This piece written by Ilina Stoyanova was published on the website of Forbes Bulgaria. Read the original article in Bulgarian here. It follows the story of Unboxd – Elevate S3 winner startup founded by Nikol Peeva (’21) and Vilislav Slavev (’19).
Sometimes the size of the business does not have to affect the scale of your ambition, at least if we judge by the announcement of the founders of Unboxd – a Bulgarian startup whose mission is to extend the life of clothes by reselling them. “We believe that we are not just creating a business that follows a typical business model. We believe we are solving a global problem. We believe that with every sale we contribute to minimizing the bad footprint of fast fashion. This is the thought with which we wake up in the morning”, says Vilislav Slavev, one of the co-founders of the company.
According to data from the European Parliament, the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water in the world, being responsible for 20% of its waste, as well as 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions. 87% of textiles or clothing are thrown away or burned. Unboxd wants to help change that.
HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
Nikol Peeva’s love for fashion is like a football fan’s love for the team. There is no explanation as to how it starts, but it is strong and constant. Nikol grew up in the US, where resale platforms are widespread. She fell in love with the idea of giving clothes a second life. In 2018, she returned to Bulgaria to aquire a bachelor’s degree at AUBG. She wanted to continue shopping and selling her second-hand clothes online but realized that there are no platforms in the country that meet her expectations.
The first talks between Nicole and Vilislav about a joint business took place in March 2021. The relationship took place after Nicole published a post on Facebook. They met and it turned out they had similar values. They decided that they would participate in Elevate – the accelerator program of the American University, which is organized by Eleven Ventures and AUBG. They settled on the name Unboxd, which comes from the idea that the garment you buy has been unboxed (opened and given a second or third life).
The two became co-founders and at the end of the program were one of the two winning teams that received a $10,000 investment.
Shortly after, Alexandra Kisova joined the team. The three of them are co-owners, with Nicole having a majority stake. Currently, 7 people are behind Unboxd – Nikol, Vilislav, and Alexandra and 4 developers – Kristina Tsvetanova, Georgi Antonov, Stoyan Lisichkov, and Kiril Trenkov. The startup is already officially registered as a company.
HOW DOES THE PLATFORM WORK?
Anyone can create a profile on the platform and view ads or post their own. To upload a product, it is necessary to take several photos of the item, and come up with a description and price. A listing takes less than a minute to upload. At this time, the entire amount of the sale remains with the seller. It also has style categories, which allows the content to be much more personalized. There are currently just over 500 registered users.
The startup is perceived as an educational leader in the field. Unboxd tries to reach different groups of people from teenagers to budding entrepreneurs through lectures the team gives at universities. They believe that the change in consumer habits occurs after good information on the subject.
“If you don’t understand the topic itself, you can’t make any kind of change,” says Nicole.
Alexandra adds that the startup also tries to help smaller businesses, such as people who create handmade items.
In addition, each of the labels at Unboxd’s most recent bazaar featured a QR code that tells people exactly how many liters of water and carbon monoxide have been saved after their purchase or sale.
WHAT HAS BEEN ACHIEVED SO FAR
To date, the startup has held a total of 5 pop-up bazaars in Sofia, Blagoevgrad and Plovdiv. In January, the team delivered a lecture on “How to slow down fast fashion through entrepreneurship?” for the community of the youth conservation organization PanGeia. Unboxd was also one of the partners of “Women’s Entrepreneur Day 2022.”
Thanks to online and offline sales, they have so far managed to save a little over 609,000 liters of water and about 2,000 kg. carbon emissions.
The company is funded solely by grants, including $10,000 from American University’s accelerator program. On June 7, 2022, Unboxd finished in second place at the ” National Competition for the Best Youth Startup 2022″, organized by Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” and the Fund of Funds. In August, the startup became part of the Black Sea ClimAccelerator and received a grant of 5,000 euros.
WHAT OBSTACLES DO THEY FACE?
According to the team, people who try to start their own business in Bulgaria are still not taken seriously. However, they note that there has been development in the ecosystem over the last 10 years. The country already has its first unicorn – Payhawk [Founded by AUBG alumni], and the Unboxd team hopes that this is just the beginning of more serious investments in the startup sector. They say that people who want to start their own company should be supported from an early stage.
They say that although the attitude of Bulgarians towards second-hand shopping is beginning to change, there is still a stigma that is not seen in Western Europe and the US. According to them, the leading generation in this market is Generation Z. The team believes that it will be a game changer because it is much more conscious in its decision-making and the habits of this generation are more sustainable than those of Generation X.
The goals for 2023 are clear – a focus on partnerships, tackling environmental issues and continuing to deliver lectures. “We believe that through small steps and quantitative changes, we lead to qualitative results”, concludes Vilislav. Indeed – the size of the ambition is more important than the scale of the business.