We spoke to Immaculate Vegan founder, Annick Ireland to get her take on vegan fashion and how the current Covid-19 situation could impact the future of fashion and retail.
Immaculate Vegan launched their luxury e-commerce platform just last year. Their mission is to help drive the shift to an ethical and sustainable lifestyle that optimises happiness and wellness. For the many, not the few; and for the future of our planet.
What inspired you to launch Immaculate Vegan?
I became vegetarian after adopting a greyhound from the Retired Greyhound Trust, and making the link between the pets we love and all animals; and then soon after that the penny finally dropped and I became vegan. But I initially found it hard to find really high quality and on trend vegan bags, shoes and accessories. After a LOT of time on Instagram I finally found several gorgeous brands, but what struck me was that as a committed vegan it was still sometimes hard to find what I was looking for – and in all likelihood the average ‘conscious consumer’ who’s just looking to make some better choices wouldn’t find them.
Real impactful change will only come from persuading the many, not the few, to choose more ethically and sustainably. And I firmly believe that to achieve change on a large scale, the alternative needs to look more beautiful, more sexy, and more aspirational than the status quo. And it needs to be presented without judgement.
So I founded Immaculate Vegan to do that. Our mission is to help drive the shift to an ethical and sustainable lifestyle that optimises happiness and wellness, for the many not the few. And we believe we can do this by changing the perception of the vegan lifestyle – from alternative to aspirational; and from limiting to transformational.
Why is vegan fashion and lifestyle so important to you?
Fashion is all about creating and fulfilling desires, so by creating a platform that is all about fashion and lifestyle, we have an opportunity to change perceptions and therefore desires. The end result of that goes back to our mission – helping people live more ethically and sustainably, and therefore making a real, positive and large-scale difference to the lives of animals, people and our environment.
I’ve been incredibly motivated by the change in perception of vegan eating and the resulting huge growth in the vegan food industry, which has been outperforming all annual growth predictions for the past few years. So I think the next big opportunity is fashion and lifestyle. Plus I also really love fashion!
You launched early Winter 2019, how have your customers responded to your business so far, what do they love most about your platform?
We’ve been really overwhelmed with how much support we’ve had from people – brands and customers alike. The main response has been how impressed they’ve been to find so many amazing brands and products that are such high quality, beautifully designed, and are 100% vegan. A lot of people have struggled to find the beautiful things they want (and used to buy before they became vegan or vegetarian), and have been frustrated with the vegan versions they’ve come across.
It’s summed up for me in this feedback from a customer: “Finally a single source for exquisite products! I am so tired of only casual options and poor quality products for vegans. We go to events, we want to look nice, we want to say.. oh, you like my shoes? They’re vegan! [I’ve been] aching for new savvy products on one site! You nailed it! You have a customer for life.
How has the Covid-19 situation impacted your business?
We have launched Immaculate IGTV on Instagram, which we’re using to help tell the unique stories of our amazing brands; and we have really ramped up our Editorial section on our site, including articles on 10 Reasons Why Now is The Time to Try a Vegan Diet, How to Try a Vegan Lifestyle, How to Create a Sustainable Wardrobe, The Dirty Secrets of the Exotic Skins Trade – Why You Should Go Faux ¬and many more. We’ll be focusing more and more on this over the next months, and it’s part of our longer term strategy to be a Content & eCommerce platform, rather than just eCommerce.So in the main, online orders are still being sent worldwide, and Immaculate Vegan and our community of brands are very much open for business. But of course it’s been challenging – overall, UK online fashion sales dropped 25% YoY in March, and we’re certainly not immune to the downturn in trading. Also, we know this a very challenging time for many, particularly financially, and so rather than focusing our messaging on selling our products, we have moved to focusing more on creating informative, entertaining and inspirational content for our audience, that helps them make positive life changes, build new healthy habits, and stay mentally and physically well over the upcoming period.
Do you think that the global pandemic will have a permanent impact on the fashion industry and if so what do you predict that will be?
I do, absolutely. I think short term it’s going to be especially difficult for many sustainable and ethical brands, as their profit margins are already really very tight (as the products are expensive to make) and most don’t have significant cash reserves. But if we can all ride this out, I think the longer term future is very positive, as it’s accelerating the speed at which people are linking up the choices they make about what they purchase and consume, with the effect those have on the environment. And that includes the damage inflicted on ecosystems by fast fashion, and fashion that includes animal products.
We need to ditch leather not just because of the animal cruelty involved, but because it’s the single most environmentally harmful material in fashion (followed closely by silk, inorganic cotton and wool – see the 2017 Pulse of Fashion Report). It results in huge amounts of deforestation and habitat loss, which brings animals and humans closer and closer together, and facilitates the spread of viruses like COVID 19 (and there are many more scary viruses out there that can make the leap next). The trade in wild animal skins like snake and crocodile does the same thing.
And fast fashion – whatever the materials used – is depleting the earth’s natural, finite resources at a speed at which they can’t be renewed, contributing to climate change through hefty carbon emissions from manufacturing, and creating pollution and landfill. All these things are interlinked – global warming causes habitat loss through desertification and flooding, landfill causes habitat loss, farming the raw materials causes habitat loss, a warmer climate facilitates a greater spread of diseases. It’s a complex chain but a light is finally being shone on it, and the significant role that fashion has played. But it’s all fed by consumer choices and consumer demand, which I’m very hopeful we will see changing.
As a new business owner what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs keen to launch a start-up?
My main advice would be to do it with someone else, preferably someone that has different, complementary skillsets to you. Launching a new business is really challenging in so many ways (as well as exciting and motivating), and you need so many different skills to run all aspects of the business, covering marketing, content, sales, design, finance, legal, operations… You can’t cover it all yourself. The other benefits of partnering up is that each of you can give perspective to the other when they need it, and help each other through the lows (which occur as least as often as the highs). I’ve been really lucky to find a superb co-founder for Immaculate (Simon) and we also have an amazing team to help us, including our eCommerce Manager Vai, and many freelancers that help us in different areas, who are true experts in their field. So we are together more than the sum of our parts.
My other advice would be to be flexible and be willing to pivot when it makes sense – don’t cling on to a vision of how you thought it would be, or your long term business plan, if things have changed and they’re no longer relevant. Keep adapting.
From a personal point of view, what have you done to keep positive in this strangest of times?
For me it was about getting a new routine in place that would help me feel grounded and (a little) in control, and making exercise and mindfulness an important part of that. So I try to do a short yoga session, a meditation and a run every day, and I don’t always manage it but mainly I do, and that’s keeping me sane.
Also I’m not watching the news much, when I do it’s Al Jazeera as I think they provide a much more balanced and global perspective. And I go to bed early and spend an hour reading, which for me is a daily treat I always look forward to. Oh, and regular video calls with friends with a G&T or glass of wine (or several), they’ve been really good fun!
Left: Hozen, available at www.immaculatevegan.com
Above: Dauntless, also available at www.immaculatevegan.com