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Grad is Founder of Vital Pet Life

Grad is Founder of Vital Pet Life

Vital Pet Life Founder Donie Yamamoto was born and raised in Cebu City, Philippines. A few years after moving to Los Angeles, she enrolled in the Apparel Industry Management Professional Designation Program at FIDM, and graduated in 2016. Shortly thereafter, Donie and her husband were searching for a soothing, non-GMO, toxin-free product to relieve their dog Tuxedo’s extremely dry skin and coat issues. After researching and formulating clean, sustainably sourced solutions, Tuxedo’s dramatic improvement inspired the couple to create their own business beginning with their Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil. We caught up with Donie to learn more about Vital Pet Life, how FIDM helped prepare her for entrepreneurship, and how the company has pivoted in light of Covid-19.

How did FIDM help prepare you for entrepreneurship? As long as I can remember, I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit. As a young woman in the Philippines, I owned a small high-end swimwear store. The breadth of what I learned at FIDM enabled me to expand and opened my eyes to the intricacies of the US market. The business concepts and curriculum I studied are transferable to any industry. 
Were any of your courses relevant to sourcing and manufacturing? Every class was instrumental in how I run my business. FIDM’s broad concepts as well as the very specific skills I studied support what I do today; these include quality control, costing, production, wholesaling, inventory, market analysis, and presentation, as well as merchandising, trade dynamics, ownership and finance, factoring, and tolerances. I’d say every class helped me get to where I am today. Even though my industry now is different, the overall concepts apply to Vital Pet Life and creating a pet wellness brand.    
Why has sustainability always been important for you and your business? When we began sourcing Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil, we wanted to make sure we weren’t depleting the ocean’s salmon supplies. As a conscientious pet wellness company, our first responsibility is to design our products sustainably, meaning the making of our products leaves as little trace on the planet as possible. We’re so proud that our hero product, Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil, is certified 100% sustainable by the renowned Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), ensuring that our salmon is from MSC certified fisheries that minimize their impact on the whole marine environment, guaranteeing healthy, thriving oceans, and safeguarding seafood supplies for the future. Our bottling facility is also MSC certified, for a full circle of sustainability.  
What do you most enjoy about working in the clean and sustainable pet wellness product space? I love the process of researching and sourcing clean ingredients for our products, knowing they will help pet owners like me create a happy and vibrant life for their pets. Every morning, I start my day working with our customers, answering questions, reading feedback, reviews, and any concerns they may have. I’m so grateful for our passionate and committed Vital Pet Life community. To support them, we have a Facebook VIP Group, which offers exclusive discounts, early access to new products and just touching base with new pet friends. My husband and I are true animal lovers and are actively involved in working with and giving back to rescue shelters in our neighborhood and throughout the US. Growing up in the Philippines, I saw too many stray dogs ignored. My mission is to create a compassionate and socially aware brand making a positive impact in our community.
You were selected as a 2019 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow. How did this impact your business? Becoming a Foundation Fellow opened doors and gave me access to a vast amount of entrepreneurial resources, dynamic women, and business models that helped me shape and build my company. In my journey as a female entrepreneur, I strive to connect with and build a community of like-minded businesswomen. I first heard of The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) from other Fellows. When I read that the WBENC “believes diversity promotes innovation, opens doors, and creates partnerships that fuel the economy” and “provides the most relied upon certification standard for women-owned businesses and the tools to help them succeed,” I applied and am thrilled to now be a certified WBENC business.
Where do you see the future of Vital Pet Life headed? My vision for VPL is to be the leading clean and sustainable pet wellness brand. We planned to launch two new Vital Pet Life products in 2020. I’ve been researching ingredients and collaborating with suppliers and formulators in preparation and anticipation of adding to our curated collection of pet wellness products. Then the coronavirus hit. Every day, my husband and I are grateful to have a successful business during this time of uncertainty and upheaval. The focus on our two new products continues as we’ve also shifted our energies to immediate concerns. This crisis is humbling and as a team of two with a handful of contractors, we’re learning how to overcome supply chain obstacles while focusing on customer service and communicating more with our customers about these issues. In the Covid-19 era, pumps are nearly nonexistent, which creates a problem if your bestselling product includes a pump. 

Having empathy is essential, from knowing our supplier is struggling to our customer, who’s now being told that a pump may not be available. We’re investigating all avenues to alleviate these pain points and trying to be part of the solution, not the problem. Pivoting without losing customers, sales, or disrupting our Amazon shop is our daily focus, in hopes of turning obstacles into opportunities. Our focus is now on the deep relationships we’ve built with our customers and suppliers to keep production flowing. We’re hopeful about the future, even in this uncertain time. 

Learn more at vitalpetlife.com and on Instagram @vitalpetlife.

Categories:  Apparel Industry Management Alumni