I’m sitting across from Cheyma and Raphael, co-owners of Aujourd’hui Demain, the first all-vegan concept shop in Paris, and I’m absolutely enthralled. What they’re saying is truly riveting, they speak of a brave new world, in which compassion and ethics are at the very heart of an enterprise. What started out as a lofty idea is now a reality: a lifestyle boutique set in a bright, loft-like space that includes an eco-friendly make-up bar, where all bath and beauty products are cruelty-free and nontoxic; an animal-friendly apparel and accessories department, where the entire selection of clothes, footwear and bags is both vegan and ethically produced; a cosy cafe and juice bar, where ingredients are organic, locally sourced and palm oil-free; and a grocery shop where you’ll find plant-based foods, vitamins and supplements, snacks and sweets, teas and drinks, lots of chocolate, dairy-free milk and cheese and yes, even food for Fido.
Aujourd’hui Demain is more than an innovative place of commerce in the City of Light – it is a space where a movement has come alive, where budding and seasoned activists come together. And who better to lead the cause than two wide-eyed entrepreneurs with boundless energy and drive. Cheyma is pensive and soft-spoken, with a lion’s mane of dark coils framing her contemplative face, while Raphael is bookish and reflective, offering thoughtful and deliberate answers, emanating the same intent and confidence a young hopeful spelling bee participant might. Both speak with the kind of calm authority reserved for academics and great orators, both radiate magnanimity and warmth.
Cheyma recounts her own personal journey towards veganism, which started with food. “I asked myself, ‘What’s good eating?’ Once you start researching online, you quickly learn about plant-based diets. In the meantime, I was learning about the treatment of animals and the use of antibiotics and GMOs [in the animal agriculture industry]. I was convinced I could eat better and feel better.” Cheyma learned of the widespread animal abuse and cruelty inherent to CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) facilities, known colloquially as factory farming; today 2 out of every 3 farm animals in the world are factory farmed. She discovered that the atrocities inflicted upon industrial livestock animals are not the exception, but the norm. “I watched an interview in which the question was posed, ‘Should we eat animals?’ The very fact that the question was asked made me inquire, is it speciesism? I understood the whole injustice that carnism is.” In one night Cheyma chose veganism, she adds sanguinely, “and I never went back.”
Like Cheyma, my own vegan story began overnight. I had been a blithe vegetarian, eschewing all meat, poultry and fish as well as renouncing leather and fur for over 20 years, when I was exposed to a video by Mercy for Animals, an American animal welfare organisation, showing how eggs are made. I came to understand that all egg hatcheries (free range, organic and battery cage) employ chick culling, the process of killing newly hatched poultry by dropping live chicks into a mincer, a metal macerator used to dispose of male chicks, an unwanted byproduct of egg production. And with the ousting of eggs, the path led naturally to the elimination of dairy and and all animal products. Admittedly, my first week was a bit wobbly, with the main portion of my diet made up of canned minestrone and chips with salsa. And I was scratching my head about where to find cool, versatile vegan shoes and relaxed clothes for my wardrobe. Online shopping can be a tricky business, I craved the simple pleasure of walking into a shop and plucking an item from a shelf. It took a bit of investigating to find the right foods for my body, which improved my health exponentially, and the right clothes for my artistic aesthetic, which I like to call kind finds.
Becoming a vegan overnight is like deciding to become an artist overnight. You excitedly purchase all of the art supplies needed, the pencils and paints, and the perfectly pliable kneaded erasers, and now you must learn how to use them, a la Henri Matisse, who had intended to go into the field of law, but at the age of twenty-one decided to become an artist in one instant, declaring, “I knew this was my life.” My high school art teacher used to say that anyone can learn how to be an artist. It just takes a little time and effort. Learning how to maneuver the world of veganism just takes a little time and effort also. And now, you have all of the tools necessary right at your fingertips: if you’re in Paris, simply walk through the doors of Aujourd’hui Demain for the right tools.
Sleuthing has become Cheyma and Raphael’s number one pastime as of late. Providing the very best vegan products, made under fair trade conditions sans palm oil is no small feat. Spare time is spent as ethical fashion detectives and plant-based food researchers with a mission of finding the best products for their customers with respect to human rights, animal rights and environmental protection. Choosing fashion products for the shop was especially important because while there are many products to choose from on the internet, they wanted to bring the most design-led, fresh and youthful items to their brick and mortar. Their goal: to make vegan an easy choice, an accessible choice. “We want to say, ‘Here: here are the choices. Have fun with it,” Raphael explains, “[vegans and the veg-curious] might find the philosophy right, but the rest is intimidating; it’s not hard, everything doesn’t have to be complicated. You can have a simple life.”
Cheyma and Raphael firmly believe that the beauty and simplicity of living a compassionate life (one that embraces all sentient beings) lies within our access to knowledge and our education. Videos by L214 Ethique et Animaux, a French animal rights group, have been instrumental in bringing information about the plight of animals in the food industry to the public consciousness. “People are not aware of the issue: show the world the suffering, and awareness of the issue makes the difference.” Cheyma relates.
Author, architect, and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” This is the approach Cheyma and Raphael have taken. The space they’ve created is the kind artists and creatives dream about with its colorful, upcycled vintage furnishings and green plants raining down from high places and a free photo booth to capture moments with friends at this one-of-a-kind establishment. There’s also a little library nook with books aplenty on vegan cooking and vegan living. “People are already taking action, it’s new and exciting; people are questioning themselves. It’s the time to give them an answer for day to day life. People realise there’s an issue [of animal neglect and abuse], now they need alternatives to reach easily. People are asking where and how do we get healthy, ethical products? The store is the answer to their questions.”
Aujourd’hui Demain opened its doors in November of 2017, and both co-owners have been juggling the myriad responsibilities of owning this all-in-one, vegan lifestyle boutique. From marketing to menu planning to mingling with a sea of vegan and veg-curious customers and friends, their desire to create a place to inspire and educate has come to fruition. Tucked into a petite street in the 11th arrondissement, the shop has a regular crowd of customers drawn to the sprawling, sunlit space and the tasty menu offerings which include warm apple crumble, peanut butter fudge brownies, hefty helpings of soups and salads, as well as jumbo-sized, zesty seitan sandwiches.
Before the end of our interview, I asked both Cheyma and Raphael a question I love to ask new friends: If you could have a super power, what would it be? “To fly,” comes Raphael’s answer easily. After some thought, Cheyma’s answer follows, “To be super fast!” It makes sense that these two shy go-getters, with larger than life dreams, came together to create a dynamic duo, one who dreams of flight and one with her feet firmly planted on the ground who wishes to move just a little bit faster to accomplish a lot more in the name of compassion for all sentient beings. “We had the same vision of how the vegan market would evolve. We stopped waiting for an opportunity. We decided to create it.”
All photos by author