WITH a belief that everyone should use their skills to do good in the world, vegan and animal rights activist Jessica Bailey says she put her business know-how to good use and started the Cruelty Free Shop.
Jessica has now opened a branch in Braddon, which sells plant-based food, cosmetics and clothing, in Braddon with a view to helping more Canberrans to become vegan and stay vegan.
She came to veganism while volunteering with Animal Liberation years ago.
“I started picking up literature, and unfortunately the more you know the less you can go on, and I found I couldn’t live with supporting that sort of cruelty to animals,” she says.
“Becoming vegan was the normal sort of process that most people go through – I cut out red meat, then white meat, seafood, then over time I started reading more about the dairy industry, and I thought, I can’t eat that either. It was definitely a process.”
Sydney-based Jessica, 48, was working full time in IT and started Cruelty Free as an online shop from her spare room in 2001 when she was finding it hard to find vegan versions of non-vegan products.
“I was a single mum at the time, and very cautious – I didn’t spend anything on marketing, just bought my stock and set up a really daggy website!” she says.
“It steadily built up to a point where I decided to quit my job and dedicate myself to it, but it took a long time before I got there.
“We don’t sell lentils or tofu or items you can buy anywhere, it’s the replacers – cheeses, cream, pizzas, ice cream, lollies without gelatin, mock meats and egg alternatives,” she says.
“We source locally wherever we can, and import some items, too.”
Opening the first bricks-and-mortar shop in Glebe in 2012 was “fantastic”, she says, though a big step.
“I had loved working from home in my pyjamas, with my cats around me, so it was quite a mental hurdle for me to actually have to go somewhere, after so long!” Jessica says.
“But my son Robbie was a bit older then so it was easier, and I set the opening hours around school hours.
“It was scary to open my own shop and such a big risk when you’re on your own and have no safety net. But it had gotten to a point where the house was completely full of stock and, one night, I literally had to climb over boxes to get into bed. I just thought, this has to stop! So that was really the impetus to move it out.”
Now she has shops across four cities, with Canberra the most recent addition, and visits each one in person every couple of months.
Jessica says she’s driven by the desire to help people become vegan and also to make some sort of change in the world.
“Everything I do with the shops is about trying to make it easier for people to ideally become vegan, or just make more ethical choices,” she says.
“Any money we make goes back into expanding the business and making items more available, and we run a ‘Charity of the Month’ program for charities that support veganism or animal rights.
“We give back quite a lot. Maybe it sounds a bit twee but that’s really what it’s about for me. I’m not about getting rich or making an empire or anything, it’s about making change through the way that I can.
“Everyone has different skills and I happen to be good at running a business – I think everyone should use their particular skills to do whatever good they can with them.”
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