As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Laura Way from Votch about the illness that inspired her to become vegan, launching a company, and her quest to live more sustainably.
It seems like you are a huge animal lover, but it was in fact your health that led you to embrace a vegan lifestyle. Can you tell us about that journey?
3.5 years ago I was struck down with a condition called Topical Steroid Withdrawal, a condition caused by multiple years of steroid use for my eczema. Since I was a baby I had steroid creams prescribed to me and my eczema despite the creams was always still so bad. My husband’s friend said to him, if Laura wants to get rid of her eczema, the best thing she can do is to quit the creams. And so I did, and within 4 weeks my skin had fallen off my entire body. I laid in bath tub for 20 hours a day just to alleviate the pain and this went on for months and months. During this time, I educated myself a lot on the benefits of a vegan diet and adopted this lifestyle quickly, but whilst educating myself on veganism I also came across the horrors of the leather industry. As someone who had felt the pain and suffering of losing their own skin, I vowed never to wear the skin of another being again.
What has been the biggest surprise for you since you became a vegan?
Just how easy it is! There’s a substitute for everything now. When I went vegan I wasn’t like ooooh I’m going to miss cheese, for me it was always chocolate milk – I always said my last meal would involve chocolate milk (yes I’m a big kid at heart) – but thanks to chocolate Oatly I needn’t had been worried about anything!
What were you doing before you launched Votch? How did you know that you wanted to focus on vegan watches in particular?
I was producing TV commercials in London before launching Votch. It was my illness that really made me realise that I didn’t want to do this anymore and I had to create something that gave back. When an old watch strap broke and I couldn’t find a vegan replacement that I liked anywhere, the idea for Votch was born!
A lot of vegan alternatives are simply plastic substitutes that don’t necessarily achieve the look or feel of leather, and arguably have their own negative impacts on the environment. Tell us about the materials you use for Votch and what makes them special.
We are always striving to use the best materials available to us. The latest material we are using for our watch straps in our New Collection is a blend of TPE, polyester and cotton. The material we are using in our Classic Collection is a cotton woven microfibre with PU. The faux leather we use has the following environmental benefits:
✓ PVC-Free ✓ No plasticisers ✓ Phthalate-free ✓ Passes CAL 01350, low VOC emissions ✓ No added antimicrobial chemicals ✓ PFC-Free ✓ No flame retardants ✓ Bromine-free ✓ No heavy metals ✓ Includes recycled and renewable content ✓ And of course: Animal friendly
We also have a Piñatex range too, a material made from pineapple leaf fibres that is a by product of the pineapple harvest and needs no extra land, water or fertilisers – it also generates additional income for farmers too.
‘Ethical Fashion’ can be extremely vague. What does it mean to you, and how do you try and embody this in Votch?
I always say, we’re not perfect, but we do the best we can with the resources we have on offer – for me, it’s caring about the workers who work and create our watches and being able to give back. 10% of our profits are donated to a different charity of the season every 3 months.
Before buying something new, what are the main things that you consider?
I only buy when absolutely necessary so I buy very little – for me it’s about how it’s been made, is it sustainable and do I really need this? I am expecting a baby and have sourced many second hand items as the amount of baby clothes that get chucked away after so little use is crazy.
What tips do you have for people looking to live more sustainably?
I always carry things like plastic bags and a glass water bottle – I hate the amount of packaging and waste that we are responsible for as humans. Consider what you are buying, if those jeans are being sold for £10, why are they being sold for so little? There is a fantastic documentary called The True Cost that I’d recommend to anyone wanting an eye opening to what happens behind the garment industry.
10% of the profits from each sale at Votch are donated to a different partner charity every three months. Which charity are you currently supporting, and how do you choose them?
Currently we are supporting Love Always, a sanctuary that focuses on hospice care for animals. There is no set criteria on how we support charities, we may read a story or discover a cause and really want to support and help that.
As a female entrepreneur, what advice do you have for other young ambitious women who want to set up their own business?
Be prepared! When I first set up Votch I never fully understood just how much it would completely overtake my life – it’s the first thing I think about in the morning and last thing at night (sorry husband!) – it’s because I’m so passionate about it and am desperate for people to see you don’t need to harm animals to create beautiful, cruelty free products. Always research thoroughly the industry you are about to embark on and believe in yourself. For me, even though I had no idea how to go about launching a watch business having been a TV producer, I just knew I had to believe in myself and give it my all – there was no, we can’t do this, it was always, how do we do this?
How would you like to see Votch grow in the future?
The list is endless! But worldwide cruelty free accessory domination is where I’d like to think we’re headed!!