As investors, we can fall in love with a startup for various reasons. Usually, it’s founder experience and traction that are the most compelling. Sometimes, a very promising market opportunity. But every now and then you get the chance to work with a founder team that has a unique sense of product, with a cult following and a killer brand. Here at Vitosha, we found such a gem in Arctic Fox.
Passion is what best describes the main ingredient of the activewear apparel startup that was first founded over 10 years ago by brothers Hristo and Dimo Petkov. The two brother founders had been part of the nascent Sofia youth culture sports scene during the wild years after communism collapsed in this part of Europe, first as skaters in their teenage years in the 1990s, and later with snowboarding as young adults in the early 2000s.
According to Hristo, skating and snowboarding in those days were a gathering place of young people who wanted to be different. “Under communism, we were all supposed to be the same, and when the 1990s arrived, the only way to fit in with the cool kids as a teenager was to wear expensive brand clothes. My brother and I didn’t have that kind of money, and we quickly discovered that in the snowboarding community, we could be ourselves without the need to conform to what other people think. We could be free”,
As Hristo describes it today, it’s that wild sense of freedom that they experienced as teenagers, which later translated into the appreciation of being yourself as a life philosophy, that laid the basis of the first apparel brand the brothers launched, under the name Stinky. “We were looking for a brand name that would make sense both in English and in Bulgarian, being catchy in both languages. That’s how we came up with Stinky Socks, which obviously sounds fun and playful in English, while in Bulgarian the word is used as a slang term for “pennies”.
After working for several years as distributors of global snowboarding brands in Bulgaria, Hristo and Dimo got skilled in marketing and positioning products and decided to try a hand at launching their own. “We wanted to create something that’s much more than a simple product”, says Hristo. “A sock is definitely a simple product, but for us, it’s a way to symbolize that you’re part of a family”, he adds. “We found a way for our customers to express their identity through wearing Stinky Socks”.
Launched properly as a business in 2011, Stinky Socks’ hundreds of quirky designs have earned the brothers a cult following around the world. With distribution in 20 countries, in hundreds of retail locations, the company has sold hundreds of thousands of pairs to avid snowboarders and fans alike. By 2019, Hristo and Dimo started thinking about expanding the offering, with new product lines, upgraded operations, and making inroads into more premium segments. That’s how Arctic Fox was born, right around the time our team at Vitosha first met Hristo and Dimo in early 2020.
With Arctic Fox, the team has big plans, backed by our investment from Vitosha. Doubling the production volumes, placing all the activities under the new Arctic Fox mother company, and adding new products from finer materials that will be branded as Arctic Fox, Stinky’s premium next-level sibling. As the company’s CEO, Hristo is hard at work this summer to launch a deal with one of the top global retail brands, which will see Arctic Fox’s products in the brand’s retail locations at nearly all top resort locations next season.
According to Hristo and Dimo, the success of Stinky and Arctic Fox is not so much in the products of the company, but in the ideas behind it. It’s all about the message the product stands for and the way it makes people feel. Arctic Fox’s products have been built by and for a community, which the company likes to call a family; they even shot a 30-minute documentary about the Stinky Family that you can watch here. And as the family grows, so do the products and the business. “At Stinky and Arctic Fox, our core idea is that you can always be yourself”, says Hristo. “Our products are for people who identify with that, and together with the great designs and unbeatable quality, this is the reason people buy them. There’s a big market for this selling proposition, and with Arctic Fox we intend to take a sizable part of that market”.