If I had to list 3 things that play a crucial role in my early transition to a plant based diet, vegan cheese would top the list, followed by vegan chocolate and then soy milk. I don’t think I could live without them, or maybe I could, but I don’t want to. Life’s too short.
Last month I had the opportunity to interview Jess Bailey. A really lovely lady and an awesome animal welfare activist. Jess is the founder of the all-vegan grocery shop The Cruelty Free Shop. If you read or watch any of my product review posts or videos, you’d be familiar with the name. It is where I buy most of my vegan goodies from, it’s a vegan shop heaven! She started the shop 13 years ago with a mission to make it easier for people to become and stay vegan. She also founded the annual Sydney Cruelty Free Festival with the goal of showing people how to make small changes in their every day lives in order to make great change for animals.
More recently Jess created the Vegan Day Out events in Sydney and Melbourne which encourages restaurants to offer more vegan meals on their menus and to allow non-vegans a chance to try vegan food (and to give existing vegans a fun day out too!).
So without further ado, here’s Jessica.
Hi Jess, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I found out about your store just after I started my transition to a plant-based diet. I went shortly after and I was like a kid in candy store. You have a huge variety of vegan products! It really has made my transition a lot easier. You’re also very involved in the community, advocating for animal rights and sponsoring the annual cruelty-free festival. How did you get started?
It makes me happy to hear that we helped make your transition easier – that is exactly what we aim to do!
I first became aware of animal rights issues when I came across an Animal Liberation stall at a festival and picked up a heap of their flyers, I read them all cover to cover on the train home. Until then I’d been blissfully unaware that I’d been supporting animal cruelty every day, like so many others I just hadn’t thought about it. Once I had all that information in my head I had no choice, I could no longer go on being responsible for animal suffering so, over time, I phased out all animal products from my pantry, bathroom cabinet and wardrobe. Deciding to become vegan is the best thing I have ever done, I am no longer responsible for suffering – that feels very good! The fact that it’s also better for the environment and my health are just the icing on the cake.
As far as starting the shop goes, when I first went vegan two things struck me; firstly the inordinate amount of time I spent reading labels to find all those hidden animal ingredients, and secondly the amount of people who said “I used to be vegan but it was too hard”. These comments inspired me to create a shop that would make it easier for people to become and stay vegan; a place where people could shop safe in the knowledge that no animals were exploited or killed for any of the products on the shelves.
I mentioned earlier that you have tons of vegan products in your store. How did you manage to get your hands on so many different products?
That’s the fun part of my job! I trawl overseas websites, blogs, wholesalers and importers for those hard to find vegan products and then I get to try them all! I love finding hard to get products like vegan fish sauce, marshmallows without gelatine and, my favourite, cheeses without dairy.
Dairy-free cheeses are a lifesaver! You’re operating in a very niche market of cruelty-free products. Do you struggle getting customers? What are the biggest challenge you’re currently facing in running your business?
Fortunately for animals and for our shop the amount of people choosing to eat ethically is increasing all the time. Vegans come from every walk of life, every part of Australia and every age group so our greatest challenge is reaching them all. There’s no one place you can advertise that all vegans will see.
The Cruelty Free Shop been around for 13 years and is fairly well known in the vegan community so it amazes me that we still have vegans walking in to the shop who have never heard of us before. Vegan clubs and societies are a great way to connect but I suspect there’s a whole lot of vegans out there who go about their ethical lives without having contact with other vegans so our biggest challenge is to figure out how to let them know we exist.
Yes! I was one of them. But it didn’t take me long to find you though. We met each other at the vegan chocolate tasting event last Easter which was really cool! I’m sure you do a lot of tasting of new products. But, apart from sampling awesome vegan chocolates, what do you love most about running Cruelty-Free shop?
The thing I love the most (even more than the chocolate!) is meeting so many compassionate people. The people who come into our shop are so lovely and caring it is a pleasure to get to know them. I especially love getting to talk to new or potential vegans who come into the shop. Often they are struggling because they don’t know any other vegans and the relief the feel in entering a place where they are “normal” is often palpable. We make sure we spend plenty of time answering any questions they have and reassuring them that they are doing such a wonderful thing by becoming vegan.
What are the three vegan foods you can’t live without?
Lamyong soy nuggets are my absolute favourite food, I use them in cooking at least once a week in stir fries, curries & burritos mainly. The new Bio Cheese is amazing, I love it in sandwiches, on crackers or grilled. Gosh this is hard to just chose three! My third favourite would be Fry’s Schnitzels which I love in a sandwich or roll with lettuce and Plamil Mayo (which would be my 4th favourite if I was allowed one).
Man they sound amazing.. I have to try them all. Being a long-term vegan, what tips do you have for others who are new to this vegan/ plant-based lifestyle?
Many of us don’t know other vegans so my recommendation is use the internet – a lot! There are so many great resources out there. Join vegan groups on facebook they are a great way to “meet” other vegans, share concerns and ask questions. Whatever challenge you are facing or question you have, someone else out there will have been through it too so can offer advice and support.
Google vegan recipes, there are literally thousands out there for every dish you could imagine. Subscribe to blogs like Justonemorespoon.com for helpful tips, recipes and information.
Then, when you’re ready, go to a vegan social event in your area and meet some new like-minded friends.
Aww.. thanks for recommending my site. I do try to help out those who are on the fence to see that it’s not as hard as they think. If I could do it, anyone can.
Ok, I know this might be hard to answer but if you could share with us your 3 most favourite vegan products, what would they be?
I’ve already covered off food above so my non-food favourite vegan products are:
- My Matt & Nat Schlepp handbag, I get so many people admiring this and I love that some of them say “but I thought vegans didn’t use leather” because then I get an opportunity to explain that you can be stylish without a cow having to die!
- CFS Face Mineral Powder Foundation, I call it the eraser as it hides every blemish, and doesn’t block your pores.
- The vegan boots that I bought from Moo Shoes in New York. They are so comfortable! I have walked all through New York, Peru, Paris, Oman, Jordan & the snow in NZ and they still look brand new.
Man I have to check them out! Any exciting plans do you have for the cruelty-free shop?
We have a whole lot of fantastic new vegan products that will be released in the next few months including some under our own brand. We’ll soon be releasing our fabulous cruelty-free Gift Hampers (just in time for Christmas) that will be filled with all vegan gourmet foods and luxury products so people can spoil their loved ones the cruelty-free way. It’s also a great way to show non-vegan friends and family how delicious vegan food can be.
Our biggest plan is to open a fourth Cruelty Free Shop but the location will have to remain a secret for now I’m afraid.
I can’t wait for the new shop to open. Australia need more Cruelty Free Shop! For now, where can we find you and your awesome vegan goodies?
There are three Cruelty Free Shop’s so far:
Sydney: 83 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037
Melbourne: 385 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065
So there you go. I hope you enjoy the interview! Check out The Cruelty Free Shop and be mind-blown by their inventory of cruelty-free items. You can find Jess on twitter and facebook and connect with her there.
Until next time.