When sustainable solar watch startup Solios launched its Kickstarter campaign in 2018, Canadian founders Alexander Desabrais and Samuel Leroux weren’t expecting spectacular results.
But in just 30 minutes, not only was the campaign funded, it blitzed its CA$25,000 goal, raising a whopping CA$ 90,111!
Take one look at the Solios watch and it’s easy to understand why. Luxury, minimalist and unisex design, solar technology, premium sustainable materials and a reasonable price translates to an appealing product for fashion-forward early adopters.
We interview Solios co-founder Alexander Desabrais to get his insights on why he and Samuel decided to enter the saturated watch market, why playing sports is high priority and how greenwashing in the fashion industry is one of the company’s greatest challenges.
EWP: Why did you decide to start your business?
Alexander Desabrais: A couple of years ago, we [co-founder Samuel Leroux and I] looked back at our lives and realized how bad our consumption habits were for the environment. Not because we wanted to do any harm, our intentions were always good, but simply because we never realized.
At this point it became clear to us. We wanted to create something that would have a positive impact, but we didn’t know how, or what. We’re not engineers, super powerful programmers or multi-millionaires. That’s why it became clear for us that our best shot at having real impact was to create a symbol, that would serve as a tool to spread a message. On top of that we always loved watches, so a watch was the obvious choice. Let’s be honest, we don’t buy or wear a watch to have the most accurate time, we wear a watch because it’s a fashion accessory, it projects an image, a statement.
With that in mind we developed Solios, a solar-powered, minimalist and sustainable watch, to fit with the message we’re trying to spread.
EWP: Highlights of running your business? What are you most proud of?
AD: We’re extremely proud of how we are changing the production process with our suppliers. We often have requests that they have never heard of, because the watch industry is very mature, and has profitably optimized processes. But for the first time, they are asked something completely different, that creates a lower environmental footprint. A very simple example is the shipment of every piece of the watch for the final assembly. All suppliers are used to create a plastic cover for each individual piece, wrapped in an extra large plastic piece. With some negotiation and for a small extra fee, we managed to have everything shipped in a recycled and reusable cardboard. That’s something the client will never see, but most companies aren’t doing.
Also, when we hear from someone we don’t know, telling us how –since they started wearing their Solios– they started composting, or choosing better alternatives when they are buying anything, just because they had this reminder attached to their wrist. That’s when we feel that the symbol we’ve created is worth all the efforts we’ve made.
EWP: Entrepreneurial challenges? What do you find the most difficult about running your business?
AD: There are two main challenges.
The first one, obviously is with the suppliers. Like I said, they all have profitably optimized processes. Therefore, when we are asking for a different waste management process, or a specific production line for our product, most suppliers won’t be too happy about it. We lost different suppliers and a lot of money in the middle of the development process before finding a real partner who believes in our vision.
The second one is the greenwashing. There are so many different brands pretending to make efforts towards sustainable production, but in fact is only an image they promote. This impacts us a lot because some people will put us in the same boat, and we can’t blame them. Therefore, we have more work to do then a typical watch brand. We have to create something really different, and we have to show people why they should trust us. This is not an easy task when you are still a startup with limited resources in a very crowded industry.
EWP: Your favourite sustainable lifestyle brands?
AD: Allbirds is one of our favorites because of everything they have done to change how people see shoes, and how successful they are with their amazing products. The most comfortable shoe, and sustainable! That’s genius.
Patagonia is also amazing. Thinking that they have started this company when no one was talking about sustainability, it proves they are doing it for the right reasons, and they deserve all the success they have right now.
EWP: How do you unwind after a big work day?
AD: To be fully transparent, we are still in our first year of existence as a company, so we neglected ourselves a little bit. Working early hours in the morning to late hours at night, eating the first thing available, not enough sport, not enough time to really think.
This was until just a couple weeks ago, when we decided to each (my business partner Sam and I) take a vacation. At first, we were afraid of the consequences, but we realized so many things. We came back more motivated than ever, and with better habits.
We are now doing sports every day, reading books every day, and watching what we eat. We are doing even more every day with less hours at the office. If I could say something to anyone working really hard, it is to take time for yourself. Not just because it’s good for your health and social life, but also because it makes you more productive! It is simply not true that we can be working at 100% of our capacities at all time. Take some unproductive time to think of something completely different.
EWP: Best business compliment you’ve ever received?
AD: Some regular individuals came to me saying that they would like to invest in our company. It is not the best compliment because of the money factor (we are not looking for investors at this moment), but because people who are not rich business people believe in our product, in our vision, and in ourselves to point where they are willing to put there hard-earned money in us. It shows that we’ve created something that people believe will make a difference.
EWP: Influencers/books/films that have influenced your sustainable thinking?
AD: Before the Flood [documentary film]. We realized that our company simply had to have a positive impact after looking at this documentary. It was not an option anymore. The night after watching this, Sam and I started taking notes and sending each other documents with all the positive change we wanted to initiate. I remember sending a three-page long Word document at 4am, and seeing an answer from him a couple of minutes later.
EWP: What are some things that you’d like customers to know that you rarely communicate on social media?
AD: That if you are an active consumer, it means that you are a privileged person. You have enough money and resources to fill the essential levels of the Maslow pyramid. This privilege comes with social responsibility. This means trying your best to improve yourself in your environmental and social impact.
A good example for us is our personal implication with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Sam and I are volunteering at the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help sick children communicate what their biggest dream is, and then coordinate with the foundation to make sure it will be granted. We could use the excuse that we don’t have enough time or money to do so, but we want this to be part of the company’s DNA (and our DNA).
EWP: Quotes you live by.
AD: A well-known and simple one.
“Buy less, choose well, make it last.” – Vivienne Westwood.
It is so simple, yet so true. Just by following this alone could probably eliminate half of all the environmental problems we are facing.
To browse the Solios collection, visit their website here.
Disclosure: Solios is an EWP affiliate partner. Responses were edited for length and clarity. Feature image of Solios co-founders supplied. For more information about our policies, click here.
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