Once, three friends in Kremenchuk decided to leave their jobs behind and start their own business. They set their minds to creating the perfect backpack. Less than a year later their own brand, Blackpack, had just appeared and they already had one large pre-order, sales going abroad and an active community of followers. They even took things a step further and registered on Kickstarter.
But before all this success, back when they were just starting out, as many of those who begin from a scratch do, they faced a lot of challenges. They started out with no followers or supporters, living on a tiny budget of buckwheat porridge for a month and getting kicked out of their workshop for overdue rent several times. But their determination to create the perfect backpack kept them working hard. And presently, their efforts were rewarded.
The First Backpack
The idea to create their very own brand came to Oleksandr Nachosa and Artem Svergun over 5 years ago. Oleksandr always wanted to create something with his own hands for a living. Initially they set about exercising their creative skills on T-shirts:
— Back then street brands were really growing in popularity. So our first idea was – let’s purchase some plain white T-shirts and freelance for street brands, drawing their designs and selling these shirts for them. As we entered that market we noticed that a lot of the guys selling these kinds of T-shirts were actually doing the sewing themselves. So we thought, if they can do it, why can’t we? We bought our first sewing machine, then a second one and things started to happen. Sewing became our routine work and it allowed us to create something, redesign it and come up with something new. It was a great feeling.
Throughout this time while working on another brand’s product, the guys dreamt about their own idea and creating something of their own. The understanding of what kind of product they wanted to make came gradually:
— There were lots of stages, lots of obstacles, between the time we started making clothing and the point where we decided to create our own actual backpack. Creating our own backpack was actually the next logical step, because we already had experience making backpacks for other brands but those were less complicated and less functional. However, throughout that time we wanted to have our own brand and to cut out obstacles like our client asking us to cheapen the product by cutting corners. These kinds of moments just deprived our work of any inspiration or pleasure.
In winter 2017, Oleksandr made his first own backpack model:
— It was the first one, and we tested it for 3-4 months. I carried it just like a bag for my computer and for my papers every day. I tried to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t. And sometime in May, we tried to fix the mistakes we discovered. So we fixed them, added the finishing touches and sold about 5-10 items.
It is always harder to create something from a scratch than to work on an existing idea. However, according to the guys, making the switch to creating something of your own is worth it:
— This backpack was an opportunity to put into it everything we liked and wanted, while calculating its value on the stage of design. The journey to creating our own independent product was pretty long but it’s cool that we focused on it and it worked out.
Reviews and feedback played a big role in Blackpack’s success. Thanks to reviews from their first customers, the team was able to change and improve the backpack to the version they present today. Their product evolved with experience. The first model had around 10-15 modifications:
— I still keep in touch with several of our first customers. It’s such a joy when somebody receives the backpack and says that it’s something outwardly, something cool and brings them pleasure. And you begin to understand that it was not for nothing to start it, make it and modify it.
However, there is no universal product that can be liked by everyone. Each person has their own criteria and evaluates the product accordingly, so the reviews can vary:
— There were people that said “How much for that??! The Chinese models are way cheaper! I would rather buy a cheaper one”. But on the other hand there were people who said they trust us and will try out our product. Then came reviews that were very uplifting and pleasantly surprising. Perhaps our main problem is that our backpack is not well marketed yet. For people who travel the world, a backpack is the best way to carry personal things. This backpack is not meant for everyday use in the city. We want to know the opinions of people that are looking for functional solutions. Our audience right now is a small percentage of Ukrainian travelers and a slightly higher percentage of people from more economically stable countries. That’s not a big number of people but according to their reviews, our efforts are not in vain.
Nowadays the Backpack team consists of Artem Svergun, Oleksandr Nachosa and Yuliya Berkelia:
— Our devoted assistant is Yuliya Sergiyivna. She is our peer and she is a strict and cool gal. On one hand, we would like to expand and hire more people but frankly the time for that hasn’t come yet and we are wary of the risk of our products not catching on if we take things too fast.
In a small team every member has their own area of responsibility, as Oleksandr says:
— Artem’s position is nicknamed “myrmidon”. He is responsible for cutting out the backpack elements, straps and zippers. I am responsible for the sewing and finding ways to implement various ideas. Yulia has similar responsibilities to mine: she sews and introduces her ideas. That’s an ideal tandem: I can sew and put elements together but I’m not good with structuring. So we complement each other.
The value of running your own business, according to Oleksandr, is the opportunity to be your own boss. It gives you freedom, even though it does not always give you confidence in your future:
— Today I have money to get home, and tomorrow I might have none. But we did our best, put in effort and that gave us not only pleasure but also an opportunity to invest money into new products and share information.
At the moment, Blackpack receives orders mostly from Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Estonia, and Canada. The team is very proud that the product is made exclusively in Ukraine:
— A Ukrainian product can match or even surpass the quality of the European market, where functionality and especially where price are concerned. However since our focus is on quality and functionality over price, our prices tend to be quite a bit closer to the European norm.
Blackpack pays a lot of attention to details. The functionality of every element is thought through completely. Artem jokes that there is even a whistle on their backpacks:
— In case you can’t whistle yourself, you have a whistle right here so you can catch your friends’ attention, like: “Come here!”. I am from Kremenchuk and many people whistle here, but I can’t.We’ve also added a spring hook. It’s not a usual spring hook, because you can open it even if you’re wearing welding gloves. Some spring hooks are so tough to use that you can break your fingers just trying to open them. But this one is not like that: you will be able to open it even in gloves and it’s still strong. There is also a water bottle pocket. If the bottle is tall, you can secure it. It’s pretty convenient for hitchhikers. We want to put a lot of care into this item that people will be travelling with. It’s always nice to hear back, and hear things like “my trip was fantastic thanks to you”. This backpack is not like just any other.
When the brand was just starting out, moving away from their old client base and starting everything from scratch did not come without a cost. Artem recollects:
— When everything began to move along, we were selling, we were sewing. And the realization hit us that there’s no turning back. As Oleksandr said, there’s a catch. When everything starts moving, there is no room for retreat.
Oleksandr explained how the financial challenges appeared:
— All of the initial difficulties were generated by work-related issues. The production was supported by subsidies. Our salaries were paid out not for the work being done, but for the fact that people were at work.
They could have panicked and given up on their dream, or asked themselves why they are pursuing all this, but they kept moving ahead:
— We got out of the rut the spring and now we’re financially stable and trying to gradually accumulate resources so that we can create a couple of workplaces and pay future employees a decent salary so that they don’t need to go looking for work in Poland, the Czech Republic or somewhere else, but can earn their living here. The saddest thing is when on my way home or when sitting in the park I hear people complaining that they are sick and tired of their boss at work and that their salaries are small. My mother works at a factory in Poland since she can’t earn her living in Ukraine because of her age. I really want people to have an opportunity to make money here doing what they love and what they want. I want them to come to work and to say that they like their environment. I want them to leave work and to come to work with happy faces. That’s the first and foremost thing I want to achieve.
Artem confesses that there are a lot of things they would like to change in Ukraine. Through their own example they are proving that such change is possible:
— There is one bad trait in people that is planted into their heads since childhood: somebody always owes them something. It’s annoying that we have a real mess in Ukraine and I’m not willing to wait for a magician to come shower everyone with candy and promise that everything will be great. I want to create my own reality myself, because if don’t do it, who will? We are responsible for ourselves and for our country. When we stop this herd mentality of moaning and complaining, and accusing everyone but ourselves – then our lives will improve. Our lives will improve when everyone takes on responsibility.
The Blackpack team believes that great things have small beginnings. While investing their energy and finances into their own business, Artem, Sashko and Yulia never forget to help others. They are setting an example for big enterprises:
— It’s simple: kill the dragon – save the princess. Our backpacks sell, so it’s not difficult to take some initiative, like buying a couple of diaper boxes and taking them to an orphanage. It’s humane. It’s how you can jump-start a better future for those children. If a small company of three people, like us, can do this, then large companies are capable of much bigger things. And we will continue putting in effort to show the way for others and to inspire others to put in some effort themselves.
Artem says that if a dream has its foundations in something bigger and more meaningful – only then does it hold sense – because money is volatile. In order to implement ideas one should also be efficient in setting goals:
— If you want to do 100 pushups, and you can’t even do one yet but you still have this goal, then you have to start slow and work your way up: first practice half push-ups, then you will be able to do one full push-up. If you don’t give up, with time you will be able to do 100 reps. In terms of your own business, if you think from the standpoint of profit and you want to make a bag and make a million on it, it is going to be a complete flop. But when your idea presupposes a greater goal, when you want to make this world a better place, then your idea is worthy. For instance, if you dream about getting a bicycle, this bicycle is your final goal. So you get it and then what? You start looking for another goal. But when you dream about a round-the-world trip on a bicycle, then the bicycle is just one element of a much bigger dream. When people are willing to broaden their consciousness then they will succeed.
The guys are sure that there are lots of talented people in Ukraine that are simply afraid to take the risk and start their own business:
— There are people who are truly skilled but are afraid that they don’t have enough money to make a business out of their skills. They have no idea how much money they actually need to start a business because they haven’t even tried. But right away they imagine that they will need a million dollars. And everyone is so greedy with their time and ideas, afraid to share advice with others. We’ve had moments where we asked people for advice and they flat out said they wouldn’t help. When you have some experience, when you’re strong, then teach others to be strong as well. Healthy competition results in healthy business.
As for the idea for their brand name and the names of their different models, the guys say they appeared spontaneously:
— We didn’t pick it, it picked us. The backpack model Franken is named after Frankenstein. It has a waist pack on its top, it’s a cobbled together backpack. Our waist bag is called ATB, just like the chain of supermarkets in Ukraine. It’s named like that because it replaces the need for a plastic shopping bag in a supermarket. We’re trying to come up with a better acronym for it so ATB supermarkets don’t find out and complain. Unless they decide to sell our backpacks, of course.
The Blackpack team has a healthy attitude towards competition and believes that every Jack has his Jill, so they don’t worry about such things:
— I don’t understand this word. Competition is when we compete in a 100-meter sprint. That can be called competition: the one who crosses the finish line first is the winner. In our business, it’s not about the competition.
Nowadays having very different experience, the team is set for development:
— We will be the first Ukrainian company, creating backpacks, that will become famous worldwide and will become the world brand. I think we can achieve it. If EastPak were able to do it, we have high chances to do it too. We just don’t need anyone to put a spoke in our wheel when we are close to our goal.
At this stage the guys dream about a decent salary for their employees and good work conditions. The feeling that they’re doing solid, valuable work is what drives them and makes their life better:
— We don’t have a wild dream to sail the ocean on a 180 million yacht or things like that. We want to live a simple life and to give a big number of people an opportunity to live а simple, comfortable life. The more people are satisfied the better the world gets. Of course there will always be unhappy people, the ones that lack something. But there will be a sufficient number of happy people and that’s what matters.
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