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“If a fashion brand made a spirit, what would it look like?” pose David Fudge and Emily Onkey, co-founders of Aplõs, a plant-based, non-alcoholic spirit. The brand was born from 10+ years in the DTC space and the simple desire for a beverage that marks the end of the day similarly to alcohol – without the negative effects.
Since its inception in December 2020, Aplõs has built a world where aesthetic appeal, functional benefits, and practiced attention to detail is celebrated. Released in batches, the hemp-infused, non-alcoholic spirit features a revolving palette of unique flavors. This batch includes the bright notes of yuzu unlined with the cool of basil and cucumber. Keep reading to learn more about the ethos of Aplõs, what’s next for the brand, and the evolution of the cocktail with the brand’s co-founders.
Let’s talk about the Aplõs origin story. Was there a moment personally or professionally where you decided: “The world needs this”?
DF: I’ve always been a reluctant drinker. I grew up in the South and went to a big state school. I was that person nursing a beer at a keg party trying to convince people I was drinking. I’ve never really loved alcohol and felt like there was this disconnect with how pervasive it was in our culture.
Emily and I met at Bonobos and spent a couple of years chatting about this idea. The vision we have is to build the premium spirit brand of the future. Our approach wasn’t really, “What’s a huge opportunity? Let’s create a brand to exploit that.” We’re creating the product and the brand that we want ourselves.
Every time we drink, we compromise our physical and mental health, our productivity, sometimes our relationships, and in extreme instances, our lives. We are building a beautiful brand and product that provides all the benefits of a cocktail experience, without that sacrifice. We’re excited that Aplõs is one of the brands leading that cultural shift of rethinking the way we drink.
EO: For me, it started at the beginning of the COVID lockdown. You’d stripped away all of the fun upsides of alcohol. It was the first time I felt uncomfortable with my drinking. I’m not a reluctant drinker. I'm a comfortable, social drinker. I remember waking up every day thinking, “I don’t feel well, even though I didn’t do anything last night. I’m not going to drink today.” But then I would drink. Alcohol has a major grip on how adults socialize.
What David and I really envision is being able to walk into a bar and have just as much fun functional alcohol-alternatives that give you a functional benefit without all of the downsides of it, even down to sugar and calories. I still drink on the weekends, but I’ve become sort of weekday sober. It feels great.
What’s been surprising about launching a brand?
DF: As entrepreneurs, we put so much thought into the packaging experience and the product, and building something we’re really proud of and love. Then you put it out into the world. It requires vulnerability. The thing that’s been really surprising has been the appetite for something different, which has been so glaringly obvious. The customer has been there before the market. People are looking for an alternative for certain occasions. That’s been a pleasant surprise.
EO: What’s been really beautiful is getting to see firsthand the plethora of reasons people want something like this. It can be something on the side of struggling with addiction or in cancer treatment, but it can also be someone with two kids who’s like, “I feel like crap when I wake up.” We’re there for them, too.
What about the non alcoholic beverage space excites you?
DF: We’re familiar with a lot of the other brands, and we like to share learnings. We are all building this new categorie together and have a “rising tide raises all boats” point of view. And, for the most part, we’re complimentary. With that said, we have a strong point of view on who we want to be. We’re really focused on that.
Can you share one thing that surprised you about your customer?
EO: Before we launched, I had this idea of who our main customer would be—vegan, yoga, super healthy, clean-living person—and it’s not. Or it is, but it’s all these other people. That’s been beautiful to see come alive.
We have a stronger presence on the coasts, which you would expect. But since we launched paid social ads, we’ve seen a democratization of our customers. We’re seeing people come in from every state. It’s not as progressive, urban areas as we thought.
DF: There’s this false narrative in the media that there are “drinkers” and “non-drinkers,” but that’s just not really the case. People are looking for more options. There are occasions when people want a functional alternative to alcohol. There are a lot of reasons behind that. It’s not as black and white as people like to make it out to be in the media narrative.
As founders featured in our “Quality Makers” series, what does “quality” mean to you?
EO: It means purposeful product design, process, production, and impact on someone’s life.
DF: I think it’s all in the details. That’s everything from using an organically-grown hemp in our product. It was really important for us to build trust with the consumer. The details reinforce that there’s a human aspect to our brand, which is so core to our ethos. It’s something we’re losing our grip on as we live our lives in a digital form. As things get more and more automated and technology starts to play an even larger role in our lives, we’re going to value human connection and nature in a much more profound way than we do now. We see ourselves as a brand that will help be a protector of those things.
Can you share the Aplõs lifestyle or the direction you hope to take the brand in?
DF: Emily and I are brand people. We were very intentional about building the foundation of the brand—what we want to stand for and how that exists in the world. We think about this as building the world we want to live in. Even our website is aplos.world.
The reason we exist in the world is to help and inspire consumers to reconnect with the magic of everyday life. In a world that’s become hyper-connected and obsessed with optimization, we really believe that there is so much joy and pleasure in the simple things that surround us that we often overlook because we’re so busy. We constantly have screens in front of our faces and to-do lists. We want to create experiences and products that take us away from that.
Emily and I have both seen the power of physical space. You have the ability to really bring a brand to life by connecting with people emotionally. What form that takes, we’ll see. We’re definitely not going to take the approach of “we’re going to do merch just because it’s trendy.” It has to make sense for our brand.
EO: Because we come from fashion, David and I have always juggled a merchant-led marketing agenda. So, to have one product we can heroicize and then build a world around is kind of a dream. We’re really excited about what we can do with it.
Interested in being part of the Aplõs world? Dive in here.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.