As you’ll know from our previous International Women’s Day posts, we regularly deal with inspirational women in the mindful drinking sector. From our very own kick-ass founder Laura to fantastic alcohol-free influencers, Inspiring Stories contributors, supportive community members and, of course, brand creators. But new kid on the block brand DVees have upped the game; there’s not just one female entrepreneur behind this beautiful brand, but four. They’re all sisters, all of whom deserve recognition as a female force in the industry this International Women’s Day. We caught up with Vona Aghoghovbia to hear how these talented siblings not only created a tasty new tipple but also bottled their cultural heritage.
Vona, tell us where your totally unique brand name came from.
We’re a West African family from Lagos in Nigeria. My sisters and I moved to the UK when we were 16, in time to do our A-Levels. We’re a family of foodies, and so we’re all about food and drink, although my sisters and I don’t drink alcohol. When it came to creating a name for our brand, we decided to call ourselves DVees because we all have names starting with the letter V. I’m Vona, and my sisters are called Voke, Vese, and Vome. So, when people used to see us coming, they’d say ‘Ah, here come the V’s’. Imagine that with a West African accent – it became DVees!
Your product, Chapman, is a completely unique offering. What was the inspiration for the distinctive flavours of this alcohol-free drink?
Well, firstly, it was never meant to be an alcohol-free drink as such, but it’s been adopted by the low and no alcohol market, which we didn’t expect. Secondly, it’s a unique flavour here in Britain, but in West Africa, Chapman is a very popular drink.
Chapman came from our family country club in Lagos, the Ikoyi Club. The bartender there reportedly created the non-alcoholic cocktail, including ingredients such as sparkling citrus, blackcurrant, cucumber, and aromatic spices, for his favourite customer, a British ex-pat named Mr Chapman.
In West African communities, Chapman is made on the go, stored in jugs, and is a popular refreshing drink sold everywhere.
So, how did Chapman become a bottled drink here in the UK?
In 2013, my husband turned 30. As a family and a community, we love a party! When we counted up our Nigerian friends, we had over 100 guests. We wanted to give our friends a unique party favour to take home with them, so my sisters and I decided to bottle this familiar taste. We spent time creating the perfect Chapman, putting it into bottles, and making little labels. As we were doing it, we started thinking ‘ How come nobody has ever bottled this?’. Suddenly, we had a business idea on our hands!
We knew the flavour really well, but when we went to the flavour houses, translating that into a consistent taste was really difficult. In fact, the first taste sample wasn’t quite right and the second sample was really bad! We knew that people who knew Chapman in the West African community would want that exact Chapman flavour, so after nearly giving up altogether, the third sample was perfect…thank goodness! We were so happy that we’d found the winning recipe that we all hugged and high-fived…it was like winning Olympic gold!
How has the beloved West African taste gone down in the British drinks market?
We’ve had a really great response to Chapman. Club Soda’s alcohol-free off-licence has been the brand’s only physical outlet in London so far, and we’ve had really good feedback! We made a conscious effort not to just sell the drink to the West African community, but to widen the horizon, and it seems to have worked. We also tried to make sure our branding had a West African influence, but we also wanted people to visualise it in the food hall at Harrods. It was important to us as a proud British African family to represent a product from Nigeria as luxurious.
We’re working on new drinks that reflect our company’s combination of cultures, to reflect the 22 years that we’ve lived in the UK as well as our Nigerian heritage. We’re working on a Hibiscus drink that we decided to make into lemonade, the most British of drinks!
It’s pretty rare to hear of four sisters running a successful company together. How do you find working so closely with your family?
Honestly? It’s great. We’re so lucky that all four of us sisters share the same vision. We share the same truth, we share the same determination, and because we’re all invested in the same goal, we keep each other accountable. Our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness, too; we recently had family difficulties, and because we’re all from the same family, we all experience a tough time.
Where we are unique as a team, though, is that we already know and recognise each other’s qualities. As well as founding DVees, I am an accountant, and so I’m great at balancing the books. One of my sisters has great leadership skills and makes a great manager. One sister is really strong on visual branding, and the other excels at social media and communications.
And finally, what message would you give other female entrepreneurs this International Women’s Day?
We’re lucky that we’re four sisters who were empowered by our parents and given every opportunity they could afford. We are passionate about empowering the girl child and a portion of our sales go towards educating the girl child. We are keen believers in education as a tool to empower women’s entrepreneurship, as well as championing and supporting other women and asking them to do the same.
You can buy DVees Chapman at our alcohol-free off-licence at 59 Great Portland Street until the 27th March, or buy a 6 or 12-pack of the Sangria of West Africa on their website here. For more information on women in low and no alcohol on International Women’s Day, see our posts from previous years in our blog archive.