Asa part of our series about how companies are becoming more sustainable, we had the pleasure of interviewing Desiree Dupuis.
Walk into sustainable, vegan, and ethically-sourced fashion with cactus leather boots by Voes & Co. From the desert to your feet, these boots are an excellent option for anyone who cares about people, animals, and the planet. Voes & Co founder Desiree Dupuis is a thought leader in this space and provides examples of what companies and individuals can do to help make a difference for the environment. This insight comes from a degree in BCOM International Business, years of experiences around the world, and founding multiple sustainable and ethical companies and a non-profit organization. All while running everything from her Macbook as a digital nomad.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Hithere, thank you for having me and letting me share my story! I am a Marketing person with an entrepreneurial spirit; I currently have two brands that I’ve created and am currently running. The first one is Kove Ocean Foods which is a seaweed-based CPG food brand which I am running with 4 other partners. The second one has been my passion project since 2016 and is called Voes & Co. I had already been running my own financial firm for 10 years when I created Voes & Co as a solution to a problem I had been personally facing as a vegan woman. When I learnt about the atrocity of the animal agriculture industry in 2008 I stopped eating and wearing animal products. Over time, I became increasingly frustrated and disappointed with the lack of options for designer footwear not made with leather or suede. The only options available at the time were synthetic shoes made of petroleum-based material such as PU and PVC. As I began to learn even more about the animal agriculture industry and the devastating harmful effects it has on the planet, I realised I didn’t want to trade one harmful product for another, saving animals by not buying leather but then harming the environment by purchasing synthetic leather. As a woman who loves fashion and footwear it was my frustration and the lack of options available that inspired me to take it into my own hands and launch my own brand with ethically made sustainable designer footwear.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
At Voes & Co my mission is to advocate for kind, compassionate, conscious living, through ethically sourced, sustainable, 100% vegan, designer fashion, footwear and accessories. My vision is for Voes & Co to be the globally recognised icon for Veganism; representing a movement and a lifestyle based on love, kindness, and compassion for the planet, animals and all living beings. Our focus right now at a micro level is solving the problem of plastic in vegan footwear. Most shoes that are not made with leather or suede are made with synthetic leather which is a petroleum-based product called PU. I want to create beautiful, designer footwear with material made from plants which is why our first line of chelsea boots, our Harlow chelsea boot is made with Cactus leather.
That being said, Cactus leather is still not perfect. Currently, the cactus leather is up to 55% organic plant-based content with water-based finishes. The cactus leather is made in combination with bio-polyurethane which is partially made with biological origin material from vegetable products. In the process, there are no Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s / gases that are emitted into the air from products or processes) or toxic chemicals such as heavy metals, phthalates, DMF and PVC. Our mission is to continually investigate and push for the most environmentally healthy material that can uphold the integrity of our footwear and maintain our quality, durability and comfort standards. We are exploring other materials that are made with plants and material that can be made from agricultural waste and be fully biodegradable.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Yes! Our entire company and brand was created to provide consumers with options that are healthier for the planet. Accessible designer footwear not made from animals and not made from plastic. It’s wonderful that more and more people are choosing cruelty-free products and the vegan movement has gained so much momentum. Now we need more options that are not-only cruelty free but are also healthy for the planet. At Voes & Co, we’ve decided to work with cactus leather for the environmental benefits. Cactus is a regenerative plant that requires very little water and has a very low environmental impact. Cactus grows in the dry heat and quenches any thirst it has naturally with rain water. Cactus naturally regenerates soil and is a tough and resilient species, adaptable to extreme conditions and able to survive in areas where nothing else will grow. Beyond this, cactus is a natural carbon sink, it has a great CO2 sequestering capacity. Our supplier has a 14-acre cactus ranch that absorbs 8,100 tons of CO2/year while only generating 15.30 tons of CO2 annually. For the processing of the leather, only the mature leaves of the Cacti are cut and one plant is able to continue to produce for 8 years. Once cut, the leaves are dried under the sun for 3 days, so there’s no additional energy used in the drying process. Finally, our supplier doesn’t use an irrigation system for the cactus ranch, as the cacti grow with rain water and the earth’s natural minerals.
Using cactus as a material is a much healthier option for the planet, in comparison to animal leather which requires 17,100L of water per kg of leather in addition to the chromium and sulphide concentrations and the pesticides which are often added to keep mould growth down during transportation, along with all of the toxic materials used in tanning.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion, what are a few things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
1 . Eat primarily plant-based foods. Vegan food is the easiest food to come by, it is simply whole foods from the earth provided by nature. Shop only in the fresh produce section and think of fruits and veggies like avocados, apples, oranges, bananas, figs, blueberries, all the berries, mango, cucumber, carrots, cabbage, kale, spinach, seaweed! Legumes, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, and grains, seeds and nuts. To make this fun, I count how many different kinds of plants I can eat in one day and how many different colours of the rainbow I’ve consumed. You can also shop at re-filleries and purchase grains, seeds and nuts in bulk to save money, packaging and be able to make your own non-dairy mylks.
2 . Garden and grow your own food. There is nothing more organic than growing your own food, eliminating pesticides and toxic chemicals. It’s an opportunity to teach your kids about food, where it comes from and to get your hands dirty together by creating a garden and growing your food.
3 . Live minimally. Only purchase things you need and make your default consumer option to borrow or rent
4 . Focus on experiences rather than products, things, and stuff. In my family, I advocated a few years ago for us to all stop buying gifts for each other and instead pool our money towards accommodations somewhere reasonable and enjoy dinners out and time spent together. For the last 6 years in lieu of gifts we’ve been spending half a week together in a cabin (my family lives outside of Vancouver so we’ve been going to Whistler). During this time, my brother and his wife have had two kids and it has been the most rewarding experience to spend this quality time together with all of us.
5 . Lead by example! Shop only at second hand stores and make thrifting a fun activity! Reuse and repurpose, craft things for the house and for life that are needed together through materials you have at home. Can you make your own cleaning products, your own shampoo, your own deodorant, your own candles?! As much as possible, do not buy new things. I have a rule in my house, if I want to buy anything new, I will have to donate or get rid of something I already have. Thinking about consumption in this way has caused me to think much more consciously when I am about to purchase anything new.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m grateful to my friend and mentor Carlo Zarrillo. For years, Carlo and I would meet for coffee or brunch while he would candidly share his experiences as CEO and previous experiences in the CPG industry when he worked at Kraft Foods and Colgate Palmolive. Being 10 years older than me, Carlo has always been a wonderful role model and has helped to guide and shape my career. Carlo was the one who invited me to join the seaweed company where I became a founding partner and we worked together to create Kove which I eventually took over on my own and brought in other new partners. In the spring of 2020 when the world had shut down, I was doing nothing. At the time, I had been working as the Director of Fundraising for the charity I co-founded with my best friend, Ruben’s Shoes Society, and all of my fundraising activities had come to a complete halt. Our major annual fundraiser had been postponed, and none of the events, diners and coffees that regularly filled up my days were happening. Beyond this, in January of 2020 I had started focusing on building Voes & Co and began working with a private label manufacturer in New York and a few weeks later that work also came to a stand still. So, I was literally at home with nothing but time on my hands, running, meditating and running some more. One day, I received a text from Carlo that said ‘I have an opportunity for you, it aligns with all of your values’. We spoke the next day and I learnt that a seaweed company in BC was looking to launch a food brand and indeed it aligned with all of my values; first as a marine plant that grows in the ocean, seaweed is of course vegan, because it grows in the ocean it is incredibly sustainable and beneficial for the planet which gives back to ocean life as it grows, sequesters carbon and helps to promote a thriving eco-system and biodiversity, it is highly nutritious and third, the work I would be doing was marketing and branding! Lastly, through my work in international poverty I had begun to learn about the poverty that existed in my own country of Canada with our Indigenous people. I learnt that the seaweed company was also working in partnership with local First Nations to build seaweed farms and plant and grow seaweed. Carlo brought me into this company and I will be forever grateful to him for his friendship, support and for the time we worked together as business partners.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love for people to really lean in and learn about where their food and fashion come from. To be as educated and as knowledgeable as possible, read books like Eating Animals, watch documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Seaspiracy, Cowspiracy, Game Changers, in order to make mindful, conscious decisions. I believe the more people know about the animal agriculture industry and the fashion industry, the more they will want to make different choices and lean into more sustainable plant-based options that are healthier for them and the planet. In terms of vegan food, I encourage people to eat whole foods, eat from nature, eat from the earth, shop in the fresh produce section and fill your plate with greens, vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds!
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”
This quote speaks so true to my life and anyone’s life in general. Our habits are what shape our life. The way you spend your time every day is what becomes your life. From how you sleep, what you eat and what you consume mentally to who you spend your time with and where you focus your energy. I am very conscious and mindful of my habits and the things I do every day. I make it a priority to get 8 hours of sleep, to eat really healthy plants/whole foods, to meditate, do yoga and pilates, and spend my time on things that I enjoy and that lift me up!
“I’m a firm believer in luck, I find the harder I work the luckier I am”.
It’s like the saying ‘luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation’ — I feel as though this has been so true in my life. I’ve been blessed with remarkable opportunities and I believe they have come my way because I have intentionally focused my energy and time on building my skills, on investing in my personal development, on building meaningful relationships in order to create a strong, supportive network. Although, I would replace the word, harder, with smarter.
Leave everything better than you found it.