Vegan businesses are going mainstream: From bakeries to car manufacturers, it appears that everyone is going vegan these days. I’ve interviewed Her company offers services such as business consulting and digital marketing, providing small to medium businesses with restructuring plans, training, promotions, and business assessments.

As a writer of vegan recipes, I wanted to get her perspective and insight into the vegan lifestyle, as well as insight into being a vegan professional. Perhaps you are planning to start a vegan business of your own or are ready to make the transition. Is it expensive and how will it affect your bottom line?

Is owning a vegan business just about developing and selling food-related products?

About Stephanie Redcross West

When Stephanie started Vegan Mainstream in 2009, she shared her vision of a pro-vegan world, where there would be ethical retail stores, restaurants, clothing options, skincare, cleaning supplies, and educational materials at every turn. With more than 15 years of marketing experience with small businesses and Fortune 500 companies, Stephanie has developed tools, training, and support for vegan professionals who wish to make a positive impact on the world.

Stephanie has been a frequent speaker at veg-fests, conferences, and even her own boot-camp series. Through these types of engagements, and her day-to-day work with Vegan Mainstream, Stephanie inspires others to turn their vegan passion into successful businesses.

“We need vegan carpenters, fashion designers, accountants, and more,” she said.

In 2014, she started offering online and team-training programs.

Stephanie also conducts interviews with other vegan professionals for podcasts, which provide valuable insight and information for vegan businesses.

Our conversation

I’ve presented a number of questions to Stephanie. You can read the full interview below:

VM: How long have you been vegan?

SRW: I've been vegan for about 15 years. I decided to go vegan in 2005.

VM: What made you decide to go vegan?

SRW: My vegan journey really started for health reasons.

I went vegan because I was trying to improve my health generally, but also specifically as a response to getting e-coli when I was a senior in college. As I opened up to eating a vegan diet for these reasons, I also discovered that eating this way was impacting animals and the environment, and that was the game-changer for me. So, I often say that I went vegan for health reasons, but I stay vegan for the animals.

VM: What should people know before going vegan?

SRW: They should know that becoming vegan is truly a journey, and it’s a learning process. The idea is to not only transform your plate or your food but to transform your life. It’s also about approaching everything you do and everything you consume with compassion -- it extends to so much more than what we eat.

VM: What’s the funniest question you get about being vegan?

SRW: “Oh, I didn’t think vegans looked like you…” When people meet me or see me they are often surprised because there are so many stereotypes and myths around who is vegan and what vegans look like. I'm really proud to be able to counter some of those myths by being an African-American woman entrepreneur with curves.

VM: What is your favorite vegan dish?

SRW: I can’t choose just one, so I am actually going to twist this question slightly and tell you my favorite element in a vegan dish. I really love sauces - they are my number one element in a dish. I love flavor, so a great sauce is essential to me! I love spicy sauces that are so hot you almost can't tell what’s in your dish!

I like a lot of dishes with things like roasted veggies drizzled with sauce, or a build-your-own rice bowl with some tofu, a little bit of sautéed onion and mushrooms, maybe some greens and cauliflower, all topped with an amazing sauce. Yum! I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

VM: What are some tips for a busy professional who wants to start a vegan lifestyle?

SRW: I think it's really all about planning. What I mean by that is looking at your lifestyle -- are you a person who travels a lot, or consumes fast food? Then you need to look at making sure you have healthy vegan options that you can grab on the go. Batch cooking can be a super helpful practice to get into!

There are tons of resources out there to help people get into the swing of this new lifestyle, but in the beginning it’s important to put some time aside to plan, learn, and develop a new strategy that will ensure success.

Find a few food blogs that you love and fall in love with vegan food! Sharing your discoveries with coworkers (but being careful not to preach!) is a great way to help normalize Veganism and can help make things easier for you at work too.

VM: What are some important things to know when starting a vegan business?

SRW: Sometimes people imagine that if they are not a chef or a foodie the term “vegan business” doesn’t really apply to them. I would say the most important thing to know when you are starting a vegan business is that this isn’t true. If you are an accountant, artist, musician, seamstress, motivational speaker, nurse, or engineer we need you too!

No matter the profession, the love that defines the true heart of veganism can be applied.

We need art to bring attention to animal cruelty issues and reflect the care and love we should show all living beings. We need authors to create stories with characters making important ethical decisions and filmmakers to show the diverse representation of the vegan movement.

We need spas that offer vegan manicures and cruelty-free products; we need health coaches and fitness instructors to teach the benefits and realities of whole foods plant-based diets. We need financial advisors to help us invest in brands that support our ethics, and developers who consider the environment and all the affected creatures on a site, instead of just the profit to be made.

You can see where I’m going with this...the list goes on and on.

The fact is there’s room for everyone in the vegan business world. The vegan business landscape needs to be just as diverse as the people who make up this amazing movement.

VM: What are some of the most common challenges that vegan businesses face?

SRW: It really depends, of course, on what stage the business is at. However, I would say that one thing a lot of people who are starting out struggle with is really understanding the value of what they have to offer - particularly in the service industry. So many vegan entrepreneurs start their businesses because they want to make a positive difference in the world, so when it comes to charging for their services, they undervalue what they have to offer because they want to help others go vegan or live a vegan lifestyle.

They want to help the planet and/or animals. One of the most important realizations a vegan business owner will make -- and they will make it if their business is destined to succeed -- is that they deserve to receive a living wage for what they have to offer, and they won’t be in business for very long if they don’t insist on that, and become comfortable with it.

VM: How much does it cost a business to have a product certified vegan?

SRW: Depending on the company you decide to get your certification from it can range from about $100 up to $500. However, those numbers are constantly changing because different companies not only offer different levels and types of certifications but depending on the product or service that you offer, you may need multiple certifications.

For example, you may want cruelty-free, vegan, GMO-free, and gluten-free certifications.

I think the first key step in the process is figuring out who you serve and how your product helps to meet the needs of your audience. Make it very clear through your packaging and your website what is important to you and what your brand stands for. By clearly articulating these things people will understand your mission and understand your purpose.

Then, you can use certifications as a way to make it easier for people to recognize these values quickly via certification logos. Don't feel restricted by certifications or think you can’t move forward without them. Always make sure that you control the narrative and that you continue to educate your prospects and your customers on what is valuable to you and what you stand for.

VM: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

SRW: I love that I get to work with a diverse group of people, and also a diverse group of businesses. Because of that, I have a really interesting life with the opportunity to see how many different business models tick. I’m very much a detail-oriented person so peeking behind-the-scenes of a business really feeds my imagination. I get to see how people are combining their amazing skills, their networks, and the things they're most passionate about to drive greatness in the world.

It was a pleasure to have this discussion with such an inspiring pioneer. There are a number of free resources on the Vegan Mainstream website, to help build better and stronger vegan businesses.

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