We care about the comfort of the people, but we also care about our planet.
As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Witting.
Dan is a Co-Founder of Baabuk with his wife, Galina. Originally from Germany, Dan studied at Information System at EPFL, the renowned Swiss research institute. He started his career as a consultant, then joining a multinational company where he worked in IT systems and marketing. He left his career to start Baabuk, where he currently manages R&D, supply chain, and production.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The inspiration came from the traditional Valenki boots which has been used in Siberia for centuries to withstand the cold Siberian winter. The product is extremely technical and can control the temperature between +20 to -40 degree. It’s made from wool, water and soap: Renewable, fossil free, and no harm to the animal.
Before Baabuk, we were both working for big multinational companies. We were very good at executing and following orders. But there was no 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 to see myself still doing the same boring job without any meaning until the end of my professional career.
We started with Baabuk in our kitchen felting the first pairs by hand. The positive feedback from friends, families and retailers motivates us to do the jump and create a business out of it.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
With Baabuk, we wanted to create something for the future. A responsible product good for the planet, good for you.
Since the early days at Baabuk, we realized that making a shoe goes beyond just design and production. It’s about making products that respects people, our environment, and society. We develop every product with a purpose and we always aim to give back what we take.
We created our own workshop in Nepal to control the production process. We work with a rural area in Portugal inside a national park to bring back a lost heritage and create local employment. We work with disabled people to manage our warehouse in Switzerland …. these are just a few of the actions we do to keep that promise
We care about the comfort of the people, but we also care about our planet.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
In our workshop in Nepal, we use a very old ancient technique to make the shoes which goes back over 200 years. We use water, soap and water and skilled resources. The electricity we use is as low what you use in a regular household. We recycle as much of the water and wool as we can.
For shipping from the production to our warehouse, we opted to use passenger airplanes that also carry cargo. And then, we pack the shoes in wrap to reduce the overall volume and space used. We check the quality in our warehouse with disabled people and repack them in shoe boxes.
When we ship the shoes from the warehouse to our customers, we do not pack the shoes in other boxes. We are sending them in the original shoe box. It reduced useless packaging and shipping volume.
For the materials we use, we use mainly renewable or recycled materials such as wool fibers and natural latex.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The end game is not to produce more in the world but to give the customer a choice to choose from. I believe that if customers have the choice to choose between 2 products: one that is made with unethical materials, in poor working conditions and low quality and one made sustainable and environmental conscious, the customer will choose the sustainable product.
With time, these small businesses will take business away from big brands.
In summary, the idea behind is to switch and not to produce more.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
I am not sure if the right question is what parents should do, or if it is what kids should do to educate the parents.
What I see is that young generations already have the right understanding and right focus. It is the parents who don’t put the right focus in their education. And that starts with the buying behavior.
Why do parents always need to buy plastic bottles, when you can drink tap water , install a water filter at home or in the worst case, use glass bottles.
Most kids have too many toys and parents continue to buy more. Why do they do that?
My kids have more clothes than my wife and myself combined. And we are not often buying new clothes, but their grandparents do that. We have a difficult time explaining to our parents to stop buying.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The list is endless of people who helped us along our journey. Maybe it’s important to notice that we have been bootstrapped since the beginning and had no external financial support. Maybe we are not as known as any other investment start-ups but on the other side, we are true to our value, customers and planet.
One person in particular who helped since we started our business is Carlos. Carlos is a retired shoemaker who I met in Portugal. I met him in 2014 during a factory visit. When we opened our workshop in Nepal, i was looking for a help from a shoemaker to train the new staff in Nepal. I thought about Carlos and somebody gave me his number.
He was immediately interested in the project. One week later he was on a plane to Nepal for three months to set up a new workshop in a culture he did not know and a language he did not speak. Carlos does speak very broken English. He became a true friend over the years. Every time, i need his help, he is there for us.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I prefer to inspire by doing — leading by example.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Penny is an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. She’s worked as a climate scientist, an environmental planner, and a wilderness park ranger. Motivated by a passion to raise a generation of environmental leaders, in 2010 Penny founded Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with convenient and eco-friendly STEAM activities. Today, it’s become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide that have exposed a generation to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability. Penny, her husband Jeff, and her children Rowan and Declan live together in San Diego, California. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Management and an M.S. in Environmental Science. Penny has over 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, management, strategy and finance. She’s a seasoned leader, an inspiring speaker, an encouraging business mentor, and a creative writer. You can learn more about Green Kid Crafts at https://www.greenkidcrafts.com/ and follow Penny’s stories and updates at https://www.instagram.com/greenkidcrafts/ and https://twitter.com/bauderpenny.