As someone who recently turned 40, I’m beginning to notice how certain things that I remember from my early years as modern and cutting-edge, have become old and outdated. Things like catalytic converters on cars, plastic wrapping and re-wrapping of everything and anything, and throwaway tech products, like disposable cameras and contact lenses. If anything, the past 30 years have completely changed the way we think about our carbon footprint, and we no longer aim for innovations that increase convenience at the expense of the environment and cause extra pollution.
There are some areas of our lives, however, where the idea of manufacturing and selling more disposable items that will be used a limited number of times, is still the core business model. Take toys, baby clothes, and other items for babies, toddlers, and children. Every time I get invited to a children’s birthday party, I am astounded at the abundance and sophistication of the toys and books they get as gifts. Perhaps even more, I’m shocked by the attention span these gifts receive. I remember how my nephew got a toy dump truck for his fourth birthday, about the same size as he was himself at the time. The truck had flashing lights, buttons to operate the dumper, driver and technician dolls that could be put on the seats or folded out outside, and a set of cones and signs to recreate a building site. Just as I started reflecting on how such a toy would’ve been a major highlight of my life at that age, had it been mine at the time, my nephew played with it for about five minutes, and put it away, moving on to the next of 30 or so presents he received that day.
It turns out, unsurprisingly, that I’m not the only one thinking that the way we consume as parents and caregivers of children could be improved. Boryana Levterova and Ivan Dimitrov, a young Sofia couple, found themselves living in Canada about a decade ago, where they enjoyed promising careers in software development and business consulting. When their first child was born, they got introduced to the idea of toy libraries, popular in Canada, where communities run local exchanges for baby items and toddler toys. When Boryana and Ivan found themselves back in Sofia a few years later, awaiting the birth of their second child, they decided they wanted to focus on building a solution for the problem of parenting item clutter.
“The pandemic had just begun, our second kid was on the way, and we just had this mental image of being squeezed out of our house by all the baby stuff we’re going to get, in addition to all the things we already had for our four-year-old”, says Boryana. “One thing few people realize”, adds Ivan, “is that the toy industry is the single most polluting one, when measured by plastic output per $1m of revenue. It takes a staggering 40 tons of plastic to generate a million in revenue with toys”.
Inspired by the experience in Canada, and the launch of a company in the UK in the same field, Boryana and Ivan decided to launch their own startup next to their work-from-home pandemic-era corporate jobs: a rental service for baby, toddler, and pre-school toys and books, called Infinity Toy Box.
Starting out small, Boryana and Ivan curated a list of oft-looked-for items, helped in the curation by their own two kids, and launched an online rental platform for the local market in Sofia in 2021. Fast-forward to today, the company is showing impressive traction, with over 250% in revenue growth in 2023, and a steadily expanding footprint in Bulgaria. “One thing we’re particularly proud of”, says Boryana, “is our churn rate. I was responsible for sales with a large company in a similar space before starting Infinity Toy Box, and I know how notoriously hard it is to hold on to clients in the baby and kids domain. With Infinity, we still have hundreds of customers who are with us from the beginning, and whose kids grow up, but they keep coming back for renting out new items that correspond to their kids’ age”.
In 2024, a year into our investment into Infinity Toy Box with Vitosha, the company is moving fast, and has big plans for the future. Having successfully launched their own warehouse and logistics operations last year, as well as monthly subscription plans, the company is negotiating a partnership with a major international retailer, on track for unveiling later this year.
“The thing with sustainability in toys and kids’ stuff is that it’s not just nice-to-have. In many other areas of life, you don’t actually personally feel the negatives of consumption-led pollution. If you drive a heavy car with a diesel engine, you’re enjoying comfort at the expense of others’, says Boryana. “But with toys, a cluttered house full of things used a few times and then thrown away or left lingering, is actually psychologically heavy and unhealthy. We believe it’s high time that circular economy methods address this, and we believe that Infinity Toy Box can grow into a defining solution for this problem not only in Bulgaria, but beyond”.