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From importing boxes of slide sandals from China via the Trans-Siberian Railway, to selling 15 mln products a year, to starting almost from the beginning with e-commerce and Progressive Web Apps technology. The story of Kubota is impressive, colorful and inspiring.

It all happened a long time ago. These were the times when Michael Schumacher won his first Formula 1 world title. Michael Jordan retired for the first time. The first PlayStation console was presented. The Lion King and Pulp Fiction were being screened in theaters. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa. Poland made their Eurovision Song Contest debut, represented by Edyta Górniak, with the song “To nie ja!”, for which she got second place. The author of this article was only 7 years old. It all happened in 1994.

Wiesław Michalski during his stay in China in 1994
Wiesław Michalski during his stay in China in 1994

At the same time, twenty-something-year-olds Dorota and Wiesław Michalski, the founders of the future Kubota brand, worked in Western Europe. They planned to travel the world some more. China was on the top of their list. When the opportunity came to visit this country, they took advantage of it.

“While in China, they noticed that there are products for which there will certainly be demand in economically and socially reborn Poland. That’s when they came up with the idea to bring slide sandals to the country”

Joanna Kwiatkowska from Kubota Wear

This is how the Kubota story began – a story which changed Poland.

Business powered by the Trans-Siberian Railway

In the ‘90s, the business reality in Poland was completely different than now. The economy was in bad condition, the unemployment rate was high, salaries low. There were no big shopping malls with many popular brands like Adidas or Nike. Just a few years after the fall of communism in Poland, it was not easy to live here and do business here.

Dorota Michalska during one of her business trips to China
Dorota Michalska during one of her business trips to China

On the other hand, this special situation created opportunities for some. At that time, there was no customs, no specific regulations regarding commercial law and foreign trade. Importing products from abroad was very easy. It all worked similarly to buying on the domestic market. 

Archive photo from one of the trips to China in the mid-90s
Archive photo from one of the trips to China in the mid-90s

The biggest obstacle was transportation. The first deliveries were very small. The owners personally brought Kubota slide sandals in cartons, riding thousands of kilometers on the Trans-Siberian Railway through the vast steppes of Mongolia, across the USSR, all the way to Poland. The trip lasted about two weeks one way. It wasn’t easy, but it worked. 

Archive photo from one of the trips to China in the mid-90s

In those days, each passenger had individual luggage restrictions limiting how much he could take with him. In international law, there was no concept as a corporate or business import. Each time, Wiesław had to bribe some fellow passengers in order to convince them to pack a few pairs of slippers in their luggage. He and Dorota had to show great personal charm. Usually, Wiesław came back with a lot of new friends. When the scale of the business began to expand, the owners decided to use other methods of transport. First, it was a ship, then cargo rails, and finally planes.

In the mid-90s, probably half of Polish citizens had a pair of Kubota slide sandals

Kubota sold about 15 million slide sandals a year in the mid-90s. This means that approximately half of all Polish citizens had some Kubota slide sandals. It’s even more impressive when you know that the company produced only one simple model, available only in black. Additional versions in several other colors were on their way. Over the next few years, millions of Poles went crazy for cheap and comfortable Kubota slide sandals. Everybody could afford them. They were available in most shops. Kubota slippers were, for a while, almost the national footwear in Poland.

The first Kubota warehouse in Poland
The first Kubota warehouse in Poland

Over time, the world’s largest global brands such as Nike or Adidas entered the Polish market. They offered attractive, competitive products at good prices. Sales and availability of Kubota flip-flops fell. Although sales remained stable for some time, in the end, Kubota almost disappeared from the market.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Kubota has become the object of many memes, jokes, and memories from the ‘90s. Kubota slide sandals and white socks were one of the trademarks of the typical Polish man of the ‘90s – named Janusz. What Poles have always felt, the world discovered only at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, when slide sandals and socks began to conquer the streetwear and fashion world from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

Meanwhile, kids and teenagers from the ‘90s have once again become adults and have become very enthusiastic about the Kubota brand. It’s the part of their childhood, their heritage. They view Kubota as one of the most popular brands in Poland at the end of the 20th century. Kubota slide sandals have become trendy again, but this time on the wave of retro fashion. 

Kubota’s second life has just begun

Alina Sztoch, Joanna Kwiatkowska, Piotr Kwiatkowski and Wacław Mikłaszewski are a group of friends from Łódź in Poland.

Alina Sztoch, Piotr Kwiatkowski & Joanna Kwiatkowska, fot. Kubota
Alina Sztoch, Piotr Kwiatkowski & Joanna Kwiatkowska, fot. Kubota

The group comes from various environments. From the culture zone, through the film and event industry, to IT. They thought about producing and selling high-quality slide sandals made in Poland a long time ago. 

“We noticed that our country lacked such high-end products. We began to prepare our slide sandals, although we were aware that this could be a risky business. In Poland, there were no other products of this type made in the country. There was no awareness of such products”

Joanna Kwiatkowska
Kubota Rzep: replica of the original black Kubota slide sandals
Kubota Rzep: replica of the original black Kubota slide sandals

They needed a partner with a well-known brand. And then Kubota came onto the stage – all in black slide sandals. They joined forces with Dorota and Wiesław Michalski and their sons. Together they reactivated the Kubota brand in 2018, and began to write a new chapter of this extremely colorful story.

Kubota Premium Made in Poland
Kubota Premium Made in Poland

A new leather slide sandals model was launched – Kubota Premium. These are slide sandals designed and manufactured in Poland. They follow the principles of the Fashion Revolution movement. Later, the Kubota offer expanded with the iconic Kubota Velcro slide sandals that look virtually identical to the first model from the ‘90s. Soon, they will also introduce Kubota Basic pool slide sandals and, unique to Europe, personalized Kubota Custom pool slide sandals. Clothing will also be included in the offer. 

“This is a sensation on a European scale. No company on the Old Continent offers the possibility of personalizing from 1 flap. You will be able to personalize the color of the sole, the print, and the color of the strap. We strive to be innovative also in terms of technology”

Joanna Kwiatkowska

From traveling by train from China, to a PWA on mobile.

Kubota, in 25 years, like Poland, has undergone huge changes. Once associated with the cheapest, often the only, slide sandals available on the market, today it has a chance to become a synonym of quality made in Poland.

The Divante office is full of Kubota slippers
The Divante office is full of Kubota slippers

The model of distribution has also completely changed. In the ‘90s, the internet was not widely available in Poland. Nobody even heard about online stores. Kubota products were sold mostly in small, local shops. Today Kubota products are available mostly online. The company is an example of a modern e-commerce brand using the latest technologies like Progressive Web Apps. Why did Kubota choose PWA technology? 

In the beginning, the Kubota online store ran on a Shoplo eCommerce template. After a short time, they decided they needed a change for Magento 2 and Vue Storefront combination. 

“In the winter, we were already planning an offer extension & increasing the budget for marketing. We knew that we would have to switch to a professional, tailor-made solution. The choice of Progressive Web Apps technology was overlapped by two main factors. The weaknesses of “out of the box” eCommerce platforms on the market on which we have based so far, and the mass advantages of modern PWA”

Joanna Kwiatkowska

The statistics speak for themselves: Google is responsible for 96% of mobile searches. Around 80% of Internet users use smartphones. Over 40% of online transactions are carried out by mobile. 91% of landline customers use smartphones when shopping. Kubota analyzed all market options, statistics, and expert opinions. The conclusion was clear: they are changing the technology to PWA.

Patrick Serkowski in Kubota's shoes
Patrick Serkowski in Kubota’s shoes

Kubota is closely cooperating with e-com.house – a consulting and technology company. A store would not be created without the NewFantastic – agency from Warsaw experienced in PWA technology. Together, they jumped into PWS Vue Storefront, with both feet. 

What were the main expectations? The new store had to be compatible with the mobile-first approach and load quickly even with slower connections. Additionally, they required system universalism. This means developing one version of the application independent of the user’s operating system, and brings with it the speed and ease of updating the store page. Website security was also a big thing. A PWA offered all of that and even more. 

“That was a good decision. You can see how this system is developing. Based on our store, requests for changes and modifications to various plugins are made, so we also have a share in the development of this software”

Joanna Kwiatkowska.

Implementation of Vue Storefront caused a speedup of Kubota’s online store by 20-30% (depending on the page). The fast performance, combined with marketing and sales efforts, also impacted conversion rates. The PWA-based Kubota store achieves a CR at the level of 4.5% on desktop and 2.2% on mobile devices and notes weekly increases. 

Climbing to the top with Kubota

In the ‘90s, Poles climbed Kubota’s slide sandals to the tops of mountains. Today, Kubota wants to climb to the top of the quality – the quality of their products and e-commerce technology. The foundation of this is Vue Storefront: Open Source PWA for any eCommerce. Want to know more? Read our case study and check how Kubota reached +1000 orders in the first month after launching the mobile-first store!

Start reading the open guide to progressive web apps

Krzysztof Basel

Experienced Tech & Photography Journalist. Former Editor in Chief of Fotoblogia.pl - the most popular blog about photography in Poland and Deputy Editor in Chief at WP Technologie. Blogger at Spider's Web. Passionate about modern technology, good design, strong coffee and traveling with a small camera.

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    Great job. Congrats.