Interview / Compassion Couture

I was contacted by Jill at Compassion Couture not too long ago and her email could not have come at a better time.  I had just become familiar with their company after visiting their booth at the Vegetarian Food Festival, and I was super impressed with their selection so I remembered who they were immediately upon receiving her email. For those of you unfamiliar with Compassion Couture, they're a relatively new online retailer that carries all of your favorite vegan and eco-friendly fashion accessory lines all in one, convenient place.  A quick scan through their selection is enough to make any vegan fashionsita swoon. Compassion Couture today through April 18th  is offering Brooklyn Bliss readers a 20% discount on all full price merchandise (excludes sale items and gift cards)!  To get the discount, use coupon code BROOKLYNBLISS during checkout.

Jill and her sister Tracey, both co-owners of Compassion Couture, took some time out of their busy schedules for a quick  interview for Brooklyn Bliss. Tell us your vegetarian/vegan story!  Why did you go veg?  How long have you been veg? Etc. Tracey: I eliminated eating and buying all animal products in January of 2008.  My decision originally stemmed from reading the book Skinny Bitch, which opened my eyes to the harsh realities of animal cruelty.  For me, once I had this knowledge, it was information I just couldn’t ignore and didn’t want to have any part in.  So I pretty much made the switch overnight and haven’t looked back since.  It’s really as simple as that. Jill: Tracey played a huge part in helping me convert to a vegetarian diet. I have been an animal lover all of my life, particularly caring for and loving birds; I always knew in the back of my head that my own actions were contributing to hurting living things that I had such a close connection to and as the years went on this increasingly concerned me. But, I doubted myself about being able to handle this major lifestyle change due to outside factors including having absolutely no family and friends that were vegetarian or vegan (besides Tracey) and living an extremely busy and active lifestyle.  When I saw how easy it was for my sister to maintain a vegan diet, it set the example that I would be able to change as well.  I officially became vegetarian in February 2011 and I’m so happy I did! How did Compassion Couture come to be? Tracey: Jill and I had always dreamed of opening up our own business together as way to make a career out of something we are passionate about.  We had been brainstorming for years but just couldn’t come up with the right idea.  Both of us are animal lovers and enjoy shopping and after I went vegan (and Jill vegetarian shortly thereafter), we noticed how hard it was to find accessories (particularly shoes and bags) that were animal product free, stylish and well-made, especially all in one place.  Instead of shopping being fun, it kind of became frustrating.  We started to think that we can’t be the only ones having this problem and that’s when the idea kind of clicked.  After that, it took a lot of hard work and months of planning, and in September of 2011, Compassion Couture was officially born. Jill:  Tracey and I had always wanted to start a business together but we didn’t know exactly what that business would be.  We were both working in corporate America and were not feeling fulfilled by the career paths that we had chosen because we always wanted to contribute towards making a positive difference in this world.  Both of us have a love of fashion and after giving up purchasing all animal products, we realized how difficult it was to find handbags, shoes and accessories that were cruelty-free, high quality and stylish.  We often had to scour the internet for hours to find these items and when we did find stylish leather-free items, they tended to be “vegan by default” – made cheaply of non-sustainable materials that fell apart easily.  It then clicked.  We wanted to make a store that we would shop at – bringing together stylish, high-quality, eco-friendly and cruelty-free items all in one easy place. Were you involved in the fashion industry prior to forming Compassion Couture? And if so was it difficult working in an industry where compassionate design is not a priority? Tracey:  Actually, my day job is about as far on the spectrum from fashion as can be possible.  Because we are in start-up mode (and probably will be for some time to come), I’m still working in my position in commercial real estate finance.  This is definitely not an industry focused on compassion and I often feel like the only vegan on Wall Street.  On the other hand, this also gives me the opportunity to educate my colleagues and I love showing off our products by wearing them to work!  It’s awesome when I get compliments, which happens pretty often, and can tell people the background behind the products. Jill:  Before forming Compassion Couture, I was doing marketing for a health website.  It was unrelated to the fashion industry but it prepared me for launching and marketing Compassion Couture, so I am very grateful for the experience that I got there!  When I was in high school, there was a brief period of time that I did want to become a fashion designer and I even took a summer course at the Fashion Institute of Technology.  I didn’t follow up with this dream and always regretted it in some way.  That is why I am so glad that my path has led me to Compassion Couture, a place where I can bring together my love for fashion as well as promote ethical and compassionate practices! I see from your bio on your site you ladies are from Long Island. Holla! So am I, I grew up there. What are you favorite veg hangouts there? Tracey:  I actually just moved to your neck of the woods (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) a few months ago but still go out to Long Island often.  My absolute favorite place to eat when I go back home is 3 Brothers Pizza Café in Rockville Centre, which is a little pizza take-out place/restaurant that happens to have an entire vegan menu.  Do not leave there without eating the Peanut Butter Bomb if they have any left on the dessert menu – it is to die for! Jill:  Like Tracey, 3 Brothers Pizza Café is one of my favorites!  Long Island is a bit behind Brooklyn in the vegan/vegetarian arena, but there is a fast food restaurant that just opened in Seaford up called Long Island Vegetarian Eatery that I’m dying to try.  The best part is that on the weekend they are open until 3AM and they deliver – perfect for those late night munchies! Vegan/vegetarian shoes and handbags have come a long way since I went vegan. What are your thoughts on the current variety on the market right now, and how does that play into the brands Compassion Couture carries? Tracey:  They definitely have come a long way!  When I first started looking for vegan shoes and bags, the options were so limited.  I think it’s really been in the last year that the selection has started to noticeably expand.  But what I’m most excited about is that not only have the choices increased, but the newer brands are more focused on quality, style and sustainability as a whole, as opposed to only being cruelty-free.  What I was used to finding when I first was looking were items that were not really fashion-forward or more of a hippie style or they were vegan by accident because they were lower cost items made on the cheap.  What this means for Compassion Couture is that we have a growing selection for our inventory, with plans for adding new brands and products. Jill:  I think this is an ever-expanding market and I’m so excited to see new vegan/vegetarian brands popping up all over the place!  The choices that are out there are just as good if not better in terms of quality and style as the accessories you can find at any fashion-forward retail store out there.  Some vegan/veg brands are even starting to be sold in major department stores including two of our brands, Olsenhaus and Cornelia Guest.  And, many of these brands take the environment and human-rights into consideration when producing their goods!  This all plays into the brands that Compassion Couture carries.  Not only are our brands cruelty-free, but they also incorporate sustainability into their practices are fashionable and high-quality.  Tracey and I hand pick every item in order to ensure that they meet all of our criteria and the brands out there are making this a very easy process for us.  We have a hard time choosing which items to put on our site because we love almost everything these brands offer! There are a lot more options now for shoes and accessories made of man made materials from mass retailers like Target and Payless.  Do you consider these retailers competition, considering they are much less expensive than vegan, eco-friendly brands?  Or is it like comparing apples to oranges? Tracey: That’s an interesting question and I think the answer is they are competitors in some ways but in other ways they are not.  For someone who is just looking for something vegan on a budget, they may be turned off from our site because it’s pricier and they may turn to one of those stores instead.  But it’s important to keep in mind that items from those stores are most likely made from man made products coincidentally.  Which is why, in a way it is comparing apples to oranges.  I’m actually a big believer in that you get what you pay for.  There is a reason why our items are pricier and there is a reason why their products are so cheap.  Just as one example, the materials our products are made from are more expensive because they are recycled, organic, non-toxic, biodegradable and/or higher quality.  There’s also the craftsmanship factor – fair trade or handmade is obviously going to cost more and the items are also made to last.  Each brand we sell is conscious about their impact on the world and the environment and incorporates this into their manufacturing in some way.  Even though our items are more expensive, it’s important to keep in mind that you are getting an entirely different type of product when you purchase an item from us as opposed to a mass retailer. Jill:  I definitely do not think of Target and Payless as competitors.  As much as I’d love to be able to sell our items at lower prices so that everyone can buy them, there are several reasons why they are more expensive.  I’m not always a believer in “you get what you pay for”, but in Compassion Couture’s case, this directly relates! All of our brands use high-quality materials (most are eco-friendly or recycled) and our brands also pay fair wages for labor. The fashion industry especially is known for not even paying factory workers minimum wage for producing goods and even using illegal child labor practices. We pride ourselves in not only supporting animals, the environment but human rights as well! What are some of your favorite fashion related websites and publications? Tracey: There are so many good ones to choose from these days but some of my favorites are The Streets I Know, which is all about vegan fashion and Chic Vegan which covers fashion and other vegan topics (I actually contribute monthly posts too).  Ecouterre is another one of my favorites and they not only cover vegan fashion but have tons of info on sustainable and eco fashion. Jill:  I am a hoarder of fashion magazines! I read all of the most popular ones especially Lucky Magazine, Marie Claire and Glamour.  Although these magazines do not promote ethical fashion overall, I have been noticing more columns and items popping up in these publications that are vegan and eco-friendly and I love that!  I also read Refix Magazine, Ecosalon and several blogs (including your own!) that feature a lot of vegan fashion posts! Where are you favorite places to shop? Tracey: For shoes and bags, I’m pretty much covered these days by Compassion Couture but some other great places I would recommend to shop for vegan/eco clothing are Cow Jones Industrials Boutique in Chatham, NY and Mission Savvy in Charleston, WV.  There’s also LivLuna, a website that is not only an amazing online eco-fashion shop, it is a whole community based on promoting women feeling good about themselves and doing it with style. Jill: Like Tracey, a lot of my purchases are made online because it’s difficult to find entire stores that sell eco-friendly, cruelty-free fashions.  I’m currently in love with Etsy for clothing and accessories and everything but the kitchen sink and Uncommon Goods, for recycled or eco-friendly gifts and jewelry.  I’m also really looking forward to H&M’s eco-friendly line this spring set to hit stores mid-April!  Any plans for a physical, boutique location? Tracey:  No official plans right now but this is our ultimate vision!  Since it is just the two of us and we are self-funded, we need to focus our efforts on the e-boutique.  When the time is right, we plan to make the dream of opening a brick and mortar store a reality.  We need to be patient though and keep working hard because it’s probably still a few years away. Jill:  When we launched Compassion Couture, opening a brick and mortar store was a long-term goal.  We hope that we can bring this to life, but it definitely will not be at least for a few years.  It would be great for people to see all of our items in person. The pictures on the website do not even do them justice! Of your selection in the store right now, what are some of your favorite pieces?

Precious by Hearts of Darkness

Tracey: Top of my list right now are the Precious by Hearts of Darkness, which I actually wore this weekend for the first time and I think I’m in love.  I’m always drawn to shoes that have a platform because they look higher than they feel plus they give my legs the appearance of being much longer than they really are.  Cork is a huge trend this season too, plus it’s a natural shock absorber so it just makes them that much more comfortable for a long night out.

Koel by Love is Mighty

As far as something that can be more of an everyday type of shoe, the Koel by Love Is Mighty is a great choice.  As I’m sure you know, New Yorkers do a ton of walking, so a great pair of flats is essential.  These shoes are handmade, including the embroidery, so the quality is on a different level than most of us are probably used to.  Plus the color is neutral so these go with just about everything.

Eclipse by Dialog

Since I’m pretty much never home and tend to live out of my handbags, something roomy is a must for me.  My new favorite is the Eclipse by Dialog because it can fit everything I need and then some, without looking bulky.  It also can be worn two ways – over the shoulder or cross-body (this strap is detachable too).  But the most important feature is the signature Dialog trim, which happens to be much more than meets the eye.  Based in Asia, Dialog helps women in need find dignity and a career by teaching them an age old recycling technique of taking scrap materials and folding them into a beautiful pattern.  Dialog then pays them a fair price to buy the completed trim and in doing so have infused thousands of dollars into various Asian communities.

Clio, by Cri de Coeur

Jill: My absolute favorite shoe on the site right now is Cri de Coeur’s Clio.  I love the mixture of gold, dark wood and black that makes up the rocker-chic style of this wedge.  And this shoe gives you me all the height I need but is surprisingly comfortable.

Pansie, by Cornelia Guest

I love all of the Cornelia Guest bags but particularly the Pansie clutch because its blush pink color is perfect for the spring season. And, all of her bags are made of eco-friendly PVC.

Maya Papaya by Matt and Natt

My favorite accessory is definitely the Matt & Nat Maya wristlet. I love that you can easily carry all of your necessities around your wrist and the Papaya color makes this a statement piece. If you are on a tight budget, this is the perfect item to fulfill your vegan/eco shopping needs this season! What's next in store for Compassion Couture? Tracey:  Well first off, our spring inventory is continuing to come in over the next month, and styles are being added all the time so don’t forget to check back often. In May, we will be partnering with one of our favorite charities, Farm Sanctuary.  A portion of the proceeds from sales of certain items will be donated to this amazing non-profit organization.  We love the work they do helping to rescue animals from cruelty at factory farms and are honored to be able to help them. You’ll also find us participating in a number of pop-up shops and other events throughout the year.  On April 28th we’ll be at the first annual Connecticut Vegetarian Food Festival and on July 7th we are participating in Shecky’s Girl’s Day Out in the Hamptons.  There are a few others in the works, possibly even some that will be self-hosted so stay tuned. Jill:  Tracey pretty much summed this up! Now a question for my readers.  What's your favorite items at Compassion Couture?