Plus X Brighton
Cruelty free watch company, VOTCH, is the phoenix to rise from the ashes of founder Laura’s experience with Topical Steroid Withdrawal – a condition which saw her skin fall from her body.
Knowing how it felt to have your skin peel away, she decided that she would go vegan and never wear leather again. A few months later, when her watch strap broke, it was clear that it was near impossible to find a leather alternative replacement. This is the moment VOTCH was born.
We caught up with the VOTCH team, who have recently joined the BRITE programme at Plus X Brighton, to hear about their journey and the exciting things that are on the way.
Before Laura launched VOTCH she produced TV commercials for big household name brands. It was when she was away shooting in New York that she realised that she had forgotten to take her eczema cream with her. Having suffered with eczema her whole life, her skin deteriorated without it.
On her return to the UK, she became seriously unwell. After researching what was happening, she discovered that the steroid cream prescribed to her for 28 years, should have only been prescribed for two months. This caused Laura to develop an iatrogenic illness – meaning her skin had literally become addicted to steroid cream.
“Throughout my recovery, I was hospitalised and living in the bath for 20 hours a day to soothe the agonising pain”
During her recovery, she watched documentaries on animal welfare with her dog, Rolo. Laura emerged from her recovery with a newfound vegan perspective on life, vowing never to wear the skin of an animal again.
When Laura’s watch broke, the producer in Laura catapulted the idea of a vegan watch alternative, into reality. By August 2016, VOTCH had launched. At first, their offering was small, with one design in five colours. This meant they could test the market and learn about their customer base, ensuring they had a viable business before looking to scale. Fast-track to 2021 and they have over six collections in a variety of designs, colours, and materials – plus some very exciting developments in the pipeline.
When it comes to creating social and environmental impact, VOTCH doesn’t stop at being cruelty-free. Pinatex, a material made of by-product from the pineapple farming industry, was the first sustainable material to be used in a VOTCH collection. In the production of Pinatex, no extra land, pesticides, fertiliser, or water is needed – and it provides extra income for the farmers.
“There’s lots of new sustainable materials – we’re sampling materials made from cactus, mushrooms… we’re constantly in the forefront pushing innovation. We openly say that we’re not perfect, no company is, but we’re doing the best we can with the resources that are available to us”
Despite negative (and very outdated) connotations, VOTCH are proud to manufacture in Shenzhen, China, and we have to say – we’re right there with them! Shenzhen is where we take the Central Research Laboratory accelerator cohort to teach them about manufacturing processes – because it’s an incredible place for it.
“We were blown away by the technology, the people, the resources, the expertise, and the knowledge. That’s why we say on our website that we’re proud to manufacture in Shenzhen – we have even done some manufacturing with the first vegan factory in China to produce our new backpacks!”
VOTCH saw working with China as an opportunity to spark change. When they first started the conversation with manufacturers about producing vegan watches, they were met with, “you must want to use calf skin”.
“If you want to make change you have to be that voice of change and explain your reasoning, it’s about being at the forefront of reducing animal consumption and cruelty.”
VOTCH truly embody their value of being a voice for change, something that emanates through the way they operate: they make a backpack in collaboration with ACTAsia with each sale gifting a “caring for life” class to educate young people about compassion and cruelty-free living, their “giving back” initiative sees them donate a percentage of their profits to a different charity every three months, they plant a tree in Madagascar for every order made through their website, and they offer a take-back recycling programme.
In the years since launch, VOTCH has grown from Laura and Rolo, to Simon (Laura’s husband) joining as co-founder, and Emma, VOTCH’s first contracted employee who joined them in October 2020. They also feed into the business ecosystem by outsourcing support from service businesses, including social media management, design, and HR.
Having recently joined the BRITE programme at Plus X, VOTCH are gaining momentum with business development and plans to scale.
“Collaborations with the University of Brighton will be invaluable to pushing innovation. We are on a constant learning curve with becoming more sustainable and support with this is already under way with a scoping session in the calendar. Support with forging partnerships with other businesses is going to be great as well – our watches are compatible with Apple products and the BRITE team are going to support us in opening a conversation with them…”
“Having access to the prototyping workshop is amazing too – the team down there are awesome. You bring an idea to them, and they give you the xyz of how to make it possible”
When asked what their favourite thing about being at Plus X Brighton was, VOTCH replied:
“The community at Plus X create such an encouraging and ambitious environment to be in. It’s a great atmosphere. The resources that are available to us… we knew we needed to get our IP in place and instantly we had access to world-leading IP lawyers, Mathys & Squire, just by being on the BRITE programme. It’s a great place to work from, it can be lonely being a startup and it’s great to be with people who are in the same boat…and it’s dog friendly!”
Looking to embark on your own journey of growth? Applications for the next BRITE programme are now open! 📣
Profitnet is a 12-month, action-orientated peer-to-peer programme, designed to enable businesses to learn from each other through professionally facilitated confidential group sessions. Profitnet’s strengths comes from the ability to tap into business expertise within the group. Member-led and expertly facilitated, each meeting focuses on real business challenges
To apply, all you have to do to get the ball rolling is fill in this online form which should take no more than 5 minutes.
The Brighton Research Innovation Technology Exchange (BRITE) is a business innovation programme for ambitious and established businesses led by a highly experienced and dedicated team from Plus X innovation hubs, in partnership with the University of Brighton which is renowned for world-class research innovation expertise. The BRITE programme is receiving up to £5m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.