Danielle Voisin: Founder of Lace & Scone
Remember that gorgeous lingerie I posted about this week? Remember that homeless kit giveaway I hosted on instagram? Today I get to introduce you to the amazing lady behind BOTH of those items. Danielle is the founder of Lace & Scone, a company focused on selling a variety of ethically made items and giving away high quality care kits to those on the streets of NYC. Her story and perspective is fascinating...
Tell us a little bit about your personal background
I am Canadian and come from a circle of entrepreneurs. Many of my family members and friends have their own businesses - they were makers before we came up with that term. I used to go to work with my dad when I was little, and I would ask him a thousand questions about his business. Then when he needed to get some actual work done I would go to work with my friends’ parents who were entrepreneurs. I think I was either going to end up as a journalist interviewing people for a business magazine, or as a business woman.
I love to travel, and found a global bank that was willing to pay me to do that, so after business school I tried that out for several years. I thought that the travel would be the major reward, but I ended up meeting my husband at the bank, and that has been the best part of the whole adventure!
What was the inspiration behind Lace & Scone?
The inspiration came after my years of living in London, where I simultaneously fell out of love with being a banker, and fell in love with the concept of afternoon tea, which is sort of like brunch, but in the afternoon. And more posh. I wanted to create something that would help and employ marginalized people, and I needed a better vehicle in which to accomplish that.
What I love about the afternoon tea tradition is that it is a time to pause and enjoy spending time with your favorite people. It’s the perfect way to celebrate anything. So I wanted to create a brand that would represent those things - time together, celebrating life, giving back.
I wanted to deconstruct the afternoon tea experience (the indulgence, the dressing up, the gifting, the girl time, the joy) and offer it in the US, partnered with the idea that our customers could support a good cause while they were enjoying the lifestyle they aspired to - win-win. So everything we sell represents some aspect of afternoon tea (things you would wear, or gift, or indulge in), and every purchase helps us give back to a very needy group of people in New York City - the homeless. Once I had that vision, it helped shape my buying decisions.
Has the brand evolved since you first started it?
For sure - these things always turn out to be something other than what we imagine, which is part of the fun!
I believe that one of the most tangible ways you can give back is to hire someone, because employment (or unemployment) changes everything. So my goal, from day one, has been to give people employment second chances, focusing resources on training and up-skilling. This is great, and definitely where we’re going, but I couldn't hire 100 people on day one. I couldn’t even hire myself!
So I had to reevaluate what version 1.0 of giving back looked like. It became pretty obvious as soon as we moved to New York (from Dubai). You can’t walk two blocks in NYC without realizing that homelessness is a major problem. We decided right away, before we had sold anything, to adopt a one-for-one policy of giving, where we give away a care kit filled with essentials to a homeless person with every purchase from our shop.
I had imagined that we would buy products from anywhere and everywhere, but when I got to New York I realized there were hundreds of small factories in the city! making awesome things, and I loved the idea that I could source locally and support family businesses. So we shifted to a purely made-in-the-US sourcing model (except the lace, which is from Italy) and that makes me happy. I can walk in to visit my designers and suppliers, making the relationships personal and the products unique, personalized.
Also, I started off thinking about tea and scones and pretty lacy things, and when I moved to New York and realized that - based on my anecdotal evidence - scones in America are hard, heavy, dry, and awful, and New Yorkers (who were my primary target audience) and hard, edgy, and intolerant of fluff. They don’t faff about, as the British would say. Given the aforementioned scone desert in America and the reality that not every supplier I wanted to work with wanted to work with a brand new brand, I decided to adjust the tone (and product mix) a little bit, to go from pretty and elegant to bold and sassy. So the original inspiration for celebrating life is there, but we’ve gone a little bit more edgy and, frankly, interesting. I love that we get to sell cheeky stationery alongside sexy lingerie, alongside bold dresses, alongside gourmet tea, all of which are great for gifting or treating yourself, or wearing to a celebration. Well, not the tea. But it’s all flavor and no fuss so it’s good at a party too.
What obstacles have you encountered?
Finding suppliers who were willing to sell low minimums to an unheard of startup was a good challenge. I knew where this was going, but they didn’t, so it was a sales effort to be able to buy from some companies. I was fortunate to join the NYC chapter of the Rising Tide Society, and met many people there who were able to help open doors for me in my new city.
One of my obstacles was my own personal view that we should collect experiences over things, so it was a bit strange to find myself creating a lifestyle brand of actual physical product to sell. I didn’t want to contribute to the fast-fashion problem or get caught up in the short seasonality of merchandise, so I decided to be selective about who and where I would buy from, and curate a special collection of timeless, high quality things.
As an entrepreneur, what does a typical day look like for you?
Well, I get to wake up next to a handsome New Yorker every morning, so that’s my day pretty set for greatness right there! All my days start with my gratitude journal, where I write down all of the things I am grateful for from the day before. I make the list as long as I can, until I feel well-insulated from complaining for the day. It has remarkably changed my mindset and outlook on life.
I get to work from home, or anywhere I want, which is one of the best benefits I can think of. I also get to work with the amazingly creative types that I used to think were unicorns when I was in finance. I am working as long or longer hours than I did at the bank, but I find it all so interesting and creative! I wear every hat right now - legal, finance, marketing, sales, PR, social media, product design, etc, etc so no two days are the same in terms of things to get done. I try to meet with or talk to one person a day that I could work with, work for, hire, or collaborate with. I freelance here and there to fund my travel habit. And my constant need to eat. Most days include a very long walk, too, for exercise and mental clarity.
Describe your personal style...
My personal style is super basic. Almost Steve Jobs basic - black and white and grey t-shirts and jeans. Plus the ocassional purple glasses or zebra print neon New Balances to keep it fresh and fun. My house is mostly white and empty so I can think and entertain and not be surrounded by clutter.
I once travelled for six months with just a carry-on-sized bag, and it had my laptop, books, and snorkeling gear in it - no joke - so not much extra space for clothes. I’ve also lived for a year with all of my stuff in storage while I lived out of a suitcase between Dubai, London and Toronto. What I realized in both instances was that I didn’t need much to be happy. I have a few things I like a lot and I don’t really shop. Ironic, I know. But I just don’t get this fast-consuming uber-discounted clothing cycle we’ve created. I spent $200 on my wedding dress, only after being certain it was something I would wear again. So yea, I’m the one wearing the same dress you saw me in at the last party. Sorry, not sorry! Haha. But seriously, I think that this is reflected in the products I’ve chosen for Lace & Scone. If you just had one dress, make it be awesome, and something you love to wear. Multiple times. Invest in good quality lingerie, and feel good every day, knowing it wasn’t made in a sweat shop and it will last for ages.
How do you incorporate ethical shopping into your personal life now?
By reducing my shopping to essentials, and by looking for locally made small business shops I’ve made a choice to shop ethically. It makes life easier, because I’m not on a constant hunt for the next best thing. I’m just content. And then when I do need something, I can be mindful about it and afford to spend a bit more if necessary, because I haven’t spent money on things I don’t need or won’t wear. Sales are the worst incentives for buying stuff you don’t need!
What's been the most rewarding aspect of running Lace & Scone?
When we brought our first batch of homeless care kits to a local shelter, and the residents asked, “are those for us!?!?!” and the staff said, “No one makes donations look that nice!” then I knew we were on the right track. To give something away purely for the sake of giving is such a pleasure.
Where would you like to see the brand in 5 years?
We’re mission-focused and I would love to see us still focused on helping the homeless and the unemployed in 5 years. I’m hoping we can do more good and help more people as awareness about our brand increases.
I’d like to see Lace and Scone recognized as the Kate Spade of the TOMS business model. As in, “Oh, that’s the company that donates a homeless care kit for every product they sell, right!? Their stuff is so lit!”
I’d also like to have a physical location where people can come for afternoon tea and browse our curated collection pop up shop.
Anything else you'd like to share?
We love working with individuals and companies who like to give as much as we do. I’d love to hear from anyone with ideas and a passion to help!
Also, we ship everywhere!
Background artwork is Art by Megan