Both being NYC-based business that started around the same time during the pandemic, Boisson and AVEC have been supportive partners to each other through it all—celebrating victories, creating opportunities, commiserating setbacks. And we all love Dee. Her magnetic personality and passion for excellence comes across through her product AVEC, a line of low or no sugar mixers with tons of flavor made from quality ingredients. We love her growing success story, especially as a Black female entrepreneur in an industry that lacks in diversity, so we're happy to share some of it here!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what has been your professional path before AVEC?
I am Denetrias "Dee" Charlemagne, co-founder of AVEC, a line of premium, better for you mixers. I was born in the Bronx, NY, to West Indian immigrant parents— shout out to St. Lucia and Jamaica! Before AVEC I was in advertising and media, a blend of experiences spanning traditional marketing, digital, media, branded content and publishing. I worked for agencies like Ogilvy, publishers like VICE, and my last agency was JOAN, a female founded and led agency named after badass women named Joan (Joan of Arc, Joan Didion, Joan Armatrading, Joan Jett).
What was your inspiration to start AVEC?
So, AVEC was not born out of my brain. After being in advertising for so long, I wanted to stop advising brands on how to be cool and start my own. My criteria was that I wanted to be about connecting people and wanted it to be a "hard" product—something you could see or a service you could feel—rather than digital. I decided to go to business school at Columbia and on the first day met Alex, my co-founder. He was one of the rare other people on the path to be an entrepreneur. His idea for AVEC was just so simple. Mixers sucked. Every other category had innovations, from plant-based milks to Beyond meat to Halo Top; there were "better for you" versions of everything. Yet with mixers, it was just stale. They have been either club soda with a splash of something, boring flavored juices, or really sugary cocktails for so long. It was time that we took this tired category and shake things up with ingredients from around the world, flavors that actually have flavor, and drinks that are not so sugary you feel like you are immediately hungover.
We recently saw your name mentioned in Business Insider. Can you tell us about your accomplishment and the significance of it for Black female founders. How does that make you feel?
It is so crazy full circle for me because when I applied to business school in 2019, my essay was about the then only 20 or so Black women who had raised over $1M in funding. Now that Business Insider list has 100 Black women who raised VC money in just 2021, with myself being one of them! Progress for sure, but there is still a ways to go.
Let's talk about Black-owned businesses in the nonalcoholic spirits space—or lack there of. Besides the obvious impediments institutionalized racism poses for people of color to be business owners in general, are there obstacles you think are particular to this industry?
Two big things really. One, I think nonalcoholic spirits are in the broader "wellness" category. Wellness has often been a more elite and less diverse space where Black bodies and voices are not at the table or just are not educated about the issue first. I remember working on a big beverage brand, pre-AVEC and "multicultural drinks" were all of the most sugary drinks in their portfolio. It doesn't need to be that way. The second thing is capital and historic distribution. Drink business are SO capital intensive to get inventory, and they also rely on distribution networks that have been built over decades. It is hard to break in for anyone that isn't a big company like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Diageo. For people who historically don't have that money or those connections, it is really tough.
What's your go-to AVEC cocktail recipe right now and why?
Okay, I can't pick just one, and I support "flexi" drinking, so for something nonalcoholic, I reach for the Ginger because it reminds me of a tropical punch. For something low alc, Prosecco/bubbles AVEC Grapefruit & Pomelo is a banging mimosa. You can make a mojito AVEC Yuzu & Lime and mint, adding agave if you want something a little more sweet. The mojito is great either with real rum or a nonalcoholic alternative.
What vision for the future of AVEC excites you most at the moment?
We launched in July 2020, pandemic in full swing, so really our main point of distribution was just our website. Now with things opening up, we are able to be more distributed in real life and are excited to be on shelves across America. We are excited to shake up the drinking occasion not just in places like NYC and LA, but everywhere in the country. It is so fun seeing people drink AVEC with other people, honestly—it never gets old!
What has made you most proud on this journey of bringing AVEC into the world?
Every company is saying they are doing DE&I and sustainability as initiatives, but this is just how we live. AVEC from day one has not always just thought about the product but about values as well. As a small business, we have tried to do our best to stand for something meaningful and to build a brand that was better-for-you but not exclusive in the way some more traditional wellness products can be. We want to really have a diverse community of customers. We also know we are impacting the Earth, so we give back to 1% for the Planet, chose to be in recycled aluminum, and continue to make sustainable choices.
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half-Full. How do you think alcohol-free alternatives like AVEC allow people to see the glass half-full?
We think the world would be better if people drink more together. Having nonalcoholic alternatives allows more people to feel really like they are a part of the drinking occasion. Where AVEC stands out is that you also get to pick what you want to do—you can spike it or not and still have a shared experience! There’s something to be said for sitting down with friends over drinks. Alcohol or not. Real conversations are had, walls come down, the true colors come out. It's a more honest good time.