Years of research and unlimited passion were essential ingredients in the story of success for VUND, a candle, wax melts, and fragrance company founded in New York by Vandana Arcot. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Dr. Arcot was a physician with the World Health Organization working with some of the most vulnerable populations of South East Asia, Africa, and South America. Her journey began while supporting female entrepreneurs in the eco-conservation space, where she became aware that the majority of the bee farmers in America were women who kept hives as a seasonal hobby. With little access to funding, education, and resources, these hobbyists were unlikely to create viable businesses, a shame considering the importance of bees as a worldwide keystone species in need of protection.
At the same time, Dr. Arcot’s infant daughter developed hypersensitivity to artificial fragrances. This led her to seek out natural products without harmful chemicals and stabilizers, which were surprisingly hard to find. No stranger to solving community challenges with entrepreneurial solutions, Vandana knew just what to do. She soon found herself pouring earthy beeswax candles using traditional artisanal fragrance profiles from her homeland in India. “VUND means bee in our mother tongue, Tamil,” explains Dr. Arcot. “It was also the nickname I grew up with, so naturally when it was time to name the business, it was our first choice.”
As was the case with the 85+ women she helped strategize successful businesses while working in developing nations, Vendana knew the real value of VUND would lie in the ethos of the brand. The mission was clear—to support farmers and bees, specifically. “At the end of the day, any sustainability efforts affect farmers the most,” says Dr. Arcot. “To that end, the ethos of eco-conservation flows through every single aspect of VUND and goes far beyond the basics.” To meet the needs of customers who demand a more committed level of conservation, Dr. Arcot was determined to create a brand that lived up to its ethos in every way possible.
Dr. Arcot believes that the key to a successful, sustainable business is planning for the ability to satisfy customers far into the future. That is why taking big steps toward carbon neutrality is essential to meet the needs of her customers’ future selves. “We know they need us to be better, so that’s what we’re doing,” she exclaims.
Find Your Ethos
“The best advice I can give any business is to stay centered on your brand ethos and make sure it comes directly from the founder of the brand,” explains Arcot. “If the strength of the message doesn’t come from the founder, it won’t be authentic and customers will know it.”
“In our case,” she says, “we knew we would need to go to the depths and prioritize environmental sustainability across all aspects of the business.” Labels are made from bio-compostable sugar cane, and as of 2020, plastic is completely off limits. “If we are marketing to customers 5 years down the road, we have to raise the bar today,” states Arcot. “We chose Paper Tube Co. because recycled plastics were never going to work for us. We have considered mushroom packaging, as well as a kraft paper version and one made from durable recycled plastic sourced from ocean waste, but they were just too new and unrefined. To carry our story forward, we needed a more sophisticated packaging option, and Paper Tube Co. fit the bill perfectly.”
Pricing and Partnering for Success
According to Dr. Arcot, pricing for consumers looking for a deal is a mistake and equating sustainability with luxury is a misnomer. “People are overwhelmingly ready to invest in things that matter. In the beginning, we set up pop-up shops with our products priced as pay-what-you-can,” says Vandana. “Our goal was to use this data to determine what our final prices would be. We had no idea so many customers would be ready to invest in our ethos over a simple transaction to buy a product. Our current price is what more than 96% of our customers have paid in over 35 pop-up experiences across America with 3% of our customers even going above the $100 mark.”
Another lesson learned has to do with the high cost of decision-making. “Making choices based on cost rarely pays off in the end. You really do get what you pay for. Now or later, you will eventually pay for the decisions you make,” asserts Dr. Arcot. “It’s really easy to source things cheaply. You might be happy in the short term, but you will inevitably end up paying the balance on your carbon footprint later, especially when it comes to packaging. It’s not worth it.” Although VUND faced many challenges while breaking barriers in the industry, three years of research seeking out the most reliable, ethical, and sustainable suppliers to make a completely zero waste, biodegradable product (including packaging) has paid off big time. “While other businesses were suffering with shortages and supply chain challenges during the pandemic, we never did,” asserts Vandana. “We make everything here and all supplies are carbon neutral and sourced here in the US.”
And when it comes to partnerships, Dr. Arcot warns new entrepreneurs to choose very carefully. “Partnerships are the building blocks of your business,” she says. “The outcomes will definitely be affected by who you choose to work with. Make sure their vision aligns with yours. It matters.” When asked what she appreciated most about her partnership with Paper Tube Co., Vandana responds easily, “Their design services were a total game changer. This is not something a new business should try to do themselves.” VUND’s packaging design was inspired by the light coming through the wings of a bee and the fractal structure associated with it. The image of the hive was transferred to the tube with a double wall, open from the bottom approach to provide a double layer of protection for the contents within.
More than just a candle company, VUND is raising the bar for customers and other businesses, making products that require no warning labels. “None of our ingredients or processes cause harm,” says Dr. Arcot. “We believe no one should be buying products that do and honestly, no one should be making them either. There is no place in the marketplace for products that cause harm. We can do better and so we do.” Recognized as a business creating sustainable change through Forbes’ Foundermade’s Innovation Deep Dive alongside Unilever Prestige and Grove Collaborative, VUND has also been featured side by side with other game-changing businesses in the We-Work gift guide. All the while, the company remains true to its beginnings, helping bee farmers partner with like-minded businesses, individuals, and chefs by sponsoring hives to allow farmers to make a living supporting the pollinators we need so desperately.
Small, but mighty, bees are known as a keystone species and vital contributors to the health of our planet. When Dr. Vandana Arcot envisioned her business, VUND, she knew the mission would be to support their health and sustainability. After all, what could be more important than protecting pollinators responsible for the flowers, fruits, vegetables, and seeds we rely on to sustain life on Earth?
According to the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership, U.S. beekeepers lost 45.5% of their managed honey-bee colonies from April 2020 to April 2021.
Bees are nature’s best pollinators.
There are more than 20,000 species of bees.
Flowering plants need animal pollinators. Without them, our food system suffers. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it’s not just food crops that require pollinators to thrive. Bees also help crops such as biofuels (e.g., canola and palm oils), fibers (e.g., cotton), livestock feed, and even construction materials.
Common culprits for bee colony failure:
Things you can do to save the bees:
Plant a pollinator garden
Eliminate bee-killing pesticide use S
upport small farmers
“We love what we do and we love our why. We are glad we found Paper Tube Co. as a partner in our journey.” –Dr. Vandana Arcot, VUND founder