04 October 2012

High fashion can indeed be cruelty-free: An interview with Compassion Couture co-founder Tracey

When I first started living a vegan lifestyle, the changes initially began on my plate. But soon, the awareness eventually and inevitably spilled over into every facet of my life. And as a girl who loves fashion, hand bags, and high heels, I found the transition to a cruelty-free wardrobe almost more daunting than the diet!

Such a dilemma is what sparked the creation of Compassion Couture, a 100% cruelty-free and eco-friendly online boutique. Tracey and Jill, the co-founders, are an inspiring pair of trailblazing sisters that are making life much easier for conscious-living fashionistas everywhere. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Tracey, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions...as well as offer a special discount to tdiv readers!!! So after you're done reading, head on over to compassion couture and enter the coupon code thisdish20 to receive 20% off your purchase. This generous discount is valid for the next 7 days, so be sure to get it while it lasts!!

Lori: How long have you been vegan, and what prompted your decision to live cruelty-free?
Tracey: I eliminated eating and buying all animal products in January of 2008, so it’s been almost 5 years now. My decision originally stemmed from reading a book right after New Year’s that I thought was going to help me learn how to eat healthier (I had been eating so much junk during the holidays) but to my surprise, it was full of information regarding 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. I pretty much made the switch overnight and I haven’t looked back since.

Lori: What inspired you to begin compassion couture?
Tracey: My business partner/sister/bff, Jill, and I had always dreamed up opening up our own business together as a 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 - let’s create the store that we were looking to shop at but couldn’t find.

Lori: Tell me a little bit about your business...
Tracey: Once Jill and I came up with the idea, it took almost a full year of hard work and planning for us to make the dream a reality. On September 1, 2011, the online shop finally opened its virtual doors so we actually just celebrated our first birthday. Our mission is to make a change on how the world views compassionate and ethical fashion and we want to prove that it is possible to have a strong sense of beliefs without sacrificing your sense of style. It’s very important to us that we hand-pick all the items sold in our shop, so you won’t find anything that one or both of us doesn’t want for ourselves. We also feel that respecting the environment goes hand in hand with respecting other living beings, so all of the brands we select to work with incorporate being eco-conscious into their production as well. There is nothing on our site that is accidentally vegan, so there is a higher standard of quality that comes along with our products as well.

Lori: What is your favorite vegan meal?
Tracey: Sushi from soy & sake in the west village, NYC. I could eat their spicy soy tuna avocado roll at least once a day.

Lori: What is your bestselling item?
Tracey: I don’t think we actually have one item in particular that I could point to that outsells everything. However, as far as bags go, I could probably say that our most popular brand is matt & nat. I think what draws people to their items are that they are both super functional and fashionable. Also, all their linings are made from recycled plastic bottles.


And for shoes, I’d say our most popular style last season was the oxford and this trend seems to be continuing. We have a few different cute variations available right now:




Lori: Are your customers all vegan, or do you attract some carnivorous fashionistas as well?
Tracey: I think for the most part, our customers come to us specifically because they know we are a cruelty-free shop. However, being that our main goal is to prove that vegan style can be fashionable, we are doing everything we can to bring this message mainstream and gain a following of non-vegan shoppers. I like to think that every time we sell something, another animal was saved, so the more the better!

Lori: What does the future hold for compassion couture? Are there plans to expand in any way?
Tracey: Over the long term, the absolute dream would be to have a brick and mortar location but we are not ready just yet. Also, we get soooo many requests for men’s items so expanding to carry men’s shoes and accessories is a definite item on the Compassion Couture to-do list. And maybe, just maybe, at some point way in the future we could design our own line...hmmm. For now, we are continuing to expand on a smaller scale by constantly looking for new designers to work with – in fact, we will be adding 2 new brands to our site in October, which we are really excited about.

Lori: What does your daily wardrobe consist of? Do you wear your products?
Tracey: I absolutely wear our products! That’s probably one of the best perks of owning a shoe and bag shop. My new everyday bag for work is the gunas Melrose Tote, which is classy and functional, with strategically placed pockets inside and out, and even an interior hook for keys so they don’t get lost on the bottom:


But I also don’t think I’m going to be able to give up on my Cornelia Guest Nicolas tote. This bag fits my whole life in it, which is important because my life has been so hectic recently that I’ve had to carry a ton of stuff around, and it even holds up no matter how heavily I pack it. I got it last season and we now have it in the gray faux snakeskin weave for the fall:


You’ll probably also see me wearing my new Neuaura Wesley riding boots all fall, which are super comfy for walking, and pretty much go with everything. I also love the elastic on the back of the calf, which allows for them to fit easily over any jeans:


Lori: What do you think is the biggest misconception people hold about vegans?
Tracey: I almost feel silly saying this, but I really think the number one thing that I get questioned about repeatedly is where I get protein from. Americans appear to be so misled to believe that animal protein is the only real source of protein, so to them it seems really impossible that vegans could be getting enough of it.

Lori: Who is your favorite vegan celebrity and why?
Tracey: Brendan Brazier, because he is a great example that a plant based diet is enough to fuel even a professional ironman triathlete and winner of multiple races, including ultra-marathons.

Support the animals, the environment, and these two amazing sisters, by giving your wardrobe a little upgrade with the coupon code thisdish20 and save 20% at Compassion Couture. (Offer valid for the next 7 days)

Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is an animal-loving, life-loving vegan who is passionate about spreading the message of better health through a vegan diet. She works as a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance and follow her on Facebook.

Photo credit: Compassion Couture