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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Jaden Smith introduces his eco-friendly water brand to Dubai

We get a taste of the actor-rapper's Just Water at Gulfood in the UAE

Jaden Smith was recently in Dubai to attend Gulfood and introduce Just Water. Courtesy Gulfood
Jaden Smith was recently in Dubai to attend Gulfood and introduce Just Water. Courtesy Gulfood

Jaden Smith is one 20-year-old who refuses to be defined, so it makes sense that he would follow up a rap performance by doing a little business.

After taking the stage at Billionaire Mansion in the Taj Dubai last Sunday, Jaden spent the next afternoon in the Tetra Pak lounge at Gulfood 2019 representing his eco-brand Just Water.

He attended both events sporting an eye-catching dyed-blonde “halfro”, in what appears to be a good-natured clapback at his actor-rapper father Will Smith – who recently posted a video of his son as a child, sporting lopsided hair he had cut himself and left all over the house, sending his mother Jada into recorded hysterics.

The making of Just Water

Just Water launched four years ago, with Will revealing late last year that Jaden has been his partner in the project all along. Jaden has been front and centre ever since. Earlier this month, he promoted Just Water’s new flavoured products – including organic apple cinnamon and organic tangerine – that will be sold across the US.

Jaden and Just Water’s chief executive Ira Laufner came to Dubai to explore doing business in the UAE. The company went international by launching in the UK late last year, with further expansion planned in Australia next month.

“We’re just exploring right now and seeing who’s interested,” says Jaden.

“And people are telling us how it could happen.” Jaden – who made his acting debut at age six and released his first album Syre in 2017 – explains that the idea for Just Water was born seven years ago.

“I started getting really interested in the environment,” he says. “And I started to learn about global warming and the fact that greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, were going into the atmosphere at high rates.”

Will and Jada paired Jaden with Drew Fitzgerald, a family friend, environmentalist and creative director at MIT. The pair “went down every road”, says Jaden, before landing on the idea of responsibly sourced water stored in a renewable, recyclable container.

“This is all made out of paper and this is made out of plant-based plastic,” says Jaden in an interview at Gulfood, pointing to the blue container’s base and cap. To get specific, 82 per cent of the Just Water container is made out of renewable, non-petroleum-based resources – resulting in a 70 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

In the US, the company has partnered with Glens Falls, New York, which is where Fitzgerald is from. The city uses a mere half of the three billion gallons that collect in its reservoirs annually from rain and snowfall, and Just Water bottles a fraction of the remainder – paying six times the going rate for it.

The water keeps its natural minerals, which include sodium, potassium and magnesium, while it is purified using ozone and light.

Most other bottled waters are processed using pressure filtration, which requires considerable energy and creates solid waste, before trace minerals are added back in at the end. In the UK, the company draws water from a spring in Northern Ireland, near Belfast.

“[Spring water] is just something that’s naturally been inside the earth,” says Jaden. “It’s more organic, natural, grassroots – that’s everything we’re trying to do.”

Jaden and Just Water in Dubai

The trip to Dubai – which included a stop for a concert in Mumbai, where Jaden said he’d love to collaborate with local rappers – comes in the midst of a year spent working on his second album. This month also marks the release of Boombox Warfare, a track he produced with Mexican-American environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl.

Jaden is evolving into a modern-day multi-hyphenate who likes to confound, whether with his hair or provocative pronouncements on Twitter. And he wants others of his generation to feel comfortable pursuing as many of their passions as they can.

“It feels so freeing to be able to start a water company, work on my album, work on my clothing line, shoot music videos and produce films,” he says.

“I just hope that I can be someone to inspire others, that they don’t have to choose [any one passion].”

As Just Water expands, it will stick to the principles that have driven the brand from the beginning, say the founders. In Glens Falls, for example, they have provided a new revenue source for the community that is expected to reach $1 million (Dh3.67m) over three to five years.

Any sales in the UAE would likely involve water shipped in from the UK, says Laufner. Just Water would also want suitable infrastructure in place to support recycling the containers.

“We don’t want to add additional trash if there aren’t recycling streams,” explains Laufner. “We know that the UAE is more environmentally conscious than many other countries in the Middle East and we want to be able to at least assist the opportunity.”

Whatever form an expansion into the region might take, Jaden says it has to suit the local environment. “It can’t just be a standardised thing,” he says. “We have to evolve for each place we go to and make it just right for that place.”

Price-wise, Just Water sits below the premium water category (Evian, Volvic), selling for the equivalent of about Dh5 per carton in the US.

The Smiths aren’t the only famous names involved with Just Water. On a list of more than 75 people on the company’s website are musician Lionel Richie, actress Queen Latifah and DJ Calvin Harris.

Updated: February 25, 2019 11:26 AM

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