Interview with a vegan: Introducing Nutritional Natasa

I first heard about Nutritional Natasa after following her Instagram account and reading her vegan lifestyle blog. Natasa has already led a varied life. She grew up in Cyprus, went to University in Exeter and now resides in sunny Manchester, where I first met up with her.

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@nutritionalnatasa modelling the Costa Clutch bag by Paguro Upcycle. Available in multiple colours. Click HERE to shop.

I was so lucky as to get to spend the afternoon with her as we collaborated on a promo for a fashion brand whose ethics are second to none; Paguro Upcycle. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll already have read about this company. If you want to check out why they’re so awesome, please see my previous blog post HERE. The general gist is that they’re a vegan company with ethical values. They have scoured the globe to put together a collection of the best artistic creations using sustainable materials. Their products are all made from recycled truck tyres, inner tube, discarded barrels, army tents, and even skateboards! They source raw materials close to their workshop in Indonesia to reduce their Carbon footprint. They are breathing life into small communities giving opportunities to locals and follow fair trade principles. Their product packaging is also 100% recycleable. And their design pieces are exquisite. What more could you ask for?

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Products include wallets, rucksacks, belts, clutch bags and shoulder bags. Check out some of their range on Amazon HERE.

I met up with Natasa so that we could showcase some of their products using her as a model. We met up for coffee first, where I got to interview her…

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The beautiful Natasa modelling the Becca shoulder bag by Paguro Upcycle. Click HERE to shop.

What was it that made you decide to become vegan?

Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle has definitely been a process over time and I’ve only recently managed to pinpoint the root of my transition. As with most beliefs that we have and decisions we make in life, there’s usually a deeper reasoning behind it, that’s not always obvious.

Ironically, for my 16th birthday, I really wanted to visit a dairy farm to milk a cow – the “traditional way.” My Grandad found a firm that permitted me go along for a visit. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be sat on a stool, in the middle of a field, milking a cow from her udder. Instead, I walked into a confined room, where cows were stacked up next to each-other, being milked from an electronically controlled device.

The factory was relatively small compared to what you’d see on animal rights documentaries, but it still portrayed the commodification and mistreatment of living beings. I remember leaving feeling quite disgusted and disappointed. All non-vegans know that when they’re eating a burger or a steak, it’s derived from an animal. But, visually seeing how different my perception of animal farming was, compared to the reality, was definitely another level of consciousness.

Despite not going vegan or cutting out any animal products immediately, I think the whole experience must’ve had a long term effect. About half a year later, I became quite passionate about human rights, which paralleled my support for the equal treatment of all living beings.

I came across Melanie Joy’s TedX talk one day: “Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” and decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle immediately! 17-year-old me didn’t anticipate the controversy that this would bring, but after having countless discussions with family members, friends, teachers, coworkers, waitresses, even strangers on the internet… I’ve managed to help so many friends go vegan.

What has been the most positive effect of veganism for you, personally?

Compassion.

I truly believe that as human beings, we’re all capable of being compassionate, empathetic, and loving towards other sentient beings. Following a vegan lifestyle though is more of an explicit reminder of how important this compassion is and how positive it makes you feel. At the start, it felt amazing knowing that my dinner plate didn’t have any negative consequences on another being’s life, but over time, it’s just become second nature. I’ve been vegan for nearly 4 years now, and I think that over time I’ve definitely allowed myself to be more ‘in touch’ with my emotions and to be more kind towards others. We live in a society filled with stereotypes and preconceived ideas of who people are, but being vegan has helped me break through these social constructs as I’ve adopted a mindset that views others as kind and pure at heart.

Additionally, veganism has helped me to develop a more positive relationship with food. My diet consists of more whole foods, such as greens, fruits, and grains that keep me nurtured and energised. Anyone who follows my Instagram and who views my stories knows that I love a good #veganjunkfood feast, so it feels amazing knowing that I can have delicious meals without harming others.

What would you say were the most positive effects overall for the planet?

When I first went vegan, people around me would try to discourage me from following a vegan lifestyle by saying things like “you’re not going to change the world,” or “you’re just one person, you can’t change how animals are treated.” For the most part, they were, and still are, right. I am one person. I won’t single-handedly change how animals are treated. I can’t reverse the damaging effects animal agriculture has had on the environment. But, what I can do, is lead a life that’s kind to others and to the environment. Animal agriculture alone, is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. As a society, we’ve taken our consumerist habits to the extreme and we’ve quite literally ended up destroying the very land that gave us life. We can’t continue harming voiceless animals without taking responsibility of the consequences it has on our planet. Animals are crammed into confined farms all around the world and the volume of food required to feed animals that will end up being slaughtered to become food themselves, seems counter productive.

Do you think veganism ends at what’s on your dinner plate?

NN13Veganism STARTS at what’s on your dinner plate. Food is something that we eat every day, at least three times a day; so by default, a vegan diet is usually the first (and the easiest) step towards a more ethical way of living. Choosing to not eat animal products is definitely crucial because food is so prominent in our daily routine. But, other purchases we make are just as important when seeking to reduce the overall harm we cause to animals. The fashion industry is a main contributor to animal cruelty, most of us buy new clothes a few times a year. With affordable, high street shops surrounding us, buying non-ethical clothing is an easy option, but it definitely isn’t the the only option, or the right one.

Additionally, veganism encompasses a love and protection towards the planet, which translates into an environmentally conscious outlook. Whether it’s walking instead of deriving, or taking public transport, or using reusable shopping bags when going to the supermarket, every little helps. As a vegan, I’m always on the lookout for how I can best reduce my Carbon footprint, whilst simultaneously being kind towards human and nonhuman beings.

What do you look for in a fashion brand?

Fast Fashion is becoming more exposed for its unethical practices in recent years. In light of numerous animal welfare campaigns from organisations such as PETA and FURFORANIMALS, the “luxurious fashion” statement of wearing fur has faded over the years. However, we still seem to see people wearing clothing made from fur in less explicit ways, such as Canada Goose coats and UGG boots, which are just as horrific. Similarly, the leather industry doesn’t seem to face half as much controversy as it should and people still seem to take pride in their ‘authentic’ leather boots, belts, bags, and so on. There is nothing luxurious about wearing an animal’s skin on your body, if anything, it’s rather barbaric. Whilst I’m in no way perfect and admittedly do own a handful of leather products myself that I purchased before going vegan, I am also pragmatic in acknowledging that we live in a predominantly non vegan world. I always try to make the most ethical choices  when I’m equipped with the necessary knowledge and have the funds for it. However, I think it’s also important to remember that every little helps and that ethical fashion is more of a long term transition, compared to a vegan diet.

Similarly, as well as supporting brands that are kind to animals and to the environment, I find it just as important to support brands that have a fair wage policy. It’s not just about what products are made from, but how workers manufacturing the products are treated and what conditions they’re working under.

What is it about Paguro as a company that you like?

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Shop Paguro’s range HERE.

I absolutely love their drive for recycled materials, it’s
environmentally friendly and always an ideal way of not using up more resources. I always like hearing a company’s story and what inspired them to start off, and I absolutely loved reading up on Paguro’s humble beginnings. I’m confident in saying that our society is facing a serious backlash of over consumerism and excessive production, so the best way to combat that is to utilise materials that have already been created and to repurpose them as alternatives. I wouldn’t consider myself as the biggest ‘fashionista’ out there, but I must admit, I love how sleek and simple the Paguro handbag range is. With such versatility in design and endurance, It’s refreshing to see a brand that creates long lasting fashion statements that are representative of an ethical and kind message.

What advice would you give to fashionistas looking to shop more ethically?

I know I’m stating the obvious here, but educating yourself on the fashion industry is undoubtedly the first step towards making more ethical choices. Do some research on your favourite brands and find out if their pretty clothes are concealing an ugly manufacturing. I’m really happy to see that fast fashion is being exposed more in mainstream media and documentaries as its definitely making it easier for everyone to become more aware of what the consequences of their purchases are. Whilst vegan food is so readily available recently, I know that ethical clothing isn’t as easily accessible on the high street. However, by supporting brands that have a more ethical agenda, shopping from them, and raising awareness around the topic, we can hopefully bring ethical fashion brands to the forefront. On a similar note, cruelty-free makeup has gained much more momentum and by looking out for the little bunny, its so easy to know what makeup brands are vegan friendly.

What do you see for the future of veganism as a whole?

Call me over-ambitious, but I can only hope that the future of our society is veganism. I genuinely believe that deep down, we’re all kind, loving and compassionate; a combination of emotions that will drive us in that direction. Animal rights campaigns and activism are being taken more seriously each and every time, which gives me so much hope towards a more vegan future. We can’t blame people around us for following a non-vegan lifestyle, as most of us have been brought up on an ideology that we need meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and other animal products to survive. However, we’re breaking through these misconceptions thanks to the rise of scientific information, exposing the health effects of consuming animal products; and the rise of animal welfare activity, exposing the unethical side of consuming animal products.

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If you want to learn more about Nutritional Natasa, follow her on Instagram @nutritionalnatasa or take a look at her blog HERE.

If you would like to purchase ethical, vegan, cruelty-free items from the Paguro Upcycle range, they’re available on Amazon HERE.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links and if you purchase via these links, both Natasa and I will earn a small commission. So thank you if you choose to purchase through these links.

Why staying en vogue doesn’t mean betraying your vegan values

NOT ALL VEGANS ARE BORN EQUAL.

I wanted to write a piece on how to be true to your vegan beliefs while still expressing your inner fashionista. In the past, veganism has gotten a lot of stick and there’s a stereotype that all vegans go around wearing tie dye and hugging trees. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those things, although I’m no fan of tie-dye, I can understand need to be at one with a Great Oak! My point is that vegans come in all shapes and sizes and they want to express that individuality in their fashion purchases. They are only similar in the shared belief that animals should not be used for any purpose… and it doesn’t stop at what’s on your dinner plate, it applies to fashion too.

My little tree-huggers

FUCK FUR.

Thanks to a long-running PETA campaign, the wearing of fur has been a taboo since the early 90s. Lots of famous fashion brands have released press statements that they’re going fur-free, such as Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Versace, Gucci, Michael Kors, Armani, Tom Ford, Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs to name but a few.

For the general public though, while they’ve recognised that skinning a cute furry animal for fashion is wrong, they still continue to wear other animal skins. People have no qualms about purchasing and wearing UGG boots made from the skin of a sheep or “luxury” leather gloves made from the chemically treated slink of an unborn calf, cut from his pregnant mother’s stomach at the slaughter house. Nor do they give a second thought to the animal that lived and breathed in this same skin before it became a carry thing for your bits and pieces.

How is wearing leather different to wearing fur?

Image: @rob___banks Instagram

LEATHER CAN GO FUCK ITSELF TOO.

The vegan leather industry is set to be worth $80bn dollars over the next couple of years, probably for the same reasons that eating a plant-based diet is on the rise; people are waking up and realising that animal agriculture is unsustainable and since the majority of the leather comes from cows that are raised for beef and dairy, it renders the leather industry unsustainable too.

The leather industry is not a byproduct of the meat industry. Cowhide isn’t used because those profiting are concerned about waste and feel they need to use every last part of the cow. The skin of a cow is the most profitable part, accounting for 10% of her total value. It can be more lucrative than the meat industry. To that end, leather is a co-product of the meat industry and therefore is at least equally responsible for the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. This is why, if you’re vegan, leather should be avoided just as much as meat and dairy.

 

LEATHER DOESN’T COME FROM WHERE YOU’D THINK.

People comfort themselves when they think that their leather shoes were made using the skin of cows that had been slaughtered for meat. Like, it was only going to waste any way, wasn’t it?

The truth is, we don’t actually know where our leather shoes have come from. After all, a garment labelled ‘Italian leather’ only means that the garment was made or finished in Italy. A lot of leather actually comes from India. In case you didn’t know, what happens here is that cows have to endure gruelling trips across the country on foot with no food or water, collapsing and having their tails broken, chilli rubbed into their eyes and being beaten to make them stand and continue the arduous journey. The reason they have to walk so far, is to enter states where slaughter of sacred cows is not illegal.

Once they get there, they’re often slaughtered with blunt instruments or even skinned alive, in front of each other. All of this pain and suffering so that someone can have an overpriced handbag to make themselves feel pretty.

 

 

It’s not just the animals that suffer, the workers suffer too. The hides have to be treated with toxic chemicals, because let’s not forget that it is the skin of a dead animal and without that lovely leather smell, it would basically smell of rotting flesh. These chemicals can burn and disfigure the workers, who are often children.

Furthermore, a lot of the leather used in fashion is not from cows at all, especially if it originates in China, it is often from cats and dogs and the western shopper is none the wiser due to mislabelling.

The best thing you can do as a consumer is to boycott leather. There’s nothing more powerful to fashion labels than voting with your dollar.

 

LEATHER ALTERNATIVES.

The good news is that avoiding leather doesn’t mean missing out on your favourite trends. Just like there are vegan alternatives for meat and dairy products, so too are there for designer leather bags.

It sickens me that for years, I was led to believe that seeing the words “genuine leather” embossed onto a miniature cow skin hanging from a shiny new handbag, was a good thing. And it sickens me that an animal gave their life, no, had their life taken from them, for some shoes that someone will absent-mindedly toss aside because they’re bored of them.

The society we live in nowadays, thanks to high street stores, means that clothes are so inexpensive, that you could afford to throw them away and buy a whole new wardrobe every few weeks and this has altered the mindset of the modern day shopper who changes their leather handbags almost as frequently as they change their proverbial knickers.

It goes without saying then that opting for vegan leather shoes and handbags is the more ethical stance; no animal has to suffer and the negative impacts that are caused by agriculture have been avoided.

 

A CAVEAT.

The problem is, that in many vegan leather goods, manmade materials are often used in place of animal products, which means that they contain plastics and other non-biodegradable microfibres which do not break down and will end up and remain in our ecosystem.

Some leather substitutes use manmade materials, like plastics, that continue to pollute the environment.

 

SO, WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?

One way to combat this is to look for brands that use recycled materials. I spoke to Yen, founder of Paguro Upcycle. Paguro is the latin for Hermit Crab, nature’s very own upcycler, who takes a discarded shell and repurposes it. This is the whole premise behind her ethical, vegan company. All of their products use recycled materials, from inner tubes, tyres and military tents to oak barrels, bike chains, construction nets and plastic bags.

Paguro uses recycled materials to create their coveted pieces. Image: @paguroupcycle Instagram.

A PASSION FOR SUSTAINABLE FASHION.

The company was born after Yen discovered some talented artisans developing artistic creations from unwanted manmade materials and she wanted to showcase their designs.

The entire vegan and cruelty-free production process takes place within the Salatiga workshop in Indonesia, where they can ensure that each product is finished by hand to their exacting standards. They follow fair trade principles and the work is having a profound positive impact on the local community.

Sapu: Paguro’s design and production team at their workshop in Salatiga.

Each piece is a classic design that’s sure to always be on trend. The materials are chosen for their longevity and are built to last a lifetime, after all what could be more durable than a truck tyre?

They make sure to reduce the carbon footprint as much as possible by sourcing all the materials within a 25 km radius of the workshop. And all of their packaging is 100% recycleable.

But the biggest benefit that Paguro’s products have over other leather alternatives is that they’re taking materials that are already in existence and diverting them from landfill, rather than adding to the manmade materials already in abundance in the world.

You can visit Paguro’s Amazon store HERE.

 

 

TIPS FOR CONSCIOUS FASHION.

I’m certainly not perfect and don’t always buy recycled clothing and accessories and nor do I even stick to my own rule of “don’t buy it if you don’t really need it”. But I try and that’s what being a vegan is all about. But if you want to adopt a more environmentally friendly wardrobe, here are my tips…

  • Ask yourself if you really need it. If you can live without it, then live without it.
  • Look for items that have longevity. Don’t buy something that is going to go out of fashion next season.
  • Look for items that are good quality. The better the quality, the longer it will last and you won’t be continually discarding worn out items that end up in landfill.
  • Look for ethical brands that follow fair trade principles.
  • Look for brands that source and make the products nearby, therefore reducing the carbon footprint.
  • Look for brands that use either recycled materials in their packaging or whose packaging is fully recycleable.

Paguro Upcycle ticks all of the above boxes. You can visit their store HERE.

Let me know in the comments if you have any further tips for shopping in a more eco-friendly and ethical way.