For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we spoke with Julian Samarjiev and Marin Gerov, co-founders of DULO, a revolutionary men’s apparel company. In short, DULO provides performance dress shirts that are not only 100% biodegradable but also easy to maintain and comfortable to wear. Tune in and learn why Julian and Marin started DULO, the hurdles that come with being a small clothing startup and the evolution from their initial product to their current crowdfunding campaign.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • The inspiration for DULO based on real-life problems and concerns
  • How starting as an outsider in the clothing industry allowed them to be a disrupter and address its long-standing waste issues
  • The challenges that came with pivoting DULO to not only satisfy the original features and benefits but also make it sustainable
  • The path that led them to Kickstarter and Enventys Partners to launch this innovative product
  • Tips for other fashion startups looking to incorporate an environmentally-friendly component

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president of Enventys Partners, the top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over a hundred million dollars for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding.
Roy Morejon:
Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and the Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with the show.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am talking with the co-founders of DULO, Julian Samarjiev and Marin Gerov, both from Bulgaria. So I’m really excited to talk about this today. Julian, Marin, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Julian S.:
Thanks for having us on, Roy.
Marin Gerov:
Thanks for having us, Roy. Nice to meet you.
Roy Morejon:
So I love companies that have a sustainable piece of their business to it and you guys have gone about and made a 100% biodegradable fabric and performance dress shirt. So I’m really excited to hear about where does this start and what inspired you to create DULO?
Marin Gerov:
Well DULO started about I think three and a half years ago, almost. Like the very initial idea for when we started and it came from a really personal need, solving our own personal problems. Both Julian and I are developers and developers are typically not known for having a very smart wardrobe. But both of us actually like wearing dress shirts, but we hated all the hassle around basically getting ready and preparation and taking care of that. Also, wearing them was never so comfortable. So we wanted to see if there was an opportunity to do something in that space. And we’ve been looking actually before that for a while for doing something together because we know each other for more than 15 years and we’ve been friends for a very long time and always had been looking to start something entrepreneurial. But never really found an idea that we both liked.
Marin Gerov:
And when I shared the idea with Julian, that we can try to make a dress shirts from performance fabrics and these are fabrics that are quite popular in the sport’s industry. And on top of that, that we can do that in our own home country of Bulgaria where we are originally from. We both kind of liked the idea and started from there.
Marin Gerov:
And as I mentioned, we come from the software tech industry. We had absolutely no experience in fashion or apparel or even in production of a physical product. So we took a couple of months, did a lot of research, met a lot of people, eventually found out the manufacturing partner with whom we liked a lot to work. And then we started a very long process, around 10 months of development of our first initial shirts. And before we made our first production shirt, we went through over 70 prototypes. And pretty early on in that process we actually started to notice how inefficient and how wasteful the apparel industry is. And digging more into the subject actually, especially of performance fabrics, of which what our products are made, we started to uncover quite a lot of issues that started to bother us a little bit. And I think Julian, you want to jump in and continue the story from there?
Julian S.:
Yeah, so we as Marin stated, we’ve always been kind of sustainable minded. And once we were just about to launch our first collection, we did a bit of research comparing synthetic fabric manufacturing to cotton fabrics and we kind of found out that the damage done is kind of equal or let’s say we’re not doing more or less damage entering the industry with synthetic fabrics. But at that point, because we posted that research on Medium, and it was quite a thorough research. We went through all the energy use, water usage, pesticide usage from the cotton side, and then all the plastic usage from the synthetic side.
Julian S.:
And we found out that compared to cotton, it’s kind of equal, the process is equal. But there was an interesting comment, and I think the only comment that we got at that time, mentioned microplastics and did we even look into that? And we kind of at that point, we haven’t looked into it at all, which was about three years ago. So we did launch our first collection with the initial fabric. But from that point on, we always kept that in mind and we kind of had a few talks with our manufacturers whether we can, for the second collection, improve that and look for another fabric, what’s the technology out there?
Julian S.:
There wasn’t that much at that point. So that was about three years ago. So we couldn’t really pick another variation of the fabric that we were using that can be more sustainable. And fast forward that about three years later we stumbled upon a much better version of the first fabric. Which had all the other properties than the first version had, plus it’s a much more sustainable. And then from there we took, we went a step further, we went with the threads, the buttons, the packaging. So we kind of revamped the whole product based on the new technology that has come up in the past few years.
Roy Morejon:
Wow. So you guys first launched your first version of like a cotton blend shirt and sold that. Did you just sell through that product line and then pivoted to the microplastic sustainability model?
Marin Gerov:
Actually-
Julian S.:
Yeah. So the first one was complete and so it was [inaudible 00:06:24], elestane I think, which was then the usual blend that you get with all the performance clothing. So if you think of Adidas, Nike’s, the Under Armours, they use that kind of blend. I think that the fabric at that point was made for weight lifting. So it had all the stretch, the moisture wicking, and all the benefits of it. But yeah, we did launch with that fabric and then yeah, once we started sending through that collection, we started digging into the next collection, what that would be and what that would look like and what we can improve. And that’s where we came up with the new fabric.
Roy Morejon:
Impressive. So what were some of those challenges in terms of, obviously sourcing the initial product run, you guys are developers at heart and then went through that whole process of doing research, finding a place and then pivoting into a new blend, a new technology, a completely new shirt. What were some of the difficulties or problems that you guys encountered and have overcome now?
Marin Gerov:
Well, one of the main challenges we’ve had in the very beginning, as Julian mentioned, was just finding out something that satisfied all the requirements, ticked all the boxes. Because with the first product, the people who were our first customers actually really liked all the properties, all the functionality the dress shirts were providing them. So like super soft fabric, very stretchy, super comfortable, very easy to care for. No wrinkles, no need to iron it, just throw it in the washing machine and it’s ready. Hang it, where it. And we were looking for something that does that. Plus it has a much more limited environmental impact.
Marin Gerov:
And going through different manufacturer fabrics, we tested quite a lot of variations. There’s a little bit of a challenge there when you’re so small like we are, and we are really just two person operation and we just work with contractors or freelancers, for example. And that is that when you go and outreach to a factory, usually they’re used to working to industry standards to big manufacturers or big clients. So the minimums are really high. So let’s say if you want to produce like two or three shirts from a new type of fabric, it’s almost impossible to do that because they want you to buy a minimum of a hundred or 2, 300, even a thousand meters of fabric. And just to give you a perspective, one shirt is made from one and a half meters, the fabric more or less on average.
Marin Gerov:
So it’s been a little bit of a challenge and still is to this day. I mean when you’re that small to work within the constraints of having smaller quantities, that means making requests for smaller quantities of fabrics. And then at the same time negotiating the good quality and attention and manufacturing capabilities for smaller numbers of production within the manufacturing place where the shirts are being sewn together. So this has been a challenge, that’s something we’re always fighting against. But we’re fortunate to have a good manufacturing partner who’s very experienced and has longstanding relationships with those places. And that’s what we want to build through that as well, so that we can make use of that in the future.
Roy Morejon:
So you had mentioned earlier the incredible amount of waste in the textiles or shirt making industry, what have you. Is there a process set up in place for the recycling of those materials currently or is that still a major issue?
Julian S.:
Yeah, so I mean, that trend is picking up, definitely. Especially, there’s a lot of recycling. But in the synthetic fabric and performance market, it’s quite tricky because even if you recycle it, you’re still recycling material that is going to break down. So the main issue that we’re [inaudible 00:10:29], these microplastics. Which is basically throughout the whole life cycle of a product, when you wear it and when you wash it, there’s little micro strands and threads of plastic that kind of leach out to the environment. And the issue with that is that even if you recycle the shirt, it’s still made of that fabric and it’s still going to leach out those microplastics that are not biodegradable, or at least they biodegrade, but in very long time. So recycling was the first things that we looked into, making the shift from recycled fabric, but it didn’t tick that really sustainable box until we found out something that’s actually going to biodegrade once it goes into an age.
Roy Morejon:
So with you guys launching your first product out there and now launching a product on crowdfunding, I guess give me the idea or the path to Kickstarter in terms of launching this newest innovation?
Marin Gerov:
Well, when we started initially and when we launched ourselves, we had absolutely no experience in building a business. And we really focused a lot on the product and we believe that that’s super important, from day one we put a lot of effort and attention. And then we launched and very quickly realized, and by launching, I mean we opened our own e-commerce store and I as I mentioned, both of us are developers, so for us that’s the easiest part. We started selling on Shopify. Day one, November 1st, 2017 we had a couple of people who knew about what we were doing, who had received samples from the production phase that we were in, who became our first customers, but a couple of weeks or a month after that moment, after we launched, we quickly ran out of people who knew about us and we started realizing, actually the real work begins. And if we talk about distribution, about building a brand, all of that, we had no idea how to do that. And we had to do a lot of that and still to this day we had to do a lot of that.
Marin Gerov:
And we’ve tried to do a few things ourselves, but we notice that we understand a lot of things on a very high level. But to do something right, we became quite convinced that it’s much better to work with people who are actually experts in the field. And I don’t know, a couple of months in we probably started thinking already what are we going to do next? And eventually we ended up with exploring how do we want to proceed with launching a second product. And once the idea for the new DULO 2.0, the sustainable edition, has matured enough, we started to really think practically, okay, how do we approach this launch this time.
Marin Gerov:
And we knew about crowd funding before, we’ve seen successful projects. I’ve personally have supported different projects on Kickstarter. And I really like the platform and the concept. But also when we launched the first time, we didn’t have the understanding but also the resources to create the Kickstarter campaign. So now with the second collection, this new DULO 2.0 product, we wanted to do things right and we knew that we cannot do it by ourselves. And we believe so much in the product that we thought this is the time to really invest, put our money and efforts and resources behind this product. And let’s go to the people, let’s go crowdfunding. And we started doing research, how you do a Kickstarter campaign or a crowdfunding project. And figured out that there’s actually a lot of tools and organizations out there that can help you create, make your whole campaign, guide you through the whole process and help you set up and launch on one of these platforms.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So that leads me into, you’ve been working with us here at Enventys Partners for a while now. What were some of those considerations that you looked at when choosing an agency to partner with to launch your innovation?
Julian S.:
Well I think, I mean you guys in particular, have a lot of history in launching similar products. And I think our first initial call with Turner from your agency, it was convincing because he understood the product and the market that we were going after. So there was a few kind of apparel products launched before us, successful products campaigns. So there was that, a lot of experience in that industry and in that sector. So it was a very quick understanding of what we’re going after, what that new product will be. Because it’s basically, it’s a twist to an already launched product on the platform.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So what tips would you have for someone, and I know the campaign hasn’t launched yet while we record this, but it’ll definitely be live when this goes out to the public, but what tips would you have for someone looking to develop a fashion item that blends sustainability into it?
Marin Gerov:
Well I think one of the best things to do first is to do your research. The thing is, I think the best thing we did from day one when we started working on DULO, is to keep a very open mind. I still remember our conversation before our first week of tours across Bulgaria when we were going to meet manufacturers and fabric wholesalers for the first time. And we just said, “Okay, like whatever happens now, we only benefit from that experience because we come in with a blank slate and we just get to learn. We get to understand a little bit more about the industry.”
Marin Gerov:
And I think that approach of keeping this open mind, led us very naturally to just being very observant, noticing some of the issues of the apparel industry at the moment. And realizing that well, by continuing to do what everybody else is doing, we’ll be part of the problem. So let’s try to move in a direction that eventually would take us in a place where there is absolutely no negative impact on the environment. And I really believe that that’s something that we are one step closer to that. We’re not there yet, but with that project, with that product, with that campaign, if everything goes according to plan and successful, that’s will drive us another step forward to do the next thing and the next iteration of that product and that idea.
Marin Gerov:
So I would just say, yeah, be very observant and try to learn as much as possible and see where we can improve things. Because yeah, a lot of people will tell you this is how you do things, and this is how we do things and how things should be done. But especially you have a big advantage, I think if you’re coming as an outsider to a very old and mature industry, because you can really come up with some disruptive thoughts. And try to push the boundaries quite a lot to your partners, to your manufacturers, to your sourcing partners as well. So there’s a lot that you can do even if you’re very small.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, gentlemen, this is going to get us into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. Since you both drew the short straw, we’re going to alternate here. So gentlemen, are you ready to go?
Marin Gerov:
Yep.
Julian S.:
Yep.
Roy Morejon:
All right. Julian, what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Julian S.:
Freedom.
Roy Morejon:
Marin, if you could meet with any entrepreneur, who would it be?
Marin Gerov:
Wow. Elon Musk.
Roy Morejon:
Musk. All right. What would have been your first question for him?
Marin Gerov:
What do you plan to do next?
Roy Morejon:
There you go. Julian, who did you look up to growing up as a kid?
Julian S.:
None. No one really. I just thought it would be interesting to see how far I can take myself.
Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. Marin, what book would you recommend to an upcoming startup or entrepreneur?
Marin Gerov:
Zero to One.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, good read. Julian, where do you see yourself in five years?
Julian S.:
A similar position I think, but a bit of a bigger scale and more experience.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. All right, last question. Marin, you got this one. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Marin Gerov:
I think it’s an open platform that’s going to have even more and more projects. More and more people will understand that actually they don’t need to go to VCs or any other funding or getting a loan. You can actually, if you have a good enough idea, you go on these crowdfunding platforms and really make a change because I think people really believe. And more people will go and support that and that will generate new generation of entrepreneurs, more people who are in control of their time, as Julian mentioned, in control of their freedom. And I think that’s what will ultimately lead to happier, healthier people and well, healthier planets hopefully.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. I hope that as well. Well gentlemen, this has been awesome. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check you out.
Marin Gerov:
Go ahead Julian.
Julian S.:
Yeah, just go to a Kickstarter and search for DULO, I guess. Hopefully, we are on the first page as well. If everything goes to plan. And search for DULO, the first sustainable performance dress shirt, we really put a lot of effort into that. We want to drive this performance market and performance fabrics to the next level. We want to make it super easy for you look fresh, to look super smart at the same time by limiting the negative impact that your clothing can have on the environment.
Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign and everything else we talked about today and of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the Gadget Flow and ProductHype. Julian, Marin, thank you so much for being on Art of the Kickstart today.
Julian S.:
Thank, Roy.
Marin Gerov:
Thank you very much, Roy.
Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it. And of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests and help you build a better business. If you need more hands on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.