So you've got your faux fur, your leather-free shoes and your cactus-leather handbag. But what about those smaller accessories that are still crucial in our wardrobes – such as watches? There are many components to building a vegan wardrobe, and one of them that is often overlooked is watches. One brand working to change that is Brighton-based Votch, founded by Laura Way. A passionate vegan, Laura started her journey with compassion – and her story is truly inspiring.
By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert.
Just like many other founders, Laura's path began in a place that was completely different: “Prior to starting Votch, I used to work in advertising, producing TV and print campaigns for some of the largest brands across the globe,” she recalls. “I was responsible for overseeing the budget and creative journey of bringing scrips to life.”
But a wake-up call was on its way: “I started to fall out of love with it when I was asked to produce a commercial for a well-known ice cream brand - as a recently new vegan at the time, knowing the horrors that lie within the dairy industry I just couldn’t work on the project, so I politely declined. Working in advertising and finding brands that’s aligned with my morals wasn’t always easy, so within time I knew I wanted to create something where I could make a change.”
But that wasn't the only catalyst behind Laura's career change. Eight years ago, she was diagnosed with topic steroid withdrawal – a condition that made her skin fall off as a result of being prescribed an excessive amount of steroid creams. “I had to lay in the bath for up to 20 hours a day just for some pain relief. It was excruciating and went on for years.”
During her time in recovery, Laura turned to documentaries on subjects that concerned the planet, including animal welfare. When she learned about the treatment of animals in industries that use their skins, she related their suffering to her own at losing her skin, and promised to never again wear someone else's. “I told myself - having felt the pain of losing my own skin, I vowed to never wear the skin of another being again.” She went vegan and never looked back.
With her newfound perspective post-recovery, Laura wanted to create a cruelty-free business that could make a change in the world. When an old watch strap broke, the idea of making vegan watches was born. “Finding a stylish vegan alternative was nigh-impossible,” she remembers. Her brand, Votch, went from strength to strength: having been featured in VOGUE, Forbes, Cosmopolitan and Stylist, the abel has also appeared on Dragon's Den and won awards from PETA.
Today, Laura runs the company with her partner Simon (with a little help from their rescued pooch, Rolo). But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. “The pandemic was a really tough time for us. Many people were not purchasing watches during this time, as they just weren’t needed - we were all at home looking at screens, or time was not so important to us as our day to day schedules and routines were on hold!” Resilient as always, Laura found a way forward. “As a lot of people turned to fitness during this time, we release watch straps for Apple watches, made from AppleSkin. They became our bestselling item during this period and we were one of the first companies to make Apple straps from actual apples!”
The brand is also open with where their products are made. When Laura first started working with a Chinese factory, the factory manager told her that he didn't believe she's put “made in China” on the products – but Votch is transparent with their production and speaks proudly of the origins of their watches. Laura often visits the brand's factories in Shenzhen, and makes sure to enjoy some of the factory owner's wife's tasty plant-based dishes when she does!
Working to improve the well-being of the planet is high on Laura's list of priorities, and Votch is committed to giving back: with every purchase from the company's range, the brand plants a mangrove in Madagascar, to help provide natural habitats for wildlife and an income for locals. The brand also has a recycling scheme where old watches can be sent in, to minimise waste. This dedication is mirrored in the brand's typical customer: “Our ideal customers are those who care about purchasing from brands with high standards and morals,”says Laura. “They don’t want to sacrifice on style or design, but are passionate about making a change and removing animal-based products from their wardrobes.”
What does a typical day designing vegan-friendly watches look like? According to Laura, no two days are the same: “As a founder, my day varies so much – it can be from stock checking and reordering, to creating mailers and managing social media content. I have scaled the team up and down across the years, but have scaled it back down again now as I juggle Votch around my two small children.” Like many founders, Laura thrives when she can be creative. “My absolute favourite thing to do is to work on new product development, I absolutely love designing and creating our next product lines and working and experimenting with new materials that are being invented.”
By Sascha Camilli
Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Cover image by Votch
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