Founder and CEO of Doshi, one of the leading vegan luxury accessory brands named after his surname, Paras Doshi prides himself on quality, integrity and an honest approach to business.
Despite growing up with humble beginnings Paras was born into a family with a very rich history made up of courageous men and women who stood up for what they believed in and always put family first.
At first glance Paras’ compassion, kindness and honesty reign supreme, but when you start to peel away the layers you realize that tenacity is what holds it all together.
I was very excited to chat with Paras Doshi, to get a glimpse into the mind of a man who launched a sustainable fashion brand right before the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic.
What should we know about your childhood?
I grew up with two immigrant parents and my younger brother. My dad came here with nothing, but quickly took on a lot of responsibility. Not only did he establish himself here, he helped bring two of his brothers here from India and get them and their families situated.
We had very humble beginnings and I saw my parents work hard to create a decent life. Growing up, I never felt poor but we lived very frugally. There was some racism present when I was younger but that faded as more Asian people moved into the cities I lived in. Despite these adversities, childhood was generally happy! As children we enjoy everything we have and don’t really know what we don’t. I had friends on my street and along with my brother, we played a lot of baseball and basketball. I enjoyed school and enjoyed learning.
I was lucky in that I was part of both American and Indian (and Jain) cultures and that I was able to see life through multiple lenses, though I didn’t learn much about American pop culture at home. I learned that Rosebud was a sled from a Scooby Doo cartoon!
Which would you say better prepared you for adulthood, Doshi, and being a vegan in a non-vegan world, school or life experience?
Reaching adulthood seems so long ago. I couldn’t point to any one thing that prepared me. It’s simply the sum of my experiences, what my parents instilled in me, and my education. The fortunate part of being around my family and extended family is that I got to see examples of how a family unit and extended family unit worked together. I noticed the roles people played and how each person had their part in the family. I wasn’t bound to this structure but it provided a space to fit in.
This all said, life, business, and the world are so complex that I think we are ever moving towards a better version of ourselves.
Were your parents entrepreneurs?
My parents are more business people / business owners than entrepreneurs but even within established businesses there are moments of entrepreneurship. My parents’ fathers were business people, leaders, and entrepreneurs. My mother’s father fled from Karachi to Gujarat when the partition happened between India and Pakistan. He left behind everything he had and started anew. He started an insurance business and a trading company for lentils and pulses.
(My family was into vegan protein before it was a thing!) Two of his sons run that company today. My father’s father was a freedom fighter who fought against the British during India’s independence movement and later served as the mayor of a small city for five consecutive terms.
What principles did your family instill in you?
Hard work. Respect. Responsibility. Taking care of family, parents, and elders.
How was veganism introduced to you?
I’m not sure how the idea of being vegan entered my mind. I remember a friend getting cheeseless pizza, reading things on the PETA website, and coming across vegan literature I was interested in. At a certain point, I simply looked at veganism as a logical progression of my beliefs. If I was a vegetarian because I believed in not killing animals for food, it only made sense to further this line of thought by going vegan.
Did you have any vegan family members or friends to inspire and support you?
While I don’t have vegans, I do have vegetarians and I’m fortunate in that I come from a background where respect for life is contained in the way we live life.
A sprinkling of thoughts that come to mind:
My mom tells me stories of how stray dogs in India used to grab ahold of her grandma’s sari and take her to the local biscuit vendor and have her buy them some. We have always had a donation box at the temple for sick and injured animals. Part of the Jain practice is to apologize once each year to any living beings we have hurt even unintentionally. There are bits and pieces of these learnings and experiences which have shaped my thinking.
My extended family and friends have all been supportive of me going vegan. My non-vegan friends tease me about being vegan but it’s gentle and they’re good about thinking of me at gatherings. My aunts, cousins, and extended family are usually very thoughtful in preparing food to make sure there are vegan options for me.
At what age did you become vegan?
I initially started the process of going vegan at age 30 when I happened to walk into a dairy and was appalled at the conditions cows were living in. I remember the cold, damp, dark building that smelled awful. I remember the cows standing on what seemed to be the hardest of concrete floors, seemingly in filth, enveloped in stench and thought to myself, if the cows had to endure this for me to have milk, I didn’t want to be a part of it. I officially went vegan when I was 36.
How did those around you respond to your decision?
My family completely understood why I decided to go vegan. They were concerned at first that I might not get nutrients found in dairy but eventually were fine.
I know you are involved in a family business. What inspired you to launch your own company?
With a BS in finance from Cal Poly Pomona and an MBA from USC I began working for the City of Los Angeles before I launched Doshi. I was fortunate enough to work on some interesting projects during my years as a public servant. Through my experiences, I realized that I was the most alive when I was doing something creative, something different, solving a problem, and making change. At a certain point, I realized that I didn’t want to look back on my career thinking that I had only worked within the confines of the City of Los Angeles. The City didn’t have a means to reward and groom talent, and it wasn’t the right environment for me to reach my professional potential.
How did your family respond to your decision to launch a company unassociated with your family’s business and in the vegan sector?
They were supportive!
How long did it take the Doshi product line to go from seed to seal?
Much longer than desired. Probably about one year from when I really pushed to make belts, wallets, and bags but I had been doing research for a number of years before that to find factories and materials. The process was slow because I was working more than full time and I had to spend my evenings doing research.
What were the three biggest lessons learned during Doshi’s R&D stage?
1) The first lesson was that the best vegan leather is microfiber based. PU is really just a cheap alternative.
2) Finding a factory that will manufacture goods at the level you want will mean that you pay more, significantly more, for each unit. There’s no way around that.
3) Can’t publish any more trade secrets! =)
Did you have help and who was there to support you?
My parents welcomed me back home where I could minimize expenses and have a place to live. My brother, Tejas, attended numerous vegan festivals with me and has packed a ton of orders! Tejas is actually a much better salesman than me!
Why are Doshi products better than its competitors?
1) Materials, materials, materials. There are almost no other vegan brands that step up and spend more to use microfiber over PU. Our materials are 3x-10x more expensive than my competitors and we’ll never compromise there.
2) When it’s a question of quality over price, we pick quality in almost every case but do the hard work to find ways to make quality cost effective.
3) I work on product development, design, testing, and production myself. It’s very easy to outsource all of your development to a factory but then you don’t learn how to make your products better. Our products improve with every iteration. Our belts, for example, have become thicker over the years to make them more durable. We think they’re almost perfect but a few customers have complained that they’re a bit stiffer than our old ones so now we’re looking into how to make them even better. Call it continuous improvement.
What is Pinatex? Who developed it and why?
Pulling from the parent company, Ananas Anam’s, website: Our products, Piñatex® and Piñayarn®, are made of fiber from the leaves of the pineapple plant. These leaves are considered a waste product of the existing pineapple harvest.
The journey of Ananas Anam began while Carmen, a leathergoods expert, was consulting on the Philippines leather export industry in the 1990’s. Shocked at the environmental impact of mass leather production and chemical tanning she realized this could not continue, but knew that PVC alternatives were not the solution. She was driven to research a sustainable alternative.
Inspired by the abundance of natural resources, including the use of plant fibres in traditional weaving such as the delicate Barong Tagalog garments, Carmen sought to create a new, non-woven textile that could be commercially produced, provide positive social and economic impact and maintain a low environmental footprint throughout its life cycle. This is how Piñatex® came about.
I know quality is high on your list of priorities. Tell us about the hardware on your products.
Zippers are the single most important piece of hardware on a bag and we’ve transitioned to YKK zippers on almost all of our products. For other hardware, from buttons to feet, there is generally a level for low end, cheap bags (generally made from PU) and a level that’s made for high end leather bags. We only use hardware meant to be used on high end leather bags.
With our belt buckles, we’re moving up the hardware chain as the majority of our buckles are now made from stainless steel.
Can you describe 3 major benchmarks in your story that are responsible for who and where you are today?
1) Becoming president of the Indian Student Association at Cal Poly Pomona. I realized that I loved leadership and organization. I had never been so alive than when I was running that organization.
2) Getting my first job with the City of Los Angeles, getting involved in a large project, and taking a leadership role. It made me realize again what I was good at and liked.
3) Getting into USC’s Marshall School of Business, doing case studies, and realizing how fun and interesting business could be.
What is your favorite thing about Doshi? What is your least favorite thing about Doshi?
Most favorite: The fact that we produce some of the most well made vegan products available. People show us products that they’ve been using after five years and those products often still look brand new. People appreciate this! We have fans!
Least favorite: Realizing that getting in front of customers is a monumental challenge for small business. ecommerce is ruled by Google and Amazon.
What are the top five most important principles of launching a sustainable, stable, lucrative and compassionate business in the present economic climate?
I can’t fully answer this as I haven’t achieved these goals yet. It starts with positive intent but there’s much more to it then that I’m still figuring out. We spend more time thinking about where we stand in Google search than we do in making products.
If you had to do anything differently, what would that be?
Not taking my foot off the gas during the pandemic. I was exhausted from the challenges of bringing in sales at a time when we couldn’t find customers. We needed to keep pushing and finding creative ways to reach customers.
How important is veganism to Planet Earth’s future? Why?
From the research that we’ve done on the effects of raising animals, I can’t imagine that there’s anything that comes close. The amount of the Earth’s resources used in raising animals is staggering. Animal agriculture accounts for the use of one third of the land of the continental United States! One third! Few people actually realize how much space that really is because it’s sectioned off in places we don’t often see. Here is our research!
Where do you see Doshi in five years?
I can’t say that I know the answer. I love the business but it is very challenging to run an ecommerce fashion brand. Doshi hasn’t taken off enough for me to make a life around it. I would love for us to achieve enough success that I can live off of it but that is to be determined.
In an ideal world, Doshi would hit its stride and grow enough to be a sustainable business. Doshi would continue to set the standard and keep raising the bar for high quality and durable vegan accessories. Doshi would lead the space forward in turning the most promising vegan and sustainable materials into fashion.
Are you interested in sharing your plans for any future development?
We are going to be creating even more products from sustainable materials like Pinatex and Kraft Paper! We’re also planning three new handbag designs and several new belts.
What would you change about the movement and how we interact with each other?
I have spoken to a few people heading up animal rights organizations and other leaders in the animal rights movement. What I think would be most beneficial is for the movement to be more coordinated and more unified. The vegan effort is so pure and so noble that when I hear of people and organizations within the vegan community not getting along, I feel a little disheartened but I understand that not everyone always agrees on how to achieve a goal. I think there are many parts to be played in the movement, from those who seek to change laws, to those who rescue animals from slaughter, and the whole spectrum in between. I would love to see organizations get together and have more meetings of the mind where the movements’ leaders jointly coordinate efforts and have a strategic plan put into place to bring about change faster.
Where can people follow Doshi and learn from your journey?
We are @doshishop on Instagram and Facebook.