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Dtocs: An Elegant Plate of Eco-Consciousness and Community Empowerment

Fine Dining on Fallen Leaves Dtocs plates

Oregon has long been a bastion of sustainability, where commitment to eco-conscious practices and innovative solutions is deeply ingrained in the state's culture. From pioneering bottle recycling programs to the extensive use of renewable energy sources, Oregonians have consistently championed environmental causes. Additionally, small businesses account for 99.4% of all businesses in Oregon making it the perfect ecosystem for entrepreneurship. Pallavi Pande, mother of two and founder of Dtocs, is a shining example. The eco-friendly dinnerware brand stands as a beacon of eco-consciousness and elegance, crafting exquisite tableware from naturally fallen palm leaves. The visionary “mom-preneur” mission is to bridge her cultural roots in India with her passion for sustainability, creating a brand that champions sustainability while catering to the food and hospitality industry.  

"I remember eating on banana leaves while growing up in India. Even as a child I loved how this brought us closer to nature in a way that did not cause harm to nature. I started Dtocs with these three things in mind- Sustainability, Community, and Usability." 

A Plate Full of Purpose Dtocs plates w/food

Dtocs, short for "Detoxifying the Outside, Cultivating the Soul," is an eco-conscious brand driven by a powerful mission to redefine sustainability and elevate the dining experience. Founded by Pallavi Pande in the heart of Portland, Oregon, Dtocs specializes in crafting luxury tableware from fallen palm leaves. These meticulously designed, chemical-free, and plastic-free products not only offer a sustainable alternative to single-use disposables but also seamlessly blend elegance and functionality. With its roots deeply intertwined with nature, culture, and sustainability, DTOCS represents a vision for a greener, more conscious world, where every meal becomes an opportunity to detoxify the outside while nurturing the soul. 

Pallavi says Dtocs is more than a brand; it's a commitment to mindful living and environmental responsibility, with a focus on fostering community connections and inspiring others to make eco-friendly choices. The inception of DTOCS was driven by Pallavi's unwavering desire to introduce the eco-friendly concept of dining on natural, biodegradable materials to the Western world. She believed that the practice of using palm leaves as tableware, an idea rooted in her Indian heritage, had the potential to revolutionize the way people approached single-use disposables. 

"Dtocs is more than my passion, it’s my purpose as a responsible human being. I dream of creating a legacy for my children and be known for my actions that can change the world and inspire individuals to consume consciously and make eco-friendly choices." 

 Seeds of Sustainability Pallavi Pande of Dtocs

Pallavi's journey into sustainability can be traced back to her childhood in a small town near the Himalayas in India. Growing up amidst the breathtaking natural beauty of the region, one of her most cherished childhood memories was the practice of eating meals on banana leaves. A tradition that not only brought her closer to nature but also highlighted the importance of sustainable living. This childhood experience left an indelible mark on Pallavi, shaping her perspective on how humans could coexist harmoniously with nature.  

Pallavi graduated from The Institute of Financial Analysts of India with a BS in Electronic Communications. She moved to the US and pursued her master’s in electrical engineering at Ohio State University, before marrying and moving to Michigan. Pallavi says her passion leaned more toward creativity. This led her to logistics, warehousing, and private company mentoring positions with Betfair US TVG Network, Northern Softnet, and the World Financial Group. During this time, she discovered the intricacies of inventory management, cost-effective international shipping, customer service, and the efficient distribution of products. All within the domain of warehousing and logistics. These skills would serve her greatly with her own business. 

 Setting the Table Pallavi Pande of Dtocs

During a fateful trip to India with her family, Pallavi says she wanted to introduce her daughters to the concept of dining on leaves. Though challenging at first, Pallavi realized the unique concept could be introduced to the Western world. She recognized the growing demand for options beyond conventional paper, environmentally harmful plastics, and pricey bamboo products. This vision led her on a journey to South India, where she encountered the majestic areca palm trees. These trees primarily served to produce betel nut, also known as areca nut. The fallen leaves from these trees became the cornerstone of her venture, providing a renewable and sustainable source of raw material for her innovative products. “I’m going to create a business and make an impact with this waste and give these leaves one more use." 

With an abundance in regions like Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and the Philippines, the raw material of palm leaves is a renewable resource, ensuring a continuous supply. Unlike bamboo, which involves cutting down mature plants, this approach capitalizes on a tree's natural life cycle. Deeply committed to ethical sourcing and uplifting her community, Pallavi knew it was most important for her to manufacture in India. “I always say Dtocs is my way of giving a little piece of India to everyone. Manufacturing there means I’m able to give back to India.”

Turning Over a New Leaf Dtocs product cycle

Pallavi and her team tackled manufacturing challenges ingeniously. Establishing an independent unit with large ironing machines proved costly. Instead, they adopted an innovative strategy, creating metallic molds to shape plates as desired. They partnered with a car manufacturer, using expansive machines to compress four-foot palm leaves with heat alone, devoid of chemicals. This process allowed the plates to compost in just 90 days, rendering them suitable for home gardens. In urban areas, disposal is straightforward and eco-friendly. The plates break down naturally, meeting legal standards and leaving no additional carbon footprint. 

Pallavi prides herself on the competitive pricing of her eco-friendly plates versus conventional options like paper or plastic. In contrast, palm leaf plates from various manufacturers on platforms like Amazon vary in price due to the diverse quality of leaves sourced. Pallavi places a premium on the quality of her plates, using select leaves to ensure sturdiness and durability. It's a crucial factor for her discerning clientele who prioritize reliability over mere convenience. She also takes a hands-on approach to production, personally overseeing the selection of raw materials to maintain her brand's premium quality. With ten exclusive, patented plate designs, she also produces standard shapes, with future patents on the horizon. Pallavi envisions opportunities for research and development funding, particularly from the US government, given her status as a minority woman entrepreneur significantly contributing to the local economy. 

"You're doing something good for people, the planet, and parties because I want to stand for all three. It's not just about being practical; it can still be fun. Single-use items don't have to be boring or monotonous or trashy; they can encompass everything you desire when you put your heart and mind into it." 

Fertile Grounds for Innovation 

Dtocs plates

Pallavi says community and relationship building is at the heart of everything she does and at the center of Dtocs’ mission. She credits her mother as an inspiration and sees both of her parents as community builders. Dtocs has partnered with more than a dozen organizations nationwide such as Faire. She has also been featured in prominent publications such as the Portland Business Journal, Oregon Home Magazine, and Small Business Majority, and an array of podcasts. To Pallavi, this is her marketing strategy: she accepts any opportunity to connect and share her story. She recently competed in Business Impact NW’s annual IMPACT Pitch competition where she received a Community Impact Award. With numerous awards already under her belt—including a 2019 NEXTY Award and a 2023 Influential Businesswoman Award—her passion and vision have shown through. 

Most recently, Pallavi connected with the Oregon Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) at Business Impact NW. Pallavi is currently working with Gabrielle and hopes to attend networking events to expand her brand exposure. Like most small business owners, Pallavi encountered difficulties on her entrepreneurial journey. She believes the Oregon MBDA will be the key to unlocking even more partnerships and potential collaborations. Especially with other minority women-owned businesses.  

“Navigating the entrepreneurial world as a person of color presents unique challenges due to systemic racism and biases, leading to limited opportunities and resources. Running a small business has been demanding, as the complexities involved seem more difficult to manage without equal access to resources and support.” 

 A Canopy of Support Pallavi Pande in India

Pallavi’s story is not merely about entrepreneurship. Tt's a testament to the transformative power of purpose and community. The unshakable belief that even the smallest gestures can lead to monumental change. Recognizing the stark gender barriers in India, she employs a majority women workforce of farmers and manufacturers in India. Pallavi also seeks to create a tangible and enduring impact in the lives of other women and their families in vulnerable Indian communities. She channels her dedication into providing essential support for women, aiming to empower them through employment opportunities. Additionally, she ensures that their children receive an education and provides yearly rations. Including staples like rice and lentils, ensuring families have sustenance. Beyond this, she extends medical assistance, covering vital vaccinations, including those for COVID-19.  

"It costs $60 annually for a child's education so we take care of that for our workers. We know in some cases, male family members may not contribute to the household income. This leads to financial strain, substance abuse, and domestic issues. Rather than providing cash, we distribute yearly rations and take care of any medical needs like vaccines and shots. Anything I can do to give back, I will. It’s why I chose to manufacture in India, and why we will continue to do that." 

Fruits of One’s Labor Pallavi Pande w/family

When Dtocs was initially launched, Pallavi says she wasn’t sure what direction she wanted the business to go. It was Pallavi's ability to connect with people through her authentic story and personal journey emerged as a formidable strength. This community-centric approach has been instrumental and remains at the core of the brand's success. The direct connection she forges with customers has propelled the brand into a thriving direct-to-consumer company. Pallavi is an active member of various community-based groups, and still prioritizes word-of-mouth from happy clients. 

On the horizon, Pallavi says she’s looking at expanding into more products. The areca palm leaves are used in a variety of purposes. This allows for her to diversify, providing opportunities for a range of products beyond dinnerware. Pallavi shares that they’re already using leftovers leaf framework from manufacturing the plates, grinding the leaf skeleton into a powder for cattle feed and mulch. “A customer even shared a photo of their rabbit playing with a plate. Now we’re thinking about patenting pet products. There aren’t any palm leaf pet products!” 

Pallavi has even higher hopes for patents. Having visited more than 18 countries and witnessed a range of sustainable living practices, she says the sky’s the limit.  

I was just reading in South Africa; people are creating things from the shell of pineapples. People are making things with avocados, utilizing the pit. People in Kotori are doing that with the seeds of dates. There's so much innovation you can explore. You just need to have that entrepreneurial mindset and the willingness to take that risk. Give it your all and see if it works or not." 

About the author

Janelle is a storyteller through and through. She was raised in a family of entrepreneurs who owned and managed a series of small businesses, including a Hawaiian restaurant, a video store, and several real estate properties. Growing up in a low-income community but attending schools as a minority in affluent areas, she struggled with the inequities she faced each day.

Janelle graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, specializing in screenwriting and playwriting. She has worked for a number of nonprofits and has remained steadfast in her commitment to using her craft to support the missions of each organization, and uplift underserved communities throughout the Bay Area.

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