FUBUKI - The story behind the brand
If you’ve seen FUBUKI boots in the wild, you remember them. Maybe the bright orange (or pink, or blue, or yellow!) caught your eye. Perhaps you were shocked by the wearer’s impossibly light footsteps - are those winter boots or slippers?? Maybe you just thought the penguin logo was cute. Us too.
You’re here because you’ve seen our boots. This is the story of everything you don’t see. No marketing gimmicks; just a true story. So kick your boots off and stay awhile. Or don’t - it’s natural to never want to take them off.
FUBUKI™ was conceived in Niseko, Japan, founded by Swedes, and cultivated by an international snow-loving community. With its global acclaim from professionals and amateurs alike in the snowsports industry, it frequently comes as a surprise to know the company is still operated by its founders, Kalle Norman and Christofer Ljunggren.
And no, it’s not just corporately managed by these two. The 26-year-old (at the time of writing) Swedish friends since childhood handle everything, from designing new products to managing partnerships to handling the accounting to marketing to customer service to… you get the point.
Before Kalle found himself stacking pallets of boots in his student apartment, he took a ski trip to one of the snowiest places on Earth: Hokkaido, Japan. In fact, the Japanese language uses over 100 words to describe snow. FUBUKI translates to snowstorm, and it’s fitting that, on a stormy day while skiing overhead pow, Kalle discovered the unique, unbranded, waterproof winter boots that all the lifties and locals wore.
This was the humble origin of FUBUKI, though the company nor the name did not yet exist. Since the company’s inception, the boots have been designed for people who spend their entire day, and often a greater portion of their lives, on snow. And hidden in plain sight, on the feet of every down-to-earth local in the snowiest place on the planet, stood two fundamental tenets that would shape FUBUKI:
- Durable, warm, waterproof boots should not be boring.
- Durable, warm, waterproof boots should not be heavy.
Kalle picked up several pairs of the orange, lightweight, working man’s boots at a small, unassuming shop just outside of Niseko and returned to Stockholm, unaware of the stir his discovery would cause.
Kalle’s ten minute walk to campus caused countless people to take note of his boots. On top of that, his father simply commandeered a pair as his own. It was abundantly clear that everyone Kalle met wanted a pair, a realization that left him with no choice. He quickly tracked down the distributor and eventually the factory manufacturing the boots in Japan. Shortly after doing so, he put in an order for no less than one hundred pairs. Perhaps the only person not immediately stoked on the boots was his girlfriend, whom he shared a 30-square-meter apartment with, and whose “third roommate” quickly became 10 square meters of boot backstock.
Kalle sold limited sizes of the unbranded boots at local markets, but it was his best friend, Christofer Ljunggren, who, two years later, recognized the potential of the budding enterprise as a creative outlet for his passion for design and branding. Although being full-time students (in two different cities), the friends struck a partnership and began to lay out the foundational building blocks of the venture. With Christofer behind the creative helm directing an articulately crafted brand identity, and Kalle managing the numbers, the company was ready to take on the market.
FUBUKI officially launched in 2019 and immediately had to grapple with two serious roadblocks, neither of which could’ve been foreseen. First, a typhoon flooded the facility in Fukuyama (Japan) that manufactured the boots. Fortunately, the factory, which had no plans to rebuild or continue making the boots, released the design sketches to Christofer and Kalle. This silver lining enabled the two founders to tweak the drawings and contract a new manufacturer to construct the boots according to their own specific measurements and details.
The 100 pairs of boots Kalle originally imported grew to a limited size run of 1,100 newly-designed, FUBUKI-branded pairs, and it seemed the company was well on its way. But then the Covid-19 Pandemic hit and everything temporarily halted. With global markets and supply chains at a standstill, the two founders were forced to take corporate jobs while simultaneously attempting to keep their newly launched business afloat.
While things looked bleak in the early months of the pandemic, news of the boots was percolating just below the surface in ski towns around the world. A few well-known athletes and photographers were seen wearing the fun, funky, colorful boots, and mountain communities took notice.
Soon, Christofer began fielding more calls for FUBUKI than for his day job while at his corporate office. It became clear that FUBUKI was no longer a side hustle, but the founders’ full-time commitment. In 2021, FUBUKI manufactured 10,000 pairs - they sold out before the end of the season. In 2022, they more than doubled that, and plan to double again the following season. Today, FUBUKI is sold in more than 120 stores across 13 countries.
However, Kalle and Christofer are not PowerPoint people (there’s a reason they launched a boot company rather than pursuing jobs in the finance world after business school). FUBUKI is a tangible outlet, growing and challenging them every day, that connects the two friends to the soul of the outdoor industry and enables them to work and live within the global mountain community. Kalle and Christofer are entrepreneurs, creatives, and small business owners; but first and foremost, they are skiers.
FUBUKI was designed as an alternative for the snow-loving community. Skiers have long been irreverent nonconformists. Lovers of FUBUKI around the world continue to shape and cultivate a culture around the colorful boots - one that’s fluid, unconventional, and celebrates personal expression and interpretation.
In a world where tough and resistant so often means rigid and boring, FUBUKI represents an off-piste path for those who confidently carve their own tracks on winter’s blank canvas.
Matthew Tufts, Journalist & Photographer