Since going vegan four years ago and discovering a growing, evolving community of vegans, I’ve often stumbled across the one-million-dollar question: how do we attract more people to a kinder lifestyle? How do we open eyes and change minds? How do we make ethical living more appealing?
Immediate disclaimer: I don’t particularly care about “converting” anyone. Most of the time, I just want to quietly eat my tofu. This week I saw someone with a “talk to me, I’m vegan!” tote bag and, as much as I appreciated the sentiment, a part of me shuddered a little. My first thought was, “I don’t think I could ever put myself out there like that, on the street, inviting judgement about my lifestyle.” My second thought was, “but that’s exactly what I do every day, by putting my name and face to a vegan digital magazine.” And one of the reasons why this magazine exists is that of course we want more people to choose compassionate living, wear animal-free clothing, support small businesses, shop like a feminist. But in a world where ethical living is still struggling to wash off the last remainders of that hemp-granola scent, how do we inspire ethical living?
Step one: Put yourself in their (leather/fast-fashion/sweatshop-produced) shoes: after all, you were there just a while ago.
Very few of us were brought up with ethical living. Chances are you come from a family where meat is eaten, leather is worn and sweatshop-made stuff is readily available on a regular basis. You didn’t make the ethical leap overnight, and I’d wager a guess that it wasn’t someone preachy and obnoxious that made you take that step. So remember what that lifestyle felt like, and try to recall how defensive you would get if someone flat-out criticised your way of living. And hold back. Inspire instead of attacking. Which brings us to step two…
Step two: Be the unexpected.
Okay, I’m going to get jumped at for saying this. But I rest my case – those of us trying to promote an ethical lifestyle have a responsibility to represent that lifestyle to the best of our abilities – including in our outward appearance. That means shattering that “hippie vegan” stereotype by dressing amazingly. That means chucking the comfortable shoes in favour of killer stilettos that were ethically made. That means showing up at the party with an amazing organic raw vegan cake rather than wholesome granola bars. It means crushing preconceptions and throwing prejudices out of the window. And it’s so, so empowering.
Step three: Turn into a walking Wikipedia.
One of the things I most pride myself upon is that many of my coworkers and acquaintances come to me for vegan fashion tips. They know I won’t throw any hemp tote bags or Crocs-y shoes their way! Why? Because I’ve built a reputation for being knowledgeable about fashion. To quote stiletto goddess Carrie Bradshaw, “with all due respect, men I may not know. But shoes? Shoes, I know.” So read up on sustainable fashion, cruelty-free beauty, vegan food, whatever it is you want to promote, and quickly learn the wonderful ways in which someone might be able to incorporate this into their everyday. And then spread the word. Preach, sister.
And most of all…
Make sure YOU still enjoy it! Make sure living ethically still inspires you. Don’t do it because you think you have to. Do it because you wholeheartedly choose to, every day that you’re still here.
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Photos by Ian Scheider, Madison Bersuch and Joel Overbeck, via Unsplash