The SheEO Spotlight Series showcases the talent and radical generosity of the SheEO Community, one entrepreneur at a time.
Meet Toni Desrosiers!
Toni Desrosiers is driven to make the food packaging business more sustainable. A nutritionist, mother, and entrepreneurial spirited individual, Toni is the founder and CEO of Abeego Designs Inc., a green business that has found innovative ways to repurpose materials into new products. Here, she shares with us about her healthy lifestyle, her journey with Abeego, and becoming one of the five recipients of SheEO’s 2015 Radical Generosity Initiative.
How did you first get started in the world of business and entrepreneurship?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial in the way that I think. Ideas for businesses have long been a part of my thought process. I first began my career as a nutritional consultant, but later quit my job to become fully self-employed. The Abeego beeswax food wrap was the first product that I developed as an entrepreneur.
What initially motivated you to enter the entrepreneurial sphere from the domain of sustainable food?
I was and continue to be driven to solve a sustainability problem: there is a disconnect in the conversation that we as a society are having surrounding food storage. For the last fifty years, we have stored living food in airtight packaging. For me, this method is illogical. Finding a solution to this problem has been a catalyst for me, and I continue to ask questions such as what did we as humans do before we invented synthetics and plastics, and how did we preserve living food.
How did you build the confidence to find and implement a solution to the problems that you continued to see with the current system of food preservation?
When I was in the initial planning stage of Abeego, I think the best thing that I did was to share its concept with people. The typical approach when an individual has an idea for a project, particularly an entrepreneurial project, is to keep it a secret so as not to run the risk of having someone steal it. I didn’t have that mindset when I started Abeego, because I just wanted to talk to people and get their insight. I asked my friends and family how they stored their food, what they thought about beeswax wraps, and if they’d be interested in using such a product in their everyday lives. Through these conversations, I was able to make advancements in my design that I may not have made as quickly if I wasn’t getting feedback on what people actually wanted, and on what I was trying to create.
Did you have any specific organization to that process?
My approach wasn’t structured so much as it was exploratory. I spoke with friends and family about the concept, as well as with people who worked regularly with food and food storage in and outside of the home. My day job at the time was in a health food store, and I would keep little samples of beeswax fabric in my pocket when I’d go to work. I would have conversations with my coworkers about the material and its preservation method, as well as about their own methods for storing food.
From that initial exploration stage, to Abeego's launch, and to where the company is today, what have you learned from the process?
The biggest change in Abeego since its launch has been product-based. I think the hardest thing about starting Abeego was that I initially had no idea if or how my business was going to work. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in beeswax wraps as a product, because it hadn’t truly proven itself to me. But as I got to know Abeego and use it more regularly in my home, I began to trust it. This growth in understanding my product gave me the confidence to sell Abeego in a bigger way.
Has your mission changed as Abeego has developed?
The core of my mission has always been to get people to eat fresh-looking foods. I’m a nutritionist, and I’m always looking for sustainable ways to preserve food. I strive to educate people that their food is actually alive. People are often shocked to hear that their cheese is a living thing! This is because as a society, we have a real disconnect from the nourishment that we put in our bodies.
From a young age, I was always empowered with the idea that I have to feed my body to heal my body, rather than to go somewhere else to be healed. My mom was an herbalist, so we always kept herbal remedies in the house. I also grew up connected to nature, and my family tended a vegetable garden in the yard.
How do you maintain balance in your life, and personally sustain that connection to nature and food?
I love getting out in nature! I grow a bunch of raspberries and other favorite produce in my garden. I have a three-year old daughter, and we are always talking about our food. When we sit down to eat a chicken, she understands that she is eating a chicken. We haven’t hidden from her the fact that she is eating meat. Society often hides these things from kids as if they are secrets, and this hinders us from allowing them to grow a strong connection with food. As a society, we need to heal those building blocks connect us to food from an early age.
What are you excited about in your work right now with Abeego?
We are in the process of a complete rebrand, which will be launched in August. We also have a few new products that are coming out: one this year, and one the following year.
And the thing in the world that is getting more attention right now that is compelling me is food waste. Our global community is starting to focus in on how much food we are throwing away in relation to how much food we are wasting, as well as how many people don’t have any food. That awareness is critical if we are going to sustain seven billion people on this planet, because we can’t be throwing away fifty percent of the food we grow.
We are so glad to have you as a member of the SheEO community and as one of the five recipients of our 2015 Radical Generosity Initiative. How did you first get involved with SheEO?
I received a forwarded email from a business mentor that I’d been working with for a number of years, and he said to me, “this is for you, you need to apply for the 2015 SheEO Radical Generosity Initiative.” The concept of a thousand women contributing a thousand dollars really resonated with me. We can create a huge impact as humans when we work together, and we’ve seen this repeatedly with microlending in general. I really liked SheEO’s mission and wanted to be a part of its community, whether or not I was a finalist. And I ended up becoming part of the Top 5!
Anna Wolle is an intern with SheEO, and a rising junior studying philosophy and French at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and Paris, France. You can email her at [email protected].
Hello SheEO Activators!
Our Activator Ask from Abeego? Help us spread the word by telling 5 people about Abeego, the reusable beeswax food wraps that breathes.