Earlier this month, we sat down with Lithologie, one of our main suppliers. This entrepreneurial pair – Kim, a daring designer, and Stéphane, a geologist – are passionate about the stones of Quebec’s natural landscape. Together, they run a company that produces classy, elegant whiskey rocks. A big thank you to Kim for taking the time to share with us!
Hi Kim! Could you introduce us to your company?
Hi there, of course! Lithologie extracts stones in order to make whiskey rocks. We’ll also eventually be producing tabletop and tasting accessories to go along with the rocks, but in another form.
How were you trained?
Foundationally, I’m a designer. I studied industrial design in both CEGEP and university. I come from a family of entrepreneurs – my dad is an entrepreneur in construction, so I grew up on construction sites. I wanted to explore something a little more creative than construction. I started in interior design, completely an internship abroad, then went to the University of Montreal to study industrial design, and finally did a stage in jewelry design.
How did you get to where you are now? What does your entrepreneurial path look like?
It all started when I went for a hike in the mountains. I started collecting rocks, and came home with pockets full of them. I wondered if I would be able to identify every one of them because I was hoping to work with them to develop jewelry.
I very innocently threw it out there on Facebook: ‘Does anyone in my circle know a geologist?’ I asked. I eventually met Stéphane, who was in the middle of completing an internship with Natural Resources Canada and who is now my associate. I sent him all my rocks by mail and two weeks later I got them back, broken into little pieces in multiple bags, with reports of all the tests he had done on them. That’s when I knew I had really landed on someone incredible, with all the scientific knowledge and the willingness to give of his time.
I was pretty impressed! We then started to connect and get to know each other – at that point we hadn’t even met. We discovered that we both had a desire to start a business surrounding stones. He was a geologist, I was a jewelry designer, and the stone is very important in both those areas. We realized we had a shared passion.
We began brainstorming different ways to go about launching the business and how we were going to integrate the stones. Since I was coming from the world of jewelry, we told ourselves we could just integrate the stones that way. We quickly realized, though, that the market was already saturated, and the partners available and willing were not ideal. So, we re-asked ourselves the question: ‘How can we use the stones in an innovative way?’. We reworked our business model, which took months, and did get discouraged every now and then.
How did you land on whiskey rocks?
At the time, I was with Celine (Kotmo’s founder) at the Jeune Chambre du Commerce. She organized our cohort. She passed by my desk one day, and I told her how discouraged I was because we had found these incredible stones but didn’t know what to do with them. I asked her what corporate item we could eventually produce for her, that she would eventually need for her clients. She said, ‘Kim, you absolutely have to make whiskey rocks!’ She didn’t know anyone that did that. I wondered why we hadn’t thought of that before… it’s simple and easy to cut, after all! Two or three weeks after that, we drew up a proposal. I was convinced we would be able to do it. We did some tests, and our stones were much better suited than the ones already on the market because they are much more rigid.
We could cut the stones ourselves, and found some available on plots of land approved by the FDA. It was becoming clearer and clearer that we could actually develop this. So we launched the project. It’s been about two years.
We did a lot of testing and research beforehand to find the most interesting stones to use, how to cut them, with what machine, how the product should look, hiring suppliers, deciding on pricing, figuring out if people will buy it, for how much, what information is important for our consumers to know… We officially launched last November. That’s our story!
So your encounter with the ‘corporate’ side of Kotmo inspired you?
Yes, absolutely! It’s through that corporate connection that we’ve been able to make sales in order to grow the company. If we only sold in boutiques, which is an entirely different world, there would be much more management involved. And we like working with the corporate world, it’s very interesting, especially since it gives us the opportunity to personalize the products.
They really are of high value because no one extracts the stones the way we do. With the geology knowledge we have, we can tell the story of the stone; how old it is, where it comes from, how it was extracted. Unlike Italian marble or stones that come from China that give no indication of how or where they are extracted, we put an emphasis on providing that information. Transparency is very important to the way we do business.
What are your company values?
From the beginning, our aim was to tell the story of our stones. We’re very lucky in Quebec because we have stones here that are extremely old, and a incredible geological heritage. One of our key values therefore is transparency. We tell the story, our process, we explain our choice, the source… we provide a complete history.
What tools, techniques and materials do you use regularly?
For tools and techniques, all stones are cut using a diamond blade with a water system that prevents overheating, since the contact between the blade and stone is intensified. We’ve equipped ourselves with the right diamond blades and multiple types of saws.
We start by extracting by hand using a pointed axe, gripping ourselves onto the partitions in the rock. We usually cut within the same dimensions because the saw we’re currently using allows us a certain diameter. We then cut the pieces into slabs, then into smaller rectangles, similar to a french fry, then into cubes.
The cubes are then placed in polishing vats with diamond powder. We change the sand/powder everyday, and use a variety of fine and coarse sand. We actually use three different types. The last step is to wash them, where we deep clean the stones in order to remove all diamond powder that was ever in contact with them.
The stones are then transported to Montreal to start assembling and packaging. Generally, the stones are extracted and transformed in approximately the same city in order to minimize transportation.
It therefore takes about seven days to produce a batch of stones. The batch usually depends on the number of machines we’re using at a time. It can vary between 400 and 600 stones per week.
We spent six to eight months learning how to best approach this, doing all the research. Traditionally, whiskey rocks are not really polished because they’re too soft. Traditional rocks are at 2.5 on the hardness scale, and ours are at about 6.5-7. The diamond is at 10. We’re really dealing with stones that are much more rigid than most.
It took us eight to ten months to really solidify our polishing method. Figuring out which type of powder to use, its composition, its coarseness, how much water to use… We did a lot of tests, but now the method is perfected and we can use it to make other products.
The goal as of right now is to have a solid distribution network. Our company is financed entirely by sales, so we never received financing or grants or anything like that. We’re concentrating on having a strong distribution network, and making sure production follows, to have a steady enough cash-flow to develop new products. We definitely want to expand and develop, but you need enough money to launch.
What do you value most about our company?
What really touches me, or that I find truly incredible, is to develop something out of stone, a stone that no one is using. To highlight our geological heritage. We [my partner and I] really share this passion. We’re helping people discover. They marvel at our stones and their stories. That’s very motivating.
If you were an object, what would you be?
I’d probably be a crayon. To always be able to innovate, illustrate and present what people have in their heads. It’s pretty much the role of the designer at its foundation.
When you go on vacation, what kind of tourist are you?
I really like going unnoticed when travelling, being a part of a mass. When I was working in interior design in China, or even in Switzerland in jewelry design, I had no desire to be noticed. I wanted to blend in with locals, to really understand their way of life, get out of my comfort zone, see from their perspective.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
A dinner with anyone? I can think of so many people! There are a few designers that come to mind, like Charles and Ray Eames, that designed for instance the first chair formed out of glass fibres. Just as much her as him, since in the ’60s there weren’t very many female designers. But they really formed a tremendous team, they always had a lot of projects going on and were heavily involved. If I could go back in time and have dinner with them, I’d do it!
What do you like most about collaborating with Kotmo? Has your collaboration taught you anything especially beneficial to your business?
I believe our missions are pretty aligned. Our common goal is to highlight products with a strong design presence with minimal impact on the environment. We both prioritize the local supply chain and proximity between companies and designers. Our priority is to put design in the spotlight, not the plastic object but the integration of design throughout the entire creation process to allow designers to shine and the build a quality item.
I appreciate [her] vision and drive. Thinking about those types of objects is a great idea, considering the amount of objects people receive that end up in the trash. The idea is to create a useful product.
As much as there are ‘old school’ suppliers that disagree with providing information about their practices because they’re afraid of the outcome, organisations like B Corps inspire us to think about non-traditional models. In the end, what we would like to do is to find an environmental cause we can attach ourselves to, and eventually start our B Corp certification process. This is not yet our priority since we’re still working toward making our company even more durable and permanent, but it’s on our radar. We’d like to support a local cause close to us, like the threatened sea life around the Saint Laurent river, for example.
We were in France last April, and as we observed the market, we realized there weren’t initiatives like Kotmo’s in France. We had seen some in Vancouver, but not as good as what Kotmo does. So, its something to be proud of! To dive into the details, into the quality of objects really differentiates them.
How do you envision the future of your collaboration?
In the future? Our goal is to develop other products with Kotmo and to create synergies with our partners, developing products that also allow them to be highlighted in their market. We enjoy working with Celine, so definitely continuing to work together.
Inspired and ready to launch a project of your own? Contact us!