Building from an education base from Harvard and Columbia Business School and experience at Ogilvy and VICE, Denetrias ‘Dee’ Charlemagne set out to create a brand that echoes her own diverse, progressive background.
Launching AVEC (“With” in French) with her business partner, Alex Doman, the duo introduces a selection of premium, all-natural drink mixers that are both low in sugar and calories to the market. Since its 2020 mid pandemic launch, the brand has garnered attention from Pharrell William’s Black Ambition Program.
“As a native New Yorker and woman of color, I am honored at the recognition from Black Ambition. With founders of diverse backgrounds, customers with a wide range of viewpoints, and flavors from the world, diversity is central to what we do at AVEC. Closing the wealth gap is what inspired me to become a founder and we hope to make this community proud.”Dee Charlemagne.
Here are 5 Minutes/5 Questions with AVEC co-founder, Dee Charlemagne:
How has your formal education at Columbia Business School and Harvard helped shape AVEC?
DC: To start more practically, I met my co-founder Alex at Columbia so it is really where I met the idea of AVEC and was convinced to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. I was a psychology major at Harvard and then went into advertising so I felt that business school was a way to fill a gap in my experience and knowledge — I know a little more about ops, finance and other parts of running a business.
More philosophically, When I think about my education at these super elite institutions and AVEC, I just think about my personal motivation for getting into drinks and hospitality, which was to find a place where people really could cut the small talk and connect outside of elitism of these schools, really they teach you how to think and to have discussions and make you more curious about the world.
AVEC means ‘With’ in French. Tell me about your successful teamwork with your business partner, Alex Doman.
DC: Alex and I met on the first day of business school and were connected by the fact that we were one of the few people in our class who wanted to be entrepreneurs rather than go into more traditional corporate jobs. He presented the idea for AVEC in one of our first hangouts and it was such an obvious idea to me. I was that girl that was drinking a tequila soda with a splash of this and dash of that trying to hack my way to a good drink. Mixers sucked! We spent a long time bringing to life the vision of this cocktail mixer that had high flavor but low sugar and was made with only great ingredients. We use real juice and botanicals with no nasties — no preservatives, “Natural flavors” or things from concentrate.
Today I can’t believe how much progress we have made from home recipes, to launching in a pandemic, to celebrating big press moments, to facing the challenges of a global supply chain — it goes on. But, through it all we are really aligned on this belief that the world is better if we drink more together.
Congratulations on being a finalist in Pharrell William’s Black Ambition Program. Talk about how this recognition aligns with AVEC ethos and your own personal values.
DC: Huge! Of course, I am a big Pharrell fan girl and love to win, but the prize is so much more than an award attached to a celebrity. Black Ambition’s value is giving “unprecedented access” to Black and Latin X entrepreneurs for whom access is a struggle every day. I know some people look at me and the fancy schools I went to and think I have the access already, but my parents are West Indian immigrants who moved to the Bronx where I grew up and continue to work against a system not built for people like us. I consider entrepreneurship a huge privilege where you are able to walk away from a stable job and think you can make it. My parents hustled for me to be able to get the education I needed to be able to find stable employment. However, ironically, entrepreneurship is also one of the key ways to close the wealth gap in America (white families have 12x the wealth of non-white families). Without that wealth, I am taking a huge gamble on entrepreneurship and started a business with 6 figures of student debt to do so. Black Ambition’s prize means I have people who understand that struggle on my cap table and means so much to have a community behind me.
What is your favorite flavor of the AVEC line and why?
DC: You can’t pick your favorite child! Since it’s SO hot in NYC right now, I am loving some or our more citrus forward flavors. Tequila avec Grapefruit & Pomelo which is like a lighter, refreshing Paloma. Then the Yuzu & Lime on its own as a refreshing, zero cal, zero sugar mocktail. I’ll add mint if I am feeling fancy.
My book, The Love List changed my life. What are the top three characteristics on your Love List (characteristics or qualities you are looking for in a potential mate or current mate)?
DC: Easy for me. 1) Adaptable – I want someone to be able to have a good time and mix with people no matter the context. You have much fun at a fancy gala as you do at the cheapest dive. 2) Active – I am trying to get better at knowing how to relax, but if you are a couch potato that is a big turn off. Let’s travel, workout and keep things moving! 3) Humor: People say I have a smile on even when I am angry, so I have to be able to laugh and remind myself that life is not that serious!