It all started the day my husband was overwhelmed with the terrible smell from our daughter's soccer cleats. Hannah had been playing soccer since she was five years old but as she got older, the shoes smelled worse and worse. We tried every products that was available – sprays, perfumed balls, bamboo charcoal bags. Not one took the smell away.
My husband, a true entrepreneur, decided to take action. He began playing around with the idea of little pouches, that with the right ingredients, would remove the odor and moisture but leave a fresh scent. After years of product development with his colleague, Anton Haglund, and a chemist, the final prototype was tested and approved. And it had the exact effect we were looking for: no smell.
We had frustrated parents around the country try these new pouches in all kinds of stinky equipment. They were put in everything from sneakers, skates, running shoes, boxing gloves and wading boots. It worked fantastically every time - even in a pair of old and well-used hockey gloves! Parents were thrilled there was finally solution and began asking to order them.
Once we proved the combination of ingredients worked, we went to step two. Smelly shoes can be an embarrassing problem, and we wanted SmellWell to have playful, cool designs that didn't make you want to hide them in a locker or gym bag. They needed to appeal to the businessman, recreational athlete and teenager. We chose to do two small pouches, and after a lot of R&D, landed on six different designs, with a mix of solids and patterns.
When deciding what ingredients to put in, the removing of moisture was on the forefront of our minds, as our daughter often played soccer in the rain. We did some research and realized moisture, heat and dead skin cells create a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. We learned that when you remove the moisture, you prevent the bacteria's from thriving and thereby you may also prevent athlete's foot, so we made sure SmellWell was able to assist in that aspect.
The environmental aspect has also always been important to us. Our product is made from bamboo, natural salts and absorbents that effectively remove odor and moisture. We added a mild scent to enhance the fresh feeling.
Our first trade show on the Swedish market was August 2014, and the positive feedback started flooding in. We received orders from 70 footwear retailers, and within the first year had over 500 Sweden retailers, in addition to the online store.
Today, we sell 120,000-plus pairs of SmellWell yearly on the Swedish market alone, and are available in over 15 countries. We couldn't have predicted we would have the success we did when the idea first came to fruition, but we are looking forward to the next chapter.
Our advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to ensure your idea solves a problem. Don't be afraid to fail, and stay passionate, no matter how long it takes to get it right.
About the author: Ammi Schaffler is the co-founder of SmellWell, an odor and moisture-absorbing pouch for athletic wear and equipment.