristle shoe cleaning brush, and a microfiber. Each pack sells for N4000. Currently, Sneaklin plans to expand its services with its first focus on releasing shoe-specific cleaning solutions.
In the last few years, shoe care has become a discovery across Lagos both for customers and entrepreneurs. There are more conversations around shoe care. As a brand, Sneaklin has led some of these conversations on social media with the #rejuvenateyourshoes. Recently the brand partnered with Smileys, an African athleisure brand, to celebrate its 6000 followers on Instagram and push the conversation of shoe care. More shoe laundry businesses have also sprung up in Lagos. “It is a big market,” says Tife. “Anyone interested in the space should just know that quality service is important. People spend a lot of money buying shoes. They want remedies, not what will damage their shoes,” he adds. In the end, “We do our best so people can wear their shoes longer and walk with confidence. As it should be,” Tife says.