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15 Nov '16

6 Vegan Designers You Need to Know

Posted by Unicorn Goods

Among the new crop of cruelty-free fashion makers are, from left, Joshua Katcher, Leeanne Mai-ly Hilgart, and Stephanie Nicora.

When it comes to luxury fashion, there’s no doubt that items derived from animals — whether leather, wool, silk, or fur — are generally the most coveted. But that hasn’t stopped a growing number of vegan fashion visionaries from turning out stylish shoes, coats, sweaters, and bags for those who want to look amazing while also knowing they’ve not helped kill or torment any creatures in the process.

Nevertheless, vegan fashion be a tough sell.

“This is the last frontier in the sense that in fashion people tend to think about fashion as an art and not a business, and not as something that has moral implications — it’s just self-expression,” Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, founder of the Vaute Couture vegan label, tells Yahoo Style. It’s why winning the most fashion-minded individual over to items made from alternatives to especially leather and wool can be tough, despite the great leaps that these materials have made over the years.

“It gave me a great challenge because I don’t wear animals and I want the world to stop wearing animals, so I thought, how can I make a coat that would convince even someone who doesn’t care about animals at all?” she wondered. “I couldn’t make something that was sub-par. I had to make something that would make you say, ‘Why would we wear animals when this is warmer and prettier?”

It’s the question all vegan designers strive to help answer — and we’ve found six, in an ever-growing field of cruelty-free creators, who do it particularly well through their offerings of on-point coats, jackets, shoes, and bags, perfect for ushering you into fall and winter.

Mai-ly Hilgart (left), founder of Vaute Couture.


CEO and Creative Director: Mai-ly Hilgart

What to get now: Wool-free and down-free winter coats

Vegan “aha” moment: I stopped eating meat officially when I went to my uncle’s dairy farm. It was kind of one of those moments where everyone expects you to follow the rules, but I had just played with the cows outside and I came in and dinner was steak and I just couldn’t swallow it. For my fifth-grade science fair project I picked factory farming, vivisection, and the fur industry. I titled it “Being Cruel Isn’t Cool” and sent it to a T-shirt company that actually made it! I went from being really popular to someone nobody understood.

The problem with wool: While leather is obvious, because it’s actually someone’s skin, people assume that sheep need to be sheared and it’s just a haircut. It makes perfect sense as far as what we’ve always been led to believe — the same way we’ve been led to believe that cows make milk for us — but it’s not true. Wild sheep don’t need to be sheared and make just enough wool to keep warm. So we’ve bred them to make extra. Shearing is obviously a business process, and when you’re shearing for volume and to get it as fast as possible, there are faces getting cut off, flaps of skin getting cut off, they’re getting dragged around — all while the sheep are living in factory-farm conditions. In addition there’s a process called muelsing to get merino wool, in which sheep are bred with a lot of wrinkles in their skin so they can grow more wool, which makes sense profitability-wise. But there are bugs that lay their eggs in those wrinkles, and to get rid of the bugs they basically shave off the skin without anesthetic, creating scar tissue. And after a life like this, they’re killed in the end. With down, every time the bird’s down grows back they just pluck them again, which is a lot like getting your nails pulled out — and they do it over and over and over, and then when they’re not productive anymore they’re slaughtered. We’re looking at animals as machine parts, and they’re just not.

Novacas founders Erica and Sara Kubersky, (top right).


Founders: Erica and Sara Kubersky

What to get now: Leather-free shoes and boots

Vegan “aha” moment (Erica): I was 8 and was visiting a kibbutz in Israel (my dad is Israeli) and they took me to see the cows thinking I’d be so excited. The wheels started turning in my head and I turned to my dad and said, “Wait, so hamburgers are made out of cows?” He was like, “Not this cow.” I said, “I’m not going to eat them anymore.” It’s the one thing I stuck to my whole life. I’m 37. In high school I went vegan… Then my sister was like, “You know your shoes are made out of cows, too.” So around 9 or so I was like, “OK, I can’t wear leather anymore,” which made my parents nuts trying to find shoes. I wore a lot Converse and there were a lot of cold winters! We would say, “One day there will be a store where we can go in and buy whatever we want.” We founded Mooshoes in 2001.

The problem with leather: I think a lot of people believe leather is just a natural byproduct, because what are they going to do with all these hides, right? But the factory farms make so much [profit] by selling those hides, so by buying leather you are supporting those factory farms that I think a lot of people try to avoid. Making that connection for people is important. Also, no one wants to wear the hide that comes directly off the animal, and for it to be treated and made into something that you actually want to wear it has to go through a tannery process, which is terrible — for the environment and for the workers and to the towns they’re in. The workers are forced to work with chromium, which is one of the most toxic chemicals out there, causing a high incident of cancer for tannery workers. And after the process is done it won’t biodegrade so you’re taking something that was once natural and turning it into something that won’t ever biodegrade.

How the shoes are made: It took us many years to perfect the product, and it’s something we’re constantly working on. Many vegan shoes over the years were made out of cheap plastic, and I think that’s unfortunately the image that people still have. But we found high-end Italian microfibers that are breathable and wear in like leather. They’re also a lot more biodegradable than leather. Brave Gentleman founder Joshua Katcher.


Founder & Director: Joshua Katcher

What to get now: Men’s leather-free shoes and jackets

How he transitioned into fashion: I started my blog, The Discerning Brute, in 2008. At the time there was really nothing discussing men’s lifestyle as it pertains to ethical fashion and grooming products and fine cuisine, which highlighted to me the interesting cultural phenomenon where we tend to association caring — caring about people, caring about animals, caring about the environment — with femininity. So I started the blog to contextualize it for mainstream guys to feel comfortable with being concerned about these issues and do something about them in a way that didn’t threaten their masculinity. The brand emerged from the website in around 2010, when I was doing more and more writing, covering fashion and food and lifestyle, and realizing there were things that didn’t exist that I wanted to buy for myself, like a pair of classic, well-made men’s shoes. So I set out to make them myself.

Why it’s so hard to kick leather: People say, “I need to have leather shoes,” and don’t really know why they’re saying it. It’s because of the effective marketing that has gone on for a very long time around leather. The leather industry owns words like “genuine,” “real,” “authentic,” “durability.” It doesn’t mean that nothing else can be durable and high quality and feel supple and all of those things. I use high-tech Italian milled microfiber, it’s high performance and high grade, and the materials are stronger, more weather resistant, they breathe, they break in, they do everything you want leather to do but there’s no animal involved. I have customers who say, “I bought a pair of shoes in 2011 and I feel bad I haven’t bought more but they’ve lasted, I just had them resoled.” Why don’t people get their shoes fixed anymore? Because of fast fashion, they want you to wear it until it falls apart and then buy something else quickly. I don’t ascribe to that model.

Elizabeth Olsen, founder of OlsenHaus.


Founder: Elizabeth Olsen

What to get now: Leather-free pumps and ankle boots

Founder: Elizabeth Olsen

What to get now: Leather-free pumps and ankle boots

Anti-leather epiphany: I was working as creative director for Tommy Hilfiger handbags in New York City. At the time they just had a PVC line, plastic and fabric and stuff, but then we got this new CEO and she wanted to launch a leather line. I didn’t want to do it but I had no choice and I was not 100 percent vegan at the time (I still wore leather). We went overseas to Korea and at this one particular factory I had to go through a pile of lambskin. They’re smaller bodies, so the skins are smaller, and we had dyed it blue which is a difficult color to get correct. When you’re dealing with animal skins, they have scars and stretch marks and bug bites, so I had to visualize where the pattern would be. So I going through a huge pile of skin and I had a moment: “What the hell am I doing? I don’t eat animals, and yet I’m sitting here throwing skins to the side?” I went outside, and truck came up with a pile of skins to be processed, and the smell was disgusting. Right then and there I asked to quit. I went through this whole series of emotions — I was literally ashamed of myself, like, how could I not have put two and two together? It’s a total disconnect. I get it.

The challenge in selling vegan fashion: The message that has been put into the mass consciousness is that leather is cool and sexy and luxurious and rich, and vegan is granola, crunchy, not stylish, not hip, not cool. It’s only really become at thing recently. [But beyond animal rights] there’s no reason to not be eco-conscious… When I talk about environmental damage that really gets people’s attention. I know I have to introduce information gingerly and slowly, because people will shut down — they are sitting there wearing leather and they think I’m judging them. But I’m not even looking at your shoes, I’m just trying to give you information. That’s why the shoes are such a good way to do it, because it brings people in. I’m not really a shove-it-down-your-throat kind of person. I’m like, “This is what’s happening and it doesn’t have to be that way so why is it?” It’s not just a byproduct of them slaughtering the animal — it supports the slaughterhouse, and with all the environmental damage, there’s nothing good about it.


Designer & Director: Stephanie Nicora and Reyes Florez

What to get now: Leather-free boots and shoes

Why vegan shoes? (Florez): Stephanie was already a vegan-leaning vegetarian when she quit her job in finance and entertainment and studied under a master artisan shoemaker. She started off saying, “OK, if I’m going to use leather, then what’s the most sustainable? Can I trace this back and see how the cattle are raised and if there is at least humanity in the raising process?” But the more she read and researched, she realized it’s impossible when you’re raising cattle and the amount of waste and devastation that happens — you can only use 30 percent of a given hide because of scarring and other things on animal skin. Then the more she learned about how it’s tanned and how harmful it is to workers it became a no brainer to say, “I’ve just got to find something different.”

What materials do you use? We have a vendor in the old textile belt in South Carolina and, given their challenge of competing with outsourced production, they’ve chosen to compete by adopting the latest technology, and recycled polyester and plastics, to create the fabric and uppers for our sandals. Then we have a manufacturer in New England that creates our leather substitute, a significant portion of which is recycled as well.


Founders: Inder Bendi and Manny Kohli

What to get now: Shoulder bags, totes, and weekend satchels

How was Matt & Nat such an early vegan-bag pioneer? (From a spokesperson, as founder Inder Bendi is no longer with the company): Inder was living and studying in Montreal at the time of the company’s conception. He tried to be vegan for a month, when at that time [early ’90s] being vegan wasn’t a very popular concept. He realized how limiting the lifestyle was and saw a real opportunity for vegan products. Inder began Matt & Nat right out of university in 1995… It was built on of the principles of veganism, which are respecting life and nature, and meant that there was a lot of attention paid to the material and quality. The company slowly grew, and in 2001, he partnered with now-president and owner Manny Kohli, an experienced and established businessman. Matt & Nat aims to prove that accessories don’t need to be made of leather to be considered fashionable.

What materials do you use? Various vegan leathers are used in the production of our products, the scientific terms being PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride). PU is biodegradable, making it less harmful for the environment, and its use is preferred. Over the years, we have been experimenting with different recycled materials such as nylons, cardboard, rubber, cork, and rubber tires. Since 2007, we have been committed to using linings made solely of 100 percent recycled plastic bottles. Today, we are proud to announce that we have recycled over two million plastic bottles in the manufacturing of our bags.

via Yahoo

18 May '16

Sascha Camilli Founder of Vilda Talks About Vegan Clothing

Posted by Unicorn Goods

Sascha Camilli Founder of Vilda Talks About Vegan Clothing

Sascha Camilli is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vilda, a vegan fashion magazine, and does PR for PETA UK. She has been vegan herself since 2012. Sascha recently shared with us her thoughts on trends in vegan fashion, and the progress of the vegan movement. Vilda (pronounced VILL-duh) is the Swedish word for “the wild one.”

You can shop Sascha's favorite vegan clothing finds on Unicorn Goods here.

Unicorn Goods: What inspired you to start Vilda?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: When I went vegan four years ago, I found myself looking on the web for food and lifestyle inspiration. It was an obvious choice for me that not only was I going to stop eating animals, but that I was also definitely going to phase out wearing animals. I could find lots of advice on food, recipes, what not to eat, where to get your nutrients, and things like that; but there was very little info back in the day in 2012 on anything fashion-related, where to find vegan-friendly fashion,what you should wear and why.

The few resources that I could find conformed very closely to the stereotype of what people thought vegan was: very earthy, hippie-ish and floral, and not very on trend. I was working in the fashion industry at the time. I had an idea to start a resource of some kind that would help people like myself find fashion that looked good and that meant that they didn’t have to sacrifice or compromise on style in order to dress compassionately.

Sascha Camilli, Founder of the Digital Vegan Clothing Magazine Vilda - Credit VildaI applied for a program  that Marie Claire UK runs,  called the Inspire & Mentor scheme. They choose people with business ideas that they think have potential and pair them with someone who can be a mentor for them - and I was lucky enough to be chosen. They paired me up with Poppy Dinsey who started What I Wore Today, a social network for people posting their outfits and giving advice and tips on where to buy the clothes they’re wearing. She was an incredible help. I knew absolutely nothing about launching an online magazine. From the technicalities of Wordpress to contacting potential partner brands, I had absolutely no clue, but I was lucky enough to get that help. And here we are today.

Unicorn Goods: Can you tell us about your redesign of the site?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: We finished the redesign of the Vilda website a couple of months ago. We’ve been around for about two years and we’ve  always had the same layout, which I really loved at first.It was everything that I wanted the site to be initially: clean, monochrome and minimalist. As we moved along, I wanted to explore something that could help our readers navigate our content more easily and stumble across things they didn’t know they were interested in, or find the things that they come to our site to find. It was time for something new. I worked with web designer and developer Cristina Mariani and Vilda’s Art Director, Emilee Seymour, who works from Paris. Both of them have been a crucial driving force in the process of redesigning.

Unicorn Goods: Do you identify as a vegan? Why or why not?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: Definitely - I absolutely identify as a vegan. Some people can be wary of labels, but I have the feeling that I’m part of a group fighting to change the world. I’m happy to see that “vegan” is becoming more of a mainstream concept, that more people kind of know what it is and what it entails. I’m definitely vegan and proud!

Unicorn Goods: How did you become vegan?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: I went vegetarian when I was 11 when I watched a video in school about animals on a meat farm. I saw cows standing in little stalls and I realized that was their life. They just stood there day in and day out, without spending time with their calves or ever seeing the sun. It wasn’t the first time I felt that way. I had always thought about whether or not I should be eating meat ever since I learned where meat came from. It’s always been a moral struggle.

 Sascha Camilli, Founder of Digital Vegan Fashion & Clothing Magazine Vilda - Credit Vilda

At a certain point, I realized that I could choose not to be a part of it. I could choose to say “no” to eating meat. I didn’t go fully vegan until four years ago - I thought about veganism along the way, but I hadn’t met that many vegans and had the idea, like many people do, that being vegan would be difficult, that I could never go out to dinner again, that it would be hard. If you lived in certain  places, like Italy where I was at the time, being vegan didn’t seem to be the easiest lifestyle.

Then, on my birthday a while ago I was given Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was just such a powerful read. I remember crying and feeling sick. Even to someone who was vegetarian, it was still so eye-opening. I found myself thinking, “I don’t care how hard this is. I don’t care if I can never go to a restaurant again - I just can’t keep doing this. There’s just no way to justify it.” It was just about the time that my now-husband and I were moving to London, which I think is one of the best places in the world for vegans.I just took it one day at a time and phased stuff out. Now when I go back to Milan or Stockholm, where I’m from, I’m amazed at the choices that have come up in recent years, and the restaurants that are opening up. There are vegan options in the most unlikely places. Recently, I saw a vegan sandwich at the central station in Rome, which was very unexpected. And it was actually labeled vegan! That’s really amazing to see. It’s so cool to see how far the movement is coming and how great things are looking. We still have a lot of progress ahead of us, but we’re heading in the right direction.

Unicorn Goods: Why do you do what do?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: The idea with the magazine was to inspire people to adopt cruelty-free, and also to dispel the myths about vegan fashion. Often when I tell people that I run a magazine about vegan fashion, the reaction is, “Oh, what does that mean? What’s vegan fashion?” I want to create something that not only shows what vegan fashion can be, but that can also show how stylish, creative, and innovative it can be. I want to be a supporter for brands and designers doing amazing ethical collections and promote their work in any way that I can.

Unicorn Goods: Do you write to teach, or do you write to think?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: I write to inspire. I would like the magazine to be a source of inspiration for people who want to take that step to dress more compassionately. This is not just for vegans. It’s for everyone who is curious about ethical fashion but doesn’t know where to look. It’s hard for people who want to overhaul their wardrobe after going vegan. A lot of the questions we get are like “Ok, I want to start changing the way that I dress. I want to start dressing cruelty-free. But what do I do with my old leather jackets? Where do I go to find this? Where do I go to find that?” I want to be an inspiration and a resource in that sense.

 Sascha Camilli, Founder of Digital Vegan Fashion & Clothing Magazine Vilda - Credit Vilda

Unicorn Goods: Who are vegans you admire, if any?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: When I’m not running Vilda I work for PETA here in the UK. The founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, is one of my absolute idols. She’s just so passionate about change. She’s the type of person who, if she wants change, she makes sure to go and get it. She won’t rest until she gets change. She’s so uncompromising about saving lives and about stopping suffering. I’m just in awe of that. On a fashion level, I really admire Stella McCartney for using her design talent and her fame to speak out for animals. That’s not something you see every day, people using their status to do good. That’s something I admire.

Unicorn Goods: If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: I would put an end to the fur industry, today. That, in particular, is such an unnecessary thing to have in the world. Not that the rest of animal suffering and human suffering and environmental destruction is less harmful. It’s such unnecessary cruelty happening just for status, not even for style.

Unicorn Goods: Do you think people are inherently good?

Yes, I would say so. I believe in people. There are structures in society that are there to keep people uninformed and to keep people from knowing the truth about certain things. When people become aware of what they’re eating and what they’re wearing and how it ends up on their plates and in their wardrobes and especially that they have better options, I think that people are inclined to make good choices.

Unicorn Goods: Do you wear animal-free clothing? Why or why not?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: I wear 100% animal-free clothing all the time. It was a transition, as it is for most vegans. For me, it was definitely a process. I didn’t throw out everything from day one. When I started looking at buying new clothing, I naturally went toward the cruelty-free styles. Once you learn where animal-derived clothing comes from and how it’s made, you just don’t want to wear it again. It just doesn’t look attractive to you anymore. I think it’s crucial to keep in mind that when you see the videos and read about the investigations; they are not one-offs. It’s not one bad farm or one bad slaughterhouse. This is standard practice. Once you realize that, your next step is thinking of alternatives and there really is so much out there. When you try and open your eyes to the cruelty-free options available, you’ll find that it’s actually quite easy to dress with compassion.

Sascha Camilli, Founder of Digital Vegan Fashion Magazine Vilda - Credit Vilda

Unicorn Goods: What's the hardest part about wearing a vegan wardrobe for you?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: Until recently, finding vegan gloves used to be a nightmare! Even in the high street chains, which I would usually turn to, every time I found a style I liked, there it was, the label that  proudly proclaimed: “Genuine Leather.” That was, of course, a huge let-down. This year, I lost one of my gloves and I was dreading having to look for a new pair. But when I had a look, I actually saw that it’s getting better. Hopefully, that’s changing as well. But little accessories like that used to be a tricky one.

Unicorn Goods: What's the hardest part about being vegan in general for you?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: People’s comments and reactions is the only difficult thing. I don’t mind questions, if someone is genuinely interested. I’m happy to explain and share my experiences. I’m not a nutritionist or an expert, but I’m happy to share what I have learned along the way. But if someone is obviously trying to start a fight or trying to catch me out, or find loopholes in my life philosophy, then that’s definitely something I can do without. For me, that’s the only tricky part.

Unicorn Goods: Is there anything you've been searching for in your animal-free wardrobe that you haven't been able to find?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: Today, I’ve seen an incredible development from when I first went vegan in 2012. There’s been such a great growth in the vegan fashion market, and today there is so much innovation. In the beginning it was harder to find fashionable vegan items, but he designs are so much more on-trend now. The products look so much more chic and current. It’s amazing to see all the new brands on Unicorn Goods. I also appreciate that Unicorn Goods and the brands on the site focus on aesthetics and design, in addition to ethics.

Unicorn Goods: What's your favorite item that you recently found on Unicorn Goods?

Sascha Camilli, Vilda: It’s hard a favorite item, because there’s so much great stuff on Unicorn Goods. I love the Festival Collection. I love the Grunge Collection. If I had to choose just one thing, it would be the brand Freedom of Animals. It’s one of my favorite brands. Morgan Bogle, the founder of Freedom of Animals, is such an incredible style inspiration for vegans. She really nails that minimalist contemporary look. I especially love the collaboration with Nikki Reed that’s on Unicorn Goods. We covered that collaboration, as well, when it came out because it’s such a great example of how far cruelty-free designers have come.

If you remember, just a few years ago, vegan design was all canvas and very earthy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I have a big canvas tote bag that says “vegan” on it and I love it, but at the same time, it’s great to see someone do something that might appeal to non-vegans as well, or that people could buy just because it looks good, not just because it’s ethical. I think that’s something that we should all try and remember. That’s something that Unicorn Goods does very well - keeping the fashion at the heart of it. That’s the best way to attract customers that maybe haven’t considered this way of dressing before.

18 Apr '16

Interview with Rachel Krantz, Bustle Co-founder & Senior Features Editor

Posted by Unicorn Goods

Rachel Krantz, Bustle Senior Features Editor adn Cofounder

Rachel Krantz is the Senior Features Editor and a founding editor of Bustle. She recently, and very publicly, became vegan, and is now working to increase awareness for veganism.We sat down to ask her a few questions about why she does what she does.

Do you identify as a vegan? Why or why not?

I identify as vegan. I try not to eat or wear or participate in anything that is a product of animal suffering, or human suffering for that matter.

How long have you been vegan?

I only became vegan a few months ago, so all of this is new for me. I’ve had conflicting emotions surrounding veganism for years. I made excuses that I hardly ever ate meat, but that was not the same as my decision to stop participating entirely.

Why did you become vegan?

I became vegetarian largely because of my partner. He asked me on our first date, “Are you vegetarian?” I gave him my normal excuses. But he didn’t accept them. He asked me, “Why aren’t you vegetarian?” When I blurted out, “Well, there’s no real reason why,” my answer jumped out at me. I saw in that moment that when someone confronted me directly about my reasons to not be vegetarian, in a way that was not antagonistic at all, and asked me to explain my reasoning, I didn’t really have good enough answers.

And then, we fell in love. My partner has been a vegetarian for nearly a decade. He’s a great cook, which made the transition away from meat easier. When I started living with him he cooked every night, and I had no desire to eat meat, especially when he was cooking food that was better than I had before. I was coming home to a home-cooked vegetarian meal every night.

A few months later,we watched the movie, Earthlings. I turned to him and said, “We have to be vegan. We can’t participate in this.” He said, “OK, you’re right.”. After that, we together started becoming 100% vegan. The movie really shaped my views on animal suffering. I realized that it was very hypocritical of me to abstain from some forms of animal suffering, and not other forms. It really upset me as a woman, especially, to see how dairy cows are treated. They’re given hormones their whole lives. And when they give birth, their babies are torn from them. The way dairy cows are treated seems like a worse punishment than death.

Now, there is no way that I can participate in the animal agriculture industry anymore. And my partner supports me. We support each other. We both became vegan that day.

Was is easier going through that transition with someone else?

It was so much easier going through the transition to being vegan with someone else to lean on. And for me, because my partner is also a great cook, it made it that much easier. The social support of having someone to back you up is important, too. Being together made our eating decisions a lot easier to explain when we went out, or with family, because it was like having an ally. Becoming vegan brought us closer together, because it was a transition we got to make together. There was a sort of reciprocity to it. He inspired me to make such a positive change in my life, and I started to give him the nudge to make a change that he’s been meaning to do for years. Becoming vegan together was positive gain for our relationship.

Why do you do what you do?

By telling stories and listening to other people’s stories, words are the way we understand things. I find the most meaning in helping people share their stories and articulating my own stories in order to make a narrative of my life, and process changes as they happen to me. I’m very lucky that I have a job where I can get paid to write about whatever I happen to be working through in my life, and there are certain things that other people can relate to also. I don’t know what much else I would be good at.

Do you write to teach, or do you write to think?

I write to understand more about what’s in my mind. Naturally, I write about topics that I feel a responsibility to. Bustle gets a lot of visitors a month, over 42 million at this point. It’s an open audience, but also a large, a mainstream audience. Right now, I want to talk about veganism and vegetarianism honestly. I want to show the subtleties of the issues. I know how I used to think about vegetarianism and veganism and the prejudices I used to have. If I can use this platform to encourage one person to curb their use of animal products, that’s great. I feel a responsibility not just to teach, but to share my experiences. I hope that even if it’s not necessarily to change people’s lives, it’s possible to help them understand what it means to be vegan.

Who are some vegans you admire?

My favorite vegan is Cesar Chavez, because he makes the connection between racism and human suffering and animal suffering, and there’s a great quote he has: there’s probably more suffering than in a glass of milk than in a piece of meat. I also love Erykah Badu; she’s a vegan. She makes total sense to me, because she offers an example to women who need a connection.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I would make it so that there is more compassion. I think that a lot of our problems come down to a lack of compassion. That includes compassion toward oneself. Compassion towards oneself gets confused with materialism, and other types of indulgence. By that I mean, recognizing that all of us are one. We are the same as other people and animals in that we all just need just shelter, love and food. We need to feel compassion first and feel in sync with everyone and animals because we share these basic needs. When we lose sight of that and only see differences, then things start getting messed up. When we all start losing compassion for ourselves, then in turn, that anger moves outward to other people.

Do you think people are inherently good?

That’s a tough one. My boyfriend and I talk about this and he leans more on the side of “No.” “Good” is a value. I practice meditation and appreciate Buddhism. The form of Buddhism I like the most is the form is Shambhala, which does outline a belief in basic goodness. I believe that everyone has a basic goodness to them. That doesn’t mean that everyone is an awesome person until they’re corrupted, though. I think it means that we all have the capacity to love. No one is born evil. If everyone were nurtured and raised with those things, we would all have the potential to be positive and live that way.

Do you wear animal free clothing?

I do wear animal free clothing, and that was definitely a big deal for me. Wearing vegan is in some ways harder than eating vegan because style involves a lot of leather, and clothing holds a lot of baggage. Both of these were true for me. My mom was a vintage clothing dealer. Getting rid of the things I had inherited from her was hard because they felt like family heirlooms. But the identity of those objects had been thrown on me, it wasn’t something I chose for myself. It was incredibly liberating to get rid of things I had been holding on to.  A lot of what my mother had given me were beautiful: vintage leather pieces, vintage cashmere, and things made of wool.

Now I get to decide for myself what to wear, and I’m lucky that I can afford to buy pieces I like. I’ve always treated myself to good clothes. Because ethically made clothing is more expensive, I have fewer, nicer things that I picked them out for myself. I used to overbuy cheap clothing from thrift stores in the past, but now I only buy what I need. The way a lot of people shop now is for disposable, seasonal clothing. I wear vegan clothing now. I try to only buy ethically made clothes. If that’s not possible budget-wise and I just really want to go shopping I will go to second hand stores, which I still love. Secondhand clothing stores are a more sustainable solution to shopping fast fashion.

If a piece of secondhand clothing is made with child labor, it it’s not ethical just because it’s vegan?

I always took pride in being an “animal person” but I care about people, too. It’s hypocritical when for vegans to care about animals but not about people. We vegans need to redefine veganism as a lifestyle in avoidance of suffering. We are trying actively not to consume suffering, where possible. The are complicated lines surrounding human suffering, and it is hard to know where they are sometimes, but I don’t think there’s any excuse not to try.

One thing I’ve appreciated when researching veganism is how to talk about it. Being a hardline vegan is annoying and impractical. PETA has some great information on how to be an agreeable vegan. They say that, for example, if you’re at a restaurant and you’re worried about what might be in the food, don’t make a scene about it or make your veganism seem like a food phobia. Making a scene gives vegans a bad rap. We have to lead by example. Invite people over for dinner. Cook them a delicious meal. Show them veganism is a positive lifestyle, not something obnoxious. We need to talk about veganism from a non-obsessive place.

Veganism is not about being obsessive. Being vegan is about the ripple effect you create. We need to be aware that we’re marketing veganism to other people. Vegans are setting an example. If vegans makes veganism look like a lifestyle that is unsustainable, strict, and filled with rules instead of joy, then it’s not going to look appealing to others. We need to think about how we are presenting our lifestyle. Veganism is a way of living your life. The best way to shift someone’s lifestyle is to lead by example.

What’s the hardest part about wearing a vegan wardrobe for you?

Sweaters are hard for me to find. Before being vegan, all of my sweaters were wool and cashmere. I was left with sweatshirts when I transitioned to being vegan. I have to replenish a good amount, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it because a lot of nicer vegan options are very expensive. I have found several nicer vegan sweaters in thrift stores. I still try to stay away from labels that I know are not ethical brands. I wish there were more warm vegan sweater that I could find. I usually end up with thin, cotton sweaters.

Right now, I’m wearing a Vaute sweater dress that’s actually really warm, and yes, it was a bit pricier. Its also ethically made and tells a great story. Having vegan clothing that tells a great story is a good direction for vegan designers to go in, and justifies a higher price point.

What’s the hardest part about being vegan currently for you?

I don’t want to push veganism on anyone, but when someone eats animal products in front of me, it bothers me. I’ve gotten use to having uncomfortable conversations with people who are judgemental and close-minded, even my close family and friends. I have to remember that I was that person once, too.

Vegan writer Carol Adams talks about how meat eaters are blocked vegetarians, and I think that’s a good way to think about, without superiority, which can be hard to keep in check. Everything is competing for attention, but you have to break through to people. The reason that people react with defensiveness, difficulty, and antagonism is that they feel there is a hypocrisy to their actions. Hypocrisy makes people uncomfortable. I have to remember that people’s defensiveness probably isn’t about me. The best thing I can do is to channel my compassion, ask questions, and share my experiences. That return is important. You get what you give.


20 Mar '16

Gene Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author on Veganism

Posted by Unicorn Goods

Gene StoneGene Stone is the author of 40 books, including five #1 national bestsellers and 12 New York Times Bestsellers. Normally a nonfiction writer, his recent and only novel The Awakening chronicles a day in which animals gain consciousness and go to war against people. It has been compared to George Orwell’s classic Animal FarmOther books by Gene include Forks Over Knives, The Engine 2 Diet, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life, How Not to Die, My Beef With Meat, Start Something That Matters (with Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes), and A Reader’s Companion to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (with astrophysicist Stephen Hawking). We asked Gene questions that no one has asked him before about his identity as a vegan and what it’s like to be a prominent vegan thought leader.

Q: Do you identify as a vegan? Why or why not?

GS: I do identify as a vegan but I also feel strongly that people should have a plant-based, whole-foods diet. A lot of the time “vegan” can be equated to eating potato chips, diet coke, and unhealthy food. I thoroughly encourage people who are interested in veganism to be very careful about what they eat, make sure that their food choices are healthy, and take supplements such as vitamin B12 and, if they live in northern climates, vitamin D (which non-vegans need as well).

Q: What do you think about the word “vegan?”

GS: I find that there’s a bit of a generation gap around the word. People my age tend to be much less comfortable with the word than millenials, for instance. But words are symbols. They only take on the meaning that we give them. If all vegans were wonderfully kind about it, veganism would have a better resonance with society.

Q: Do you write to teach, or do you write to think?

GS: I’d like to think that what I’m doing involves teaching, that the books I write have some kind of lessons for readers. But the primary reason I write is to make a living. I don’t know any other way to support myself.

Q: Do you think people are inherently good?

GS: That’s a tough question. Good, bad, these are just two words, two labels, that we like to attach to people because it makes life much simpler. I’ve certainly known people who I consider good do bad things. I’ve seen people who I consider bad do good things. So I guess the answer is, perhaps everyone has some inherent good and bad in them. It’s a matter of fractions. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who was 100 percent one or the other.

Q: Do you wear animal-free clothing? Why or why not?

GS: It’s a compromise. I like clothes and still own some pieces of animal-based clothing because I bought them in the past before I was vegan. I decided that I wouldn’t throw them out, but I try not to buy anything that’s harmful to animals if I can avoid it. I would guess I probably still make mistakes when shopping. It’s hard to get everything just right, so you have to cut yourself a little slack.

Q: What's the hardest part about wearing a vegan wardrobe for you?

GS: Vegan fashion’s not there yet. If I want Tom Ford or Vince or some other good designer, I probably won’t find much unless I’m sticking to cotton. Basically, I don’t dress as well as I used to. It’s not a big deal. I guess I’d rather be able to look a cow in the eye and say I’m not wearing anything that ever came from one of your dead friends than have a leather belt.

Q: What about Brave Gentleman and the work that Joshua Katcher with The Discerning Brute is doing?

GS: Joshua is great and I have some of his clothes. He’s doing a terrific job. I recommend his stuff to everyone. But he’s still just one guy. I wish there were a lot more.

Q: What's the hardest part about being vegan in general for you?

GS: I’ve been vegan for about a decade. When I started, a lot of my friends thought I had developed some kind of weird eating disorder. And some people stopped inviting me over because they were afraid either that they had to cook different foods, or that if I did show up and animal-based foods were being served, I’d go ballistic. I don’t do that. I’m comfortable around people who eat animals because if I weren’t, I probably wouldn’t have any friends left. But I certainly wish that more people were vegan-- the more you think about factory farming, the more you think about the eight billion animals who were slaughtered last year, the more you just feel bad, the more you just wish it would all go away. That’s the hardest part—not being able to change the system.

Q: Can you tell me more about your recent novel The Awareness?

My nonfiction means a lot to me. But The Awareness, which I co-wrote with my friend Jon Doyle, has a special place in my heart. It’s about a wild day when all animals suddenly gain human-like consciousness and go to war against us. Non-fiction is important and can change minds, but sometimes I think it’s fiction that can change hearts. 

Q: Can you talk about your upcoming book on Mercy for Animals?

GS: The founder of MFA, Nathan Runkle, is an extraordinary man who was in high school when he started the organization with no money and just one other friend. Now MFA is a multimillion dollar, multinational organization that does so much good for animals. The book tells the story of how MFA was founded, as well as its investigations. It will be out probably in May or June of 2017.

Q: Sounds like you have your work cut out for you!

GS: I have a lot of work to do on this book as well as many others. But, you’re a lucky person when your career and your passion converge.

Check out our selection of Gene Stone’s books here.

01 Aug '15

Novel Creature

Posted by Unicorn Goods

We were lucky to grab coffee with Marissa Barrett, founder and owner of Novel Creature. We picked her brain about repurposed T-shirts, dying with spices, and giving back. Novel Creature makes accessories from upcycled and natural materials that benefit AGAPE in providing counseling services.

Marissa Barrett, founder and owner of Novel Creature

Q: What led you to be involved in fashion?

A: I first became interested in fashion in high school when I read an article in Teen Vogue about a girl going to school for fashion design. She was wearing a vintage shirt that she had customized and I started scouring the thrift stores and doing the same thing to my own. I went to college in California for fashion but decided I wanted to do something where I felt I could help people more and changed to psychology, and ended up getting a Master's in counseling back in Tennessee. During this time I created Novel Creature as a hobby, creative outlet, and a way for me to continue repurposing t-shirts. After two years as a counselor, I decided to refocus on making Novel Creature a fashion brand.

Q: Why did you want to start an ethical fashion brand?

A: I was inspired by brands like 31 Bits and FEED USA who don't just stop at using sustainable materials, but support a social mission through their sales. TOMS became really big at this time and the local coffee shop The Well opened up, both of which really inspired me to serve people through my business. Working at Whole Foods Market part time during school gave me a glimpse into how successful social enterprises can be and what an impact they can make for the communities they serve. 

Q: How did you start Novel Creature?

A: It started as a hobby as I was dealing with anxiety during grad school and I was just making these necklace/scarf hybrids and selling them on Etsy. Over time I started selling at craft fairs, music festivals, and now through wholesale to stores. My products have become more diverse but my materials are essentially the same because when I began learning about fast fashion and the resulting amount of clothing being thrown away each year I knew I wanted to do something about that. When I was deciding which organization to support through my sales I chose AGAPE (the Association for Guidance, Aid, Placement, and Empathy) which is here in Nashville providing counseling and adoption services. I saw the need for these on a greater scale during my time as a school counselor and even in my personal life dealing with anxiety. I also have an adopted family member so that cause was really important to me as well.

Q: How do you find materials?

A: For t-shirts I go to thrift stores or people donate them to me. I use Army canvas which I get from a local army surplus store, and I either make or order my natural dyes online. Jewelry findings can be difficult to find from sustainable sources and I'm doing research into where to order those as well as collaborating with a local metalsmith for upcoming projects.

Q: Describe the natural dying process, as with turmeric. Why did you choose to use this method?

A: Every natural dye is different, and I'm learning as I go with new dyes. Each dye has be extracted and the process for this can be simply grinding the plant into a fine powder, or soaking the material in alcohol for a few days. Indigo is a much more complicated process but yields one of the most beautiful results. For the most part every natural dye needs a mordant to help the fabric accept the color and this can be anything from salt, to vinegar, to cream of tartar depending on the plant being used. With turmeric the fabric is cleaned then treated with a vinegar mixture, then dyed with the actual turmeric dye bath. It's a lengthy process but I decided to use this when I became aware of the chemicals used in traditional dyes. And if I'm going to use sustainable materials, I might as well go all the way with the best possible dyes available to me.

Q: What is your hope with Novel Creature?

A: My hope with Novel Creature is that it will be sold in retail stores across the United States or even beyond that so that the support to AGAPE grows to a place where the people who need counseling can receive it and where every child who needs care can find a home. I hope to be able to create jobs through what I do and through that be able to employ the marginalized; maybe refugees or the formerly incarcerated. There is a lot of good to be done and I want to do as much as possible with what I've been given.

Q: Describe a single transformative moment that you've had with Novel Creature.

A: Hands down, the most transformative moment I had was being featured in Southern Living in March of 2014. I still don't know how it happened and I'm so blown away by the positive response that I received from that. It challenged me to improve some of the ways I do business from a professional perspective and I'm so thankful for it because I think Novel Creature has progressed so much since that moment.

Shop Novel Creature on Unicorn Goods here.

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