A few weeks ago, Josh at Herbivore posted a series of simple graphics promoting the importance of buying from vegan-owned businesses during the holidays. The idea is simple and elegant: if you’re buying gifts, make sure your money goes to people whose ideals you support. So, for the next month-or-so, I’m going to feature a series of profiles of vegan businesses. Some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t, and some you may have forgotten about. If you’d like to participate, drop me a note!
It makes sense that we start the series with the folks responsible for the “hey, don’t forget to buy vegan!” reminders: the kind crew at Herbivore Clothing Company.
Who are you and why do I care?
I’m Josh! We’re old friends! You… forgot?
I’m Josh Hooten! I co-founded The Herbivore Clothing Company almost 10 years ago with my partner Michelle here in sunny Portland, Oregon.
What types of great stuff do you have for people to buy from you for the holidays?
You know, we only stock stuff that we would/do use so it’s hard to pick specific items as we like it all. But some recent favorites of mine are our redesign of our Wings Are For Flying Not Frying shirt. I drew and lettered this design by hand, so that was fun for me. And we printed it with a super soft ink so it has a real cozy, vintage feel to it. I’m also really happy with our new Eat A Plant, Save A Planet design. Both of those come in a couple of versions. We also have a gigantic selection of vegan cookbooks which seems to get bigger every time the UPS driver comes. We have been cooking out of Jonie Newman’s veggie burger book, The Best Veggie Burgers On The Planet, and Julie Hasson’s latest, Vegan Diner. We are also really proud of a book we published, the Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward Rebhal. And then there are always our belts, wallets, jewelry, scarves, tote bags, backpacks, courier bags, socks, art, lunchboxes, waterbottles, body care items, purses…the list goes on! And if you can’t decide on a gift, we always have gift certificates.
What inspired you to create the “buy from vegans” series you posted a few weeks ago?
That came out of a series of conversations I’ve had in the past couple of years with friends who own vegan businesses. It seems when we see each other the first thing we ask is “How are you all doing?” with a slight bit of trepidation in our voices because the economy has been down for so long and we’re all afraid for each other. I think it’s important, any time of year, to support people who support the things you believe in, but especially so during the holidays. All retailers make a good chunk of their incomes at this time of year but small shops can’t afford to market themselves like big retailers. This means we aren’t in your face all the time and aren’t bombarding you with messages to buy from us. So we lose a lot of support, I think, because we just can’t market like that (nor would most of us want to.) Small businesses also can’t compete with big retailers on price because those big places order such huge quantities they get better discounts, or better shipping rates, etc. So while you can probably save a few bucks buying a book on Amazon, they also sell stuff that violates your ethics, and I think whenever possible you should support folks who support your ethics. Also, if you buy a bunch of gifts from a vegan retailer, they won’t go out and buy hamburgers with your money, they will buy vegan food. So the money stayed, for a while longer, in ethical places. That is a big deal and worth spending a bit more for, I think.
How important are holiday sales to your business?
Holiday sales are a big deal. I don’t know what percentage of sales we make in November and December but it’s a chunk. A few years ago when the economy really sank November and December, sales wise, were totally flat. There was no boost from holiday sales and it was hard for us to keep the doors open until things picked back up in the Summer. You spend a lot of money getting your inventory up to hopefully have enough stuff to sell. So you have full shelves and no money and hope to sell a bunch before the bills come. When the holiday sales never come, you can feel your heart sink. That was terrifying as we’ve always been really careful and conservative in terms of growth and spending. (Note: This is the only place in my life I’d describe myself as a conservative. Just want to be clear there.) That felt like everything we’d worked on for years could have gone away for reasons we couldn’t control. We’d played it safe and didn’t over spend or stock a million things just to have huge selection and generally done things in a way we thought were right and then all of a sudden we were trying to figure out how to get out of our lease and who could we sublet the space to and all sorts of disaster scenarios. I’m sure a bunch of other vegan retailers were in the same boat. So holiday sales are a big deal, especially in this economy. We pulled through, obviously, but that was scary.
Tell us about another vegan-owned business that you love that other people may not know about.
We love our vegan mini-mall neighbors Food Fight Vegan Grocery, Sweetpea Baking Company, and Scapegoat Tattoo and our pals on the east coast Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe. MooShoes in NYC are awesome and were a real trailblazer in the vegan retail realm. Hardcore kids shouldn’t miss Motive Clothing on the east coast. Vaute Couture make super awesome coats. Sudo Shoes in Boston are super nice and have a great selection. Vegan Collection belts and wallets are great. Also, Never Felt Better in Sacramento. I can’t wait to visit Nice Shoes in Vancouver someday and Sarah’s Place in Victoria. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch more and I’m sure there are a ton I don’t even know about.