Re-using materials and upcycling them had always been a passion of Patrick el Zoghbi. In 2014, he was given the chance to take it one step further and venture into a full-fledged business by founding VEA™. The outcome of this adventure was a line of elegant, functional, and sturdy bags and accessories that is still growing. And the bonus was that they were upcycled from used inner tire tubes. We talked to Patrick about his passion and his journey in the STAND Up! Program.
Q: How does your product/service work?
A: VEA™, is an upcycling brand of Handbags, Jewelry, Accessories, Giveaways & Home Déco items, all made from used rubber innertubes (Chambre à Air) from trucks and bicycle tires.
Q: What makes your solution special or unique?
A: In line with our vision, fashionably responsible, VEA™ is here to initiate and follow fashion trends, while making better use of waste, and minimizing rubber waste, hence providing a collection of upcycled designer items with features such as handmade craftsmanship, designer items, attractive, appealing, trendy, durable, heavy-duty, high-quality materials and accessories, eco-friendly, sustainable production, water-resistant features, unique and affordable.
Q: Who is benefitting from your solution?
A: With fashion, moving towards sustainability is a social challenge that entails the evolution of local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. We are happy to be doing our part for the environment, with every new item we create, we help make our environment cleaner, and raise awareness. We have partnered with local car tire repair shops and leading bicycle shops to collect old tires and inner tubes at the source for our products.
We have a counter on our website http://veawear.com/ where we share with our customers the kilograms of rubber that go into our products instead of ending up in landfills or burning.
Q: Why is your solution important to you?
A: I founded and focused on VEA™ from 2014 till 2017 after I resigned as an employee and took no engineering work. After VEA’s infrastructure was set, and when I need to, I practice engineering as a consultant. This is to keep VEA as my main commitment and to minimize environmental degradation.
Q: What did you benefit from the most through Berytech’s program?
A: I can think of five key takeaways that to me were the most significant:
- How to set your mind from traditional and linear businesses, into the circular economy.
- Sustainable approaches from in-house day-to-day work to eco-designing the product.
For instance, the factor of buying supplies is a priority from local producers, minimizing shipping costs and the reduction of energy waste to the environment.
- How to correctly price your service and product, up to the complete set of financial statement documents was a brainstorm to know and start implementing it the professional way.
- The importance of Sales vs Marketing.
- Mostly, the energy a startup needs to assess its status and plan for the future, and growth the proper way, with the latest sustainable trend and tools available in the market.
Q: If you had to choose one achievement to highlight, what would it be and what lessons did you learn from it?
A: The material used for the inner tubes of tires is rubber. You would think it is a common enough material, but it does not come in a manageable form like other fabrics that are available in rolls and the desired thickness.
Tires are round and curved, and their rubber comes in different qualities and thicknesses. When our designers and tailors were tasked with transforming this material into fashion items, they had to rethink the entire process of making handbags and deploy efforts of imagination and inventiveness with each design to exploit the advantages of this unusual material.
Each item is unique and carries its own story because its rubber has been subjected to road heat and pressure, resulting in different patterns, thicknesses, and features in the material.
The achievement of this challenge was when we ended up with a precise method of picking different rubber samples from trucks, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles, and aesthetically combining them to create beautiful, sturdy, and environmentally responsible handcrafted bags, wallets, cases, belts, jewelry and home décor that stand the test of time.
I learned that nothing is impossible when you set your mind, with consistency and dedication along, backed up by a team that believes in the project… but always using existing tools, changing and adapting them to your business, it is the methodologies or the use of the tools in a creative way.
Q: What are the main challenges that you have faced so far?
A: Starting a new business from scratch, with a new idea, in an unstable country, with lots of unknown factors, was the most challenging.
Without support programs and entities like Berytech, it would have been impossible. I was lucky though to have had the chance to benefit from some of those programs.
Q: Have you ever thought of giving up on your venture? If yes, what made you pull through?
A: This thought of course came to mind, but after assessing the effort, financial, and time put into VEA, I decided in 2017 to place the business on hold, waiting for the right time to relaunch. And this is what now I’m trying to achieve, a comeback.
Q: What are your long-term goals as a startup?
A: The long-term goal is to be pioneers in upcycling using rubber and creating responsible fashion, in Lebanon and expand worldwide. Providing a full range of high-quality designer products that are made from upcycled rubber, with the potential to explore new recycled materials.
Q: What advice would you give an entrepreneur who is starting in your industry?
A: Don’t be afraid or hesitate to ask for support, start with the family and friends who you can trust. Go to professionals and outsource them for things you don’t know or have time for. Join SME support programs like the ones Berytech provide, where they have a team behind them dedicated to making a change through you. Stay focused, and plan, but be flexible and ready for any change or opportunity along the way.
About the STAND Up! Project
The STAND Up! project aims to enhance scalable, replicable, and inclusive circular economy ventures in the Mediterranean by developing an ecosystem of business support, innovation, and technology transfer that will lead to sustainable job creation for youth and women. Learn more about the STAND Up! project.