A few words with... Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe
Another group of super cool people able to make of their veganism their job as well! How amazing is that? Your beliefs paying for your rent!
And where did I find these super cool people? On the internet: over at Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe! Which is owned, run and operated by the a super cute couple (and their cat!): Leigh, Ken and Cosmo!
What I immediately loved about their online store was that:
- they named their shop after their cat: how cool is that?
- the retro feeling of the name and of the graphics, inspiring a feeling of home made, safe treats, which in fact they sell
- their fantastic mission statement, which made me sight with relief (someone IS doing the job for me!): "When you buy from Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe, you can be sure that the items you purchase are 100% vegan. Since we are vegans ourselves, we understand the frustration that can come with pouring over product labels. That's why we do all that for you. But we do much more than read labels. We also contact companies and get their assurance of a vegan product.
If a company can't tell us the source of a questionable ingredient, then we will not carry that product, period. No company that tests on animals will ever be carried by Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe. This guarantee includes our nutritional supplements, which we go to great lengths to make sure are free of lanolin, fish, dairy derivatives, etc. We may carry certain products from a company that also offers non-vegan products, but the items from that company we choose to carry will be completely vegan, and never tested on animals.
We also choose to carry products that are of the highest quality. For example, you will never find synthetic vitamin E in our supplements, or artificial sweeteners in our snacks". And since their product focus seems to be on body products, this assurance is especially relevant!
1- We already know that Leigh and Ken (and Cosmo!) are the proud owners of Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? How did the shop came about?
Leigh: Ken and I are both in our early 30's, and we are vegan for ethical reasons. We had the idea for opening up the store a few years before it actually happened. I was working as a buyer at a health food store at the time, so I was learning about which distributors carry the vegan products that we liked and how to deal with companies, sales reps, and so on. It made me feel more confident about my part in our potential retail business. Ken has a very logical business sense about him (from a previous business he owned at one time) and I knew that between the two of us, we could make it happen. We chose a vegan store because being vegan is a huge part of our lives, and because we love being vegan.
Ken: Leigh and I talked about running our own business shortly after we first started dating in 2001. We were both very much into the idea of starting our own vegan webstore where anyone could order without having to worry about reading labels. We wanted to guarantee our customers that every item on our site would be 100% vegan and cruelty-free. I had previously operated a hardcore/punk record distro/label, so I had a basic idea how start a mail-order business.
2-What motivated you to become vegan? When did you start? How was the process?
Leigh: I decided to become vegetarian at age 17. I was working at a pizza place, and I remember a manager there watching me eat some pepperoni and saying, “Do you know what that’s made of??” I laughed and told him that I didn’t want to know. That night I couldn’t stop thinking about the various pig parts that were probably in my pepperoni. I started looking into meat production, factory farming, and so on. There was no way I could continue eating meat after learning about all the cruelty. Soon after I phased out all of my leather shoes, belts, and purses.
I didn’t go vegan until Ken and I started dating. He had already been vegan for about four years, and being around him showed me how easy being vegan really was. I had always wanted to go vegan, but I the idea of it being too difficult had always stopped me. I’ve been vegan for five years now, and it’s definitely for life.
Ken: I first thought about going vegetarian as a freshman at Georgia State University in 1991. While doing research for an English paper on the ivory trade in Africa, I began to question my own actions, such as my diet, and how I affected other lives and the environment. Like some folks, it took some time for my dietary habits to shift and for me to slowly cut out the fast-food junk that I had grown accustomed to eating. Fast-forward three years later and thanks to some positive individuals in the hardcore/punk scene, I learned how easy it was to give up meat. I can say that the hardcore scene during the early to mid 90’s was a definitive time for veganism. Many bands, labels, and show promoters actively promoted the positive aspects of veganism. I then made the transition to veganism in 1997 when I officially wrote off cheese as viable food option. In all honesty, I suffered from cheese overload while on tour with an old band of mine. When I returned from the tour, I swore off cheese and have been vegan ever since.
3-You do some really serious checking over each product you carry: you mentioned you calling each and every company to figure out the exact composition of everything and refuse to carry a product if there are 'grey areas'. A very commendable and probably demanding process, especially thinking you stock a lot of body and skin care products! Is this difficult? How are companies responding to your enquires?
Leigh: Well, lucky for us, the use of animal testing is not nearly as common in the natural products industry as it is in more mainstream products. Staying mostly with the natural products industry (much like your local health food store) helps us, because the companies we speak to tend to be more open and knowledgeable about their animal testing policies. The same goes for ingredients. Basically, we just read labels. If a product is referred to as “vegan” or “vegetarian” by a company, but it has a questionable ingredient, we contact the company and give them a chance to tell us the source of the ingredient. If we get a solid answer, then we carry that product. It’s funny though, because even though a lot of companies are becoming more aware of where they source their ingredients from (mostly because of potential allergies in people) they are not always hip to the less obvious non-vegan ingredients. Just last week we received a packet from a sales rep where she wrote, “All of our products are totally vegan!” But the very first sell-sheet in the packet was for a product that contained both lanolin and beeswax. So even though it has gotten easier to find vegan products, we still have to be careful not to just blindly assume a product is vegan just because a company says so. We have to read every label. And I certainly don’t think that these companies are trying to be deceptive in any way, I just think that the concept of 100% vegan ingredients is still a bit foreign them. We try to be positive and educate these companies just to let them know that the demand for 100% vegan products is out there.
These days, more and more companies are starting up that are completely vegan. We especially want to support those companies and their products. We carry products from NuTru, Liz Lovely, Crazy Rumors, Tree Huggin Treats, Road’s End, Sweet and Sara and others who are either vegans and vegetarians themselves, or who fully support the vegan ethic. They advertise that their products are vegan, and have clear ingredient listings. We appreciate the chance to offer their products to the vegan community, and keep the vegan consumer’s money “in the family”, so to speak. How we, as vegans, choose to spend our money speaks volumes to companies everywhere. Show that the demand is there, and more vegan options are bound to become available.
4-Is Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe your full time job? How hard is it to target to a very narrow (yet super active and rightfully demanding!) slice of the market? And how easy was to open your online shop?
Leigh: Cosmo’s is more than a full-time job, it’s our whole life! Ha ha. We eat, sleep, live and breathe Cosmo’s. It takes up a lot of our time, but we love it.
As far as targeting our core market, I think we are getting the hang of it now. We run a lot of print ads in vegan publications such as VegNews, Herbivore, and Satya. We also have banner ads running on veg-orientated websites. Other than that, we rely on word of mouth. The folks in the vegan community are very supportive- we take care of our own. We are very grateful to be a part of such a compassionate, growing community.
Ken: Quite simply, almost everything we sell on our site is something we could easily sell to ourselves. Leigh and I are good critics of the items we sell and if we do not believe in the company or if we think the item is not good quality, we will not sell it. As far as running the business, it is definitely not as easy as it may seem, but I enjoy every second of it. At the end of the day, it feels great to be a positive part of the veg*n community.
5-You named your shop after your cat: is he vegan as well? Can you tell us more about him?
Leigh: I adopted Moe (Cosmo) ten years ago, when he was just six weeks old. I was a vegetarian at the time, but it hadn’t occurred to me to look into feeding him vegetarian. Later when I turned vegan, I seriously considered switching Moe to a vegan diet, and I did my research. What I found out did not make me feel comfortable about switching his diet. Being a male cat, I was very concerned with potential urinary crystal problems. I saw my best friend go through a difficult time with her male cat after he had a urinary blockage. Her cat almost died, but he had emergency surgery to remove the blockage and is doing well now. I didn’t want to test Moe out on a diet that does have a tendency to cause Ph and urinary problems in males. Even the folks over at VeganCats.com now suggest that male cats not go completely vegan: http://vegancats.com/pages/1007/FAQ.htm#1070
Because of this, I reluctantly decided to keep Moe on a diet of meat-based cat food. If we ever adopt a female cat or a dog, we would definitely re-visit the vegan companion animal idea.
Moe is a real joy to have around! He’s our baby. He’s very spoiled with love, toys, treats, and brushing. He talks to us and follows us around constantly. We just adore him. If you would like to see more of Moe, we have the “obligatory picture of Cosmo” each month in our e-newsletter. Anyone can sign up for the newsletter via our website.
Ken: Unfortunately, Cosmo is not a big fan of tofu, seitan or veggies. But, he has been known to run off with a potato or two from the dinner table : ) Seriously, I echo Leigh’s answer.
6-What's your favourite product and why? (Mine is the chocolate marshmallow, but I have not tried them all!)
Leigh: Hmm… there’s so many! I love the Liz Lovely Cowgirl Cookies. We love them so much that we served them at our wedding. Our family still mentions how good the cookies at the wedding were. I also love my Queen Bee Truckette Bag. It’s a real workhorse of a purse. It’s big and sturdy, and I constantly get compliments on it. My recent favorite is the Soy Whip topping. It’s perfect on top of a vegan ice cream sundae. Oh, and the Harb Chocolate Pecan Caramel Cup. It’s soooo good!
Ken: Wow, that’s a hard question because I like so many items we sell. I would have to agree with Leigh and say the Liz Lovely Cookies are probably my favorite. I would also include the Harb chocolate peanut butter protein cup, Sjaak’s caramel dark chocolate bar, Herbivore’s “Praise Seitan” t-shirt, Chocolate brownie Pure bars and the new Sweet & Sara vegan marshmallows (they are incredible). Do you see the chocolate pattern here?
I do see the chocolate pattern and not only for Ken, but for myself as well (and by the way that RiceMellow Creme seems developed for me, just for me, all must be mine...). I am super happy Cosmo is running such a great shop (to be a cat must not be easy to get all the respect he needs while doing businness!) but to be honest I am just glad I do not work there.. just imagine the scene: wrappings all over the place and someone with a sugar shock going on sitting in the middle of them with hands and face covered in melted chocolate and rice creme!
Leigh and Ken just got a lot of respect from me for actually be able to run their online shop without eating all their delicious vegan supplies before they can ship them out!