The key area in which Arctic Explorer has been working since 2013 is outerwear. Parks can withstand extremely low temperatures, but at the same time they fit perfectly into the urban wardrobe. We asked the founders of the brand about the problems they had to face at the beginning of the journey, why they sew jackets only in Russia, what you need to be prepared for when entering the Japanese market, and, of course, what Ksenia's father Artur Chilingarov thinks about Arctic Explorer, a scientist and explorer of Antarctica and the Arctic, whose story is at the heart of the brand.
About the North Pole
Ksenia Chilingarova: I first went to the North Pole when I was 30. You know, it's like being in space: you find yourself on another planet. From a world filled with phones, gadgets, noise and din, endless meetings and traffic jams, you are transported to a place where there is nobody and nothing. It’s scary, but mesmerizingly scary. At first you do not understand anything: everything is white, ringing silence. But at some point, an unearthly beauty opens up to the eyes. White space begins to breathe, move. The wind spreads over the snow, moving all the space around. The snow is different from what we are accustomed to: it is very dense, you cannot fall under it. You walk, and under you is an ice floe, and under it is the ocean. This is an amazing sensation, an amazing energy that changes you. Everyone who comes there wants to return. This trip turned everything in my life upside down. In some mystical way for me, she dotted all the i's.
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About brand launch
K. Ch.: I have always felt that I was living in a hero's family. In the sense that dad is an absolute romantic, Soviet Indiana Jones, who traveled a lot, conquered some unknown corners of our planet. It's so rare. In life, everyone wants to be lawyers, lawyers, businessmen. I really wanted to understand - who is my dad, what kind of person he is.
Returning home from the North Pole, I met with my friend, current partner Anatoly. I was wearing a polar jacket and he liked it. The idea to launch a brand was born spontaneously. I understood that I knew nothing about business. By education, I am generally an international journalist, and, of course, I was lucky that Anatoly had a financial background: he worked in the banking sector for many years. Otherwise, it would be very difficult for me to figure it out.
I remember we agreed that we were starting a business, but at the same time we did everything ourselves: we figure out what retail and patterns are, how down jackets are made, and so on. I plunged into a new sphere for myself. When the first order from Tsvetnoy came, we didn't even know what an invoice was! They looked at each other and realized that they had heard about this only in films. But nothing, they opened Google, started to figure it out. Anatoly had a warehouse at home.
It is clear that due to inexperience we had problems, we could not launch the site for a long time, we made some absolutely unnecessary expenses. However, of course, many people helped us a lot, supported us. Even when there was a problem with the site and we realized that we were deceived, a man appeared who offered to fix everything for our one jacket: his wife was in a position and really wanted her. The site, by the way, is still working. So many things happened with us. For the first lookbook, I also paid off with stylists and photographers with jackets.
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Name and alternatives
K. Ch.: At first we thought to name the brand “Russian Polar Explorer”. But this somehow did not get along with his idea, the history of a person, a researcher. Even when we chose the final name - Arctic Explorer Russian North, there were doubts: those around us assured that it was difficult for both Russians and foreigners to perceive it. Especially everyone clung to the end of the Russian North.
We were advised to abandon the word Russian: supposedly abroad because of it, no one would buy jackets. We felt real pressure. It's good that at that moment Anatoly insisted on his own. This is a geographical name, it was, is and will always be. The North is a huge part of the country associated with the history of my family, Russia, researchers. People often ask me: how our jackets differ from jackets of other brands. You know, there are a lot of technical details, I can start to tell you that Arctic Explorer has magnets, Parajumpers have buttons, Arctic Explorer has a double hood, and Canada Goose does not. In fact, our main difference is that we are Russians, which is spelled out in our name: Russian North. In fact, we are the only brand that operates in this segment and offers excellent outerwear for the city. At the last Pitti Uomo, an American distributor came to us, with whom we are already negotiating. I asked him if he was embarrassed by the “Russian North”. And no, not once! On the contrary, he said it was cool.
Comparison with other brands
K. Ch.: When we were creating the brand, we perfectly understood that we were similar to certain brands, we knew with whom they would compare us. We were often told: we see your jackets on the street, it's so cool. You probably have a huge production there. People didn't realize they were seeing things from other brands. There was an effect of mass insanity: it seems like everyone around has Arctic Explorer parks, which means you also need to buy.
At first I was very worried, but Anatoly reminded me of the history of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Essentially, they are the same product. Each company entered the market trying to take customers away from each other. The corporate colors, font, shape of the bottle and the can are almost identical. When we got up with our jackets at TSUM, I specifically asked that our things be placed next to Canada Goose so that the buyer had a choice. The price for the parks is the same, the quality - Canadian or Russian - is also on the same level. Someone loves Pepsi, and someone Coca-Cola. This is a choice, it should always be.
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About the father and his relationship to the brand
K. Ch.: At first, dad reacted skeptically: “Down jackets? Business? Seriously?! Get married, have children. At first, he basically called the jackets either polar explorers or icebreakers. I didn't wear it myself, but at some point I realized that the brand was not a toy for me, and became our viral marketer: I began to give jackets to my friends, friends. When he already began to receive feedback that things were cool, he gradually began to thaw, made sure that we were doing something worthwhile. January 27 was the anniversary of the lifting of the blockade, and dad was a blockade, and so he went to St. Petersburg for a ceremony, where he finally agreed to take our jacket.
Much has changed in recent years. I think he was extremely pleased that when we entered the Japanese market, we were given a meeting at the Russian embassy in Tokyo. And the Japanese, for whom traditions and family are very important, devoted most of the event to my dad, he knew about it. Dad is a harsh person, I think he is proud, but as a true polar explorer he hides his emotions and does not communicate his feelings.
K. Ch.: Now we have about 15 actual models of jackets, and I believe that this is enough for now. We generally treat the sales of jackets like cars: every three years, restyling. The jacket must be wearable and functional. All. When we launch a new model, we test it first on ourselves, on our friends. We look at how the sample behaves, and figure out whether the model will be commercially successful or not. With the latter, by the way, you can't guess at all: sometimes buyers say that the jacket will not be on sale, and then it turns out that it is a bestseller.
Anatoly Tsoir: People buy what is convenient for them. Our clients want to look cool and fashionable, but at the same time so that the clothes are functional and comfortable. A young mother, of course, can take a picture [in winter] at Balenciaga on Patriarch's, but how far will she go with a stroller and a baby? Except for the car.
K. Ch.: Age also plays a certain role. I can no longer walk with bare ankles in the cold. The question is: I want it to be both warm and cool, and here not only the model is very important, but also how and with what it can be worn. For example, we have the Mir jacket. It seemed to us that it would be a very youthful thing, but today a man who is about 50 years old called me and said that this is the best model of all.
A. Ts.: Because she looks brutal.
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About the names of jackets
K. Ch.: We have what other brands do not have, what our potential partner from America noted: there is the story of a specific person, a family. These jackets are like children to me, they have names, many of which are associated with something personal. It's all about sensations. You can buy just convenience, or you can buy something more.
A. Ts.: For example, Mir is an underwater research vessel on which Artur Chilingarov dived to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and planted the flag of our country there. Now we have a new model, insanely popular in Japan - "Spetsnaz". There are models "Beluga", "Fan". The name of the latter arose after the European Football Championship, when there were some fights. We jokingly figured that if we have to fight in the winter, then let it be at least warm. There is a model dedicated to the beloved polar explorers who are waiting for them. We decided to add an element of romance. In general, it's a lot of fun to come up with names, it amuses us.
About Pitti Uomo
K. Ch.: This was our first experience, and the decision to go was difficult. I believe that Pitti is an important point in the history of the brand, it is an international exhibition. There are many cool young and well-established brands nearby, I have not seen so many anywhere else. For the fashion world, this is really a very important event. People saw the inscription Made in Russia, approached and asked if it was true? Geographical affiliation clung to it. There was a lot of feedback from the press: we are new players - it's always interesting.
When it comes to working with buyers, this is not the best place. Purchases still take place in showrooms, where people come and calmly place an order. Nevertheless, we met new clients from Colombia and India at Pitti. The Beluga model was especially popular because it has an unusual shape. She will appear in Russia next season.
Participation in Pitti Uomo is also a very important story for existing foreign clients like the Japanese. From a PR and marketing point of view, it works great. For example, the editor of the Italian GQ came to us and talked with me for an hour, saying that our story is cool and that such texture is sorely lacking. Everyone is tired of writing about Moncler and Woolrich. In general, I think the effect of Pitti will be clear only in six months, this is a cumulative process.
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K. Ch.: Recently, in our Instagram account, they complained to me that our jackets have an inadequate price (from 30 to 70 thousand rubles -). To which I replied: "You are absolutely right, they should be even more expensive."
A. Ts.: Unfortunately, people do not understand at all what determines the price. The production may be Russian, but all the components are not. Nobody pays attention to the markup that the retailer sets.
K. Ch.: Or, for example, that distributors take their own interest, that there is a team and you have to pay it a salary, that financing in our country is a separate headache. We pay a lot of duties to send jackets abroad, we pay for unloading, logistics. And I initially rate the history of my family and everything behind the brand, much higher than some mass market. Everyone thinks: “What is a down jacket?”, But this is meticulous work. One model contains 99 parts and a huge number of components that take a lot of time to deliver; our production process is very long - almost six months.
K. Ch.: The same difficulties are always associated with production. There are a lot of risks with China. There is a possibility that your trademark will be stolen and your product will be massively counterfeited: this happens all the time. There is no guarantee that production in another country will be better or cheaper. The most important thing in this matter is a manager, a person who understands employees, speaks the same language with them, knows what purchases are, how to arrange them, how to draw up a contract so that everything is correct.
You can't call production and say that you have a drawn collection on your hands, here are the templates, sew. Never before have I received a perfectly tailored jacket the first time. Typically a minimum of 3-4 samples are required.
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A. Ts.: Our Japanese distributor is Mitsui, one of the largest in the world. Somehow they sent us an e-mail, retroactively, in which they said that in a batch of 3000 units, two had found some kind of minor defect. At first we could not understand how they found this, but it turned out that every jacket is X-rayed. We had no idea about such things, did not think that our jackets could successfully pass Japanese X-rays. This, of course, is a high mark.
K. Ch. : We sew most of the jackets in Yaroslavl, where we have a partner proven over the years. I want to emphasize that there are professionals, there are people you can trust, with whom you can work. Many factory employees are often not serious about designers. They understand that they speak different languages to them. It is necessary to show your professionalism, to be well versed in the intricacies, to fulfill and demand, then the attitude will be appropriate.
About points of sale
A. Ts.: We scrupulously choose where we will sell our things. Now we can only be glad that sales began with Tsvetnoy, the first store that drew attention to our brand. Two years later, we began to work with TSUM, whose team actively helped us. Largely thanks to TSUM, we have grown very much. And, of course, my favorite Brandshop played its part. Now we are sold in the "Section" in GUM. In St. Petersburg, we are represented so far only in DLT, which I, as a person from St. Petersburg, consider the coolest store in the city. We are definitely not ready to get into questionable shopping centers.
K. Ch.: Another our favorite city is Yakutsk, where the temperature in winter is below minus 50 degrees. In Yakutsk, a jacket is not a matter of choice: to wear it or not. It is a basic necessity and in fact the only fashion item that can be allowed in extremely low temperatures. There, by the way, colors are very important, people do not dwell on black, they want red, blue. In Moscow, everyone is very conservative: blue, gray, black.
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About overseas market
A. Ts.: We entered the Japanese market in test mode back in 2017, and massively this year. We have completely redrawn our line for them. Not everyone will accomplish such a feat! Say, we will change the patterns for your Japanese. And we did everything in just a month and a half. Today, there is an incredible interest in us all over the world. We are currently negotiating with South Korea and North America. Now I will come to the office and write to the distributor from Colombia. We also have clients from Latin America - Chile, Argentina. It sounds strange, but they go skiing, go to mountain resorts, they need quality clothes for such leisure. Buyers from the USA, India, China are interested.
China doesn't just want our parks. When their potential distributors came to us, we realized that we were presenting something special for them. We do not sew there, we will bring something from Russia, what has been done on our territory. So many people at first reproached us: “What kind of production in Russia ?! What "Russian North" ?! Sew everything in China."
K. Ch.: Russians are embarrassed to be Russian. Why? I dont know. Maybe this is a complex of Soviet times. Although we have a lot of reasons to be proud. I am proud that the jackets are made in Russia and that the quality of the product is perfect.
Once upon a time an authoritative American marketer came to MGIMO and said a brilliant thing: in the USA they learned how to beautifully pack any slag. They know how to sell, how to work with celebrities, what marketing leverage to use. In Russia - a cool product, but for some reason in a tank cover. To be honest, sometimes it hurts to tears that foreigners believe in the brand more than their compatriots. For example, we are currently working with the Swiss ski resort of Crans-Montana.
A. Ts.: Where every year the Women's Ski Cup is held. It's so funny: how much we talked with Rosa Khutor - and everything stands still.>