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How We Started Our Sustainable Footwear Brand and Sold Over 100K Shoes Since 2015

Our inspiration came from the traditional Valenki boots that have been used in Siberia for centuries to withstand the frigid winter. The Valenki is a simple, yet extremely technical product that helps maintain body temperature even when external temperatures reach -40 degree. It was sustainable before “sustainability” was a concern - it’s made from renewable wool, water and soap. It’s renewable, fossil-fuel-free, and does not harm any animal.

We crafted the first 8 pairs by hand-felting them in our kitchen. It took 8 hours to felt one pair of slippers! We took these 8 pairs to an outdoor trade show to see if our idea had any potential. We went into the tradeshow blind and had no idea to whom to sell it to, much to sell it for and even how to produce. But one week after the trade show, we received our first order: 700 pairs!

We had 6 months to deliver the order. With no one to help up to make the shoes, we started to create our own workshop with our own tools and technology to get the production started. We did this all with the vision in mind to create the most responsible product that we could produce and be proud of.

Who is your target demographic?

We target customers who seek to purchase responsibly made products with a minimalistic look and Swiss quality standard. We do not like to create new products every season. Rather, we aim to constantly improve our products and our customers appreciate this.

We get some woolly requests! Once we received a request from a dog owner who had saved some of the dog’s hair. He asked us if we could make a pair of slippers with their dog’s hair! We’ll stick to wool for now.

How did you fund the idea initially?

When we started the business, we did a Kickstarter to validate the concept and generate crowd ideas. We did not spend much money marketing the idea. We wanted to see if we could garner attention organically. We used Kickstarter as a market research tool and we learned a lot.

We’re husband and wife, and we co-founded BAABUK together. We are very complementary to each other in the process. I (Dan) am the guy who is in my little workshop experimenting new ideas and launching new products. Galina is the one who is extremely well structured and organizes my crazy ideas. To compare us with a runner, I am the sprinter runner while Galina runs the marathon.

Did you run any companies prior?

Baabuk is our first company. Before Baabuk, we were both working for big multinational companies. We were very good at executing and following orders but there was no real drive and motivation to wake up in the morning and go to work. But the job conditions were too good to give up.

But then I started to get towards my 40th birthday and the question came up, where do I see myself at 65. I could not accept the idea of still doing the same job without any personal attachment until the end of my professional career.

So, we started to do other side projects just to keep busy and motivate ourselves, reminding ourselves that life offers more than just a job. Baabuk was one of these side ideas that became our business today.

The feedback from the family and friends was not always so supportive. The European culture is much more traditional and more risk-averse that the US culture. Depending where people lived, we got very positive feedback to “are you crazy?” feedback.

My father, who at first was not happy about the fact that we gave up our good jobs, ended up helping us to organize the first shipments from his garage.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

Things go wrong almost every day. Over the last years, we learned that for every problem, there is a solution. The challenge is to be willing to see the solution and to be open minded to grab it.

Since we started the business, we have been bootstrapped without any external investors. That’s definitely a challenge when you want to grow fast. On the other side, we are free to follow our vision and remain true to the promise we made to our customers to create better products for the world.

Stories are our biggest sales drivers. With every product we develop, there is a story behind. Each story has a purpose based on our key values: respecting the people, the society and the environment.

Stronger the impact we can generate, stronger the recognition we receive from customers.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

Our real competitors are the ones who produce in mass and market with greenwashed messages to the consumers. If every brand would be a little bit less profit-driven and a little bit more planet-driven, we would be able to achieve a lot more.

What makes us different from other similar brands are the stories and impact we create. And there are no limitations to our opportunities.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

We use mainly cloud solutions like Shopify, TradeGecko, Zapier to manage our solutions. We do not plan to develop any custom apps. The most important is that these tools all communicate with each other seamlessly. And that is not yet the case.

What are your favourite books and podcasts?

My favorite business book currently is “Hacking Growth”. It gives you plenty of simple and impactful ideas to test in a growing business.

My favorite novel is “The Kite Runner.” My parents used to live in Kabul. I love the country and its unique culture.

My favorite podcast is “The Idealists.” It interviews incredible entrepreneurs from all over the world and is a great source from which to generate ideas.

What are your next steps for Baabuk?

We are currently working on an after-sales product. We want to extend the life cycle of our shoes, or any other shoes, that customers have brought in the past. We believe that we should not stop our efforts once the shoes are sold. We should accompany the customer until the end of the product. The product should come to the market somewhere in the middle of the year 2020.

If one day in the future, customers would recognize us as a little version of Patagonia, we would have achieved our mission.

Since the beginning in 2015, we have sold over 100k pairs of shoes and Baabuk products can be found all over the world. We now have three websites: for our local Swiss customers, for our USA customers, and for our international audiences.

While we take great pride in Baabuk, we are not bound to our company. If one day, somebody with the same vision and bigger impact is interested to accelerate the journey, we are open for discussion.

Company Name: Baabuk
Founder: Galina Witting and Dan Witting



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