Ep. 103: Defying the Entrepreneurial Odds – Building an Emerging Sustainability Brand During the Pandemic with Stephanie Downs



Stephanie Downs has more than 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur and spent over a decade advising fashion and automotive brands on animal alternatives. She also founded the largest plant-based meat company in India. 

In this episode of Pivot, Stephanie Co-Founder and CEO of Uncaged joins us to share her story of founding a sustainability brand during the pandemic. Uncaged is a biomaterials company combining the power of nature and technology to reimagine leather.

Stephanie Stephanie and co-founder and CTO Dr. Xiaokun Wang spent two years in the lab working to find a way to replicate the characteristics of leather. After testing thousands of combinations, they developed Uncaged’s proprietary bio-leather materials and launched a business in the midst of a pandemic.

Tune in to hear Stephanie and Dr. Wang’s journey into vegan entrepreneurship and what it takes to get a sustainable brand off the ground.

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There’s never any harm in planning out the big picture and then breaking it down into chunks. I personally do it to make the big goal less overwhelming. So we take a big, one-year goal, and then break it down into quarters, and then break it up down into months.

— Stephanie Downs


[00:20]Taking animals out of products and still having cool things.

[03:36] Stephanie’s business history: from working with PETA, starting her plant meat business and going into leather-alternative space.

[06:23] Most vegan leathers are made of plastic: innovation in next-gen vegan leathers.

[09:00] The demand for leather alternatives is vast and mostly comes from fashion brands.

[11:10] Collaborative relationship with smaller and huge brands: electric vehicle industry and creative processes.

[13:28] Market penetration is different within automotive and fashion industries: startup needs to strategize where to focus the energy.

[16:08] Staying sharp in strategic mindset: breaking KPIs into monthly plans and additional tricks.

[18:40] Helping companies hear your voice and choice, plus voting with your dollars, are great approaches to getting more vegan products made.

[20:22] Vegans are loyal customers: vegans love luxury too.

[22:58] The importance of educating consumers: leather is embalmed skin – how the products are made.

[25:54] Switching to vegan food is the hardest because food is an emotional thing, but people will start using other vegan products very easily.

About Our Weekly Pivot Episodes

We live in fast-paced times, and in an ever-changing marketplace business owners must be able to adapt readily. The Pivot podcast, hosted by Stephanie Redcross West, features interviews with successful vegan business owners, keeping you up-to-date on topical issues & how the pros are handling them.

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