I’d like to introduce Jessica Bailey from The Cruelty Free Shop.
What was the ‘Aaahaaa’ moment when you decided to go Vegan?
About seventeen years ago I was walking through a festival and someone wearing an Animal Liberation t-shirt gave me a flyer, which I took more out of politeness than anything else, and I put it in my bag and forgot about it.
While on the train home I read the flyer. It was about factory farming. Before then I had never considered where my food came from, it was one of those moments that changes your life and you suddenly start to question everything. I became vegetarian and volunteered for my local Animal Liberation group.
My vegan tipping point happened when I discovered what happens to calves in the dairy industry. As I mother, I saw the parallels between the loving relationship mother cows have with their calves and my relationship with my son. I thought about how I would feel if my baby were being ripped away the way that calves are torn from their mothers. There was no going back after that.
When did you embrace a compassionate Vegan lifestyle?
It was the year 2000.
What were the reactions of family and friends when you first embraced Veganism?
My family and friends were all very supportive of me being vegan. My mother was already vegetarian at the time and since then she has become vegan as well.
Why did you start your business?
Shortly after becoming vegan two things struck me: the first was that I was spending an enormous amount of time in the supermarkets reading labels, and the second was the amount of people who said to me they used to be vegan but they stopped because it was too hard. This set me on my mission to create a completely vegan shop where people didn’t have to read labels and could find things they were missing, so there was no excuse for them to stop being vegan.
What problem are you trying to solve? (Or – what’s wrong with the status quo?)
I wanted to make a cruelty free lifestyle easy for people. There’s this idea that veganism means going without but you only need to walk inside The Cruelty Free Shop, where we sell more than 3500 products, to see that there are vegan versions of everything.
What’s your point of differentiation over your competitors?
The Cruelty Free Shop has Australia’s widest range of vegan products with more than 3500 different items available including 50+ vegan cheeses as well as a huge range of mock meats, groceries, fashion, beauty and household goods.
We have a network of stores across Australia and can deliver our products anywhere in the country. Our Melbourne store is also the biggest vegan supermarket in the southern hemisphere.
While our business is growing every year, our goal has never been about making the most profit. The Cruelty Free Shop has always been about helping people and animals and doing something that has a positive, tangible impact on the community.
We distribute vegan literature at all our stores, support charities by selling their merchandise and fundraise for them, we create engaging window displays with vegan messaging, and we’ve also founded major outreach events including the Cruelty Free Festival in Sydney and the Vegan Day Out in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Canberra.
Our stores are a positive environment and somewhere you could proudly bring your non-vegan family and friends. From the moment people walk in the door they smell our signature caramel scent and see a beautifully laid out and well-stocked store with friendly and knowledgeable staff.
What’s the reaction to your product/service been like?
Our customers love The Cruelty Free Shop and we love them! Our customers appreciate not having the read the labels of any products because everything we sell is vegan and they enjoy being in a fun, positive place that celebrates their lifestyle choice.
What is your most popular feature/product/service and why?
Out of the 3500 products we sell, Vego hazelnut chocolate is by far the most popular. In fact, our three best selling products are the large Vego bar, small Vego bar and the individually wrapped Vegolino praline chocolates. For those who haven’t tried them before, Vego tastes like a block of Nutella chocolate.
Tell me about your journey to get to this point, what have you done?
When I first started The Cruelty Free Shop it was really just a hobby. I invested $1000 from my personal savings to open an online shop with a limited range of 50 products for sale, which were stored in the cupboard in my spare room.
The business grew, expanding into the spare room itself and eventually my whole house. Soon I was shipping vegan food and cruelty-free products all across Australia until the business outgrew my home. This was a major turning point for me and in 2012 I opened my first bricks and mortar store in Glebe, NSW.
Both demand and availability of products have soared since then and I’ve now got five shops across four states in Australia.
What mistakes have you made?
There’s no such thing as mistakes only learning experiences!
What have you learned, and what would you differently next time?
If I knew then what I know now, I’d have gone vegan way sooner. In terms of the business, I would do many things differently – too many to list – but this sort of knowledge can only come with experience so I certainly wouldn’t change anything if I could go back.
What advice would you give to people thinking of entering this area?
Do it! The more vegan businesses the better. If we can make vegan products more accessible and available, I think we’d see more people willing to give veganism a try.
What type of customers do you attract?
All sorts of customers from old and new vegans to the veg-curious, vegetarian, meat reducers, conscious and ethical consumers, and those with allergies.
What features/expansion are you planning in the next 12 months?
We want to put cafes in all of our shops and hugely expand our range of products. In the past two years, we have undergone a significant expansion. In 2016, we opened shops in Brisbane and Canberra – both of which are thriving. In 2017, we moved the Melbourne store to a massive new location, moved the online shop to its own warehouse, and expanded the Sydney shop.
How did you get started online and what technical challenges did you have to overcome?
I was able to start the online shop in the first place because I was working for a web hosting company who sold online store templates, so I used one of those to create The Cruelty Free Shop’s online store.
The challenge at the time was that online shopping technology was not very advanced. Nowadays you can pick a template and it does everything for you. Back then it was all cobbled together. We learned a lot from the experience and as a result, we now have a fantastic, user-friendly website.
What did you want to be when you grow up?
A vet! I’ve always loved animals.
What do you do for fun?
Work! I really like work and have to remind myself to have time off. For fun, I enjoy going to comedy shows, small bars, seeing live music and eating out at vegan restaurants.
How do you spread your message about veganism?
Through The Cruelty Free Shop. We have a wealth of free literature and educational resources available for people, as well as window displays with vegan messaging.
We also promote vegan news, products, recipes, and charities online through our website, newsletter and social media channels.
How do you think the Internet and Social Media has impacted on the Vegan World?
The internet and social media have made information about what happens to animals more accessible. As Paul McCartney said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian”. The internet has given slaughterhouses glass walls. We only need to click a button or do a search on Google to see undercover footage and exposes of what is happening to animals in our own backyard. It’s so much easier now to find the facts, instead of simply relying on what we read in the mainstream media.
Social media has also made activism more accessible for everyone. We can sign petitions, share stories and show our support for important causes without needing to leave the house.
Do you follow business influencers online (e.g. Blogs, Podcasts, etc) and if so who?
Katrina Fox of Vegan Business Media.