indieSTOPSTOP

For ONE ENTIRE FUCKING YEAR we didn’t have lettering on the building that said what we sold. Why not? Because I couldn’t afford it (just the LL sign took me 6 months of saving—it’s hand-painted!). Until…yesterday.

A colleague—a really sweet and lovely one, making really nice stuff!—emailed me this morning asking me to promote her IndieGoGo campaign to expand her business. The campaign was framed as a “cause,” but the cause was her expanding her business. As I’ve mentioned so many times before in this space, this gets me rather hot under the collar. But having a real-life person contact me directly about it allowed me to calm down, take a breath, and write back something that is, I hope, thoughtful instead of just ranty. Well, you can be the judge of that.

I was really excited. Even though it was 100 degrees and I was wearing jeans because in between screwing one zillion screws into those letters I was weeding poison ivy.

Here’s my response:

Hello —-!

OK, this is going to sound really mean, but honestly, I don’t mean it mean at all. I feel terrible in advance! But here’s the thing: I’m ethically opposed to these sorts of things…I think they’re disingenuous and unfair to the animal rights community.

I know LOTS of vegan businesses that have used these campaigns to start or grow their business, and it just gets under my skin. It’s wonderful that you’re a vegan business, but to say that if people donate to the “cause” of you running a for-profit business it will advance veganism—while true on a certain level, definitely—um, crisps my fakin’ bacon! If you *are* a nonprofit, then disregard this whole ridiculous manifesto! If not…

See, I think (I think this because friends of mine have confessed exactly this) that “fun” campaigns like this actually pull money from a/r groups doing real work—many a vegan will donate to the “cause” (I know it’s super douchey to put “cause” in quotes, but I can’t not do it—again, really, not trying to be mean!) of a vegan doughnut shop opening, for example, because they want to eat vegan doughnuts, then will mysteriously have no money left to donate to the campaign of an actual animal rights group doing actual real-world work with animals. It’s sexy and easy and fun to donate to a vegan business instead, because vegans are literally hungry for more and better vegan businesses. But I’m not vegan because I want to advance the cause of vegan doughnut shops. I’m vegan because I want to totally and completely transform how animals in our society are treated.

And, honestly, I feel like I do tons of animal activism on a daily basis—every single day I feed vegan food to nonvegans, and I’m definitely not saying that’s not activism. I worked in the animal rights trenches for 15 years, and it’s the activism I’m most proud of, without a doubt! But it’s activism in a roundabout way, albeit one I love and personally feel most comfortable and happy with.

Here’s the thing with me though: at the end of the day I (and you, I’m guessing) aren’t 100% here for the vegan community. I’m here to pay my mortgage. And my utilities. And my 50,000 other bills. And, like you, to buy fun equipment that will expand my business. And most of all I’m here because I love my business with my entire heart and soul. I’m here for selfish reasons: to make money and because I love my job. My job is vegan because I’m vegan, and I adore the vegan activism part of it, but if only 100% vegans came to my shop, I’d still stay open, and I’d still love my job. It wouldn’t be vegan activism, but I’d still be making money and have a great life. But that’s just me.

Because of these reasons, I’d never feel comfortable asking the vegan community to donate to my business. And let me tell you, I’m not exactly financially solvent over here! I recently changed banks, which triggered my credit card processing company putting a hold on my account they didn’t feel they needed to notify me about and anyway, it’s all resolved after 19 screaming phone calls, but while they were just not depositing my hard, hard, so hard earned cash my mortgage check bounced. I’m not a check bouncer, to say the least, and this made me livid. But my bank account isn’t padded with lots of “just in case” funds, so there you go.

I’m the child of a drug dealer and a journalist—my parents have never given me money, because they’ve never had money. My business literally lives and dies by how long I can stand up in a day. I’d love people just giving me money in order to expand—I’d buy a dough sheeter so I can make croissants again without my hands aching! I’d buy a system to make homemade ice cream cones so people don’t have a sad look in their eye when we tell them we only offer ice cream in bowls! I’d finally take the last of the horrible vinyl siding off the building the shop is in! Don’t get me started! But I couldn’t look myself in the mirror tomorrow.

That all sounds very holier than thou, I recognize that. I’m really really sorry for it, because I’m sure you face the exact same challenges I do—you wrote about them in your IndieGoGo campaign, and my heart aches with recognition. In your campaign, you mention that you “donate much of my proceeds to an array of organizations that help me believe there just might be hope for us all.” That’s awesome, but personally I feel that if people are donating money to you, you’re making for-profit sweets with that money and then donating a percentage of those profits to other groups…it’s not really the most effective way to get money to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, ya know?

Personally, I’d be more inclined to donate to and promote your cause if you just said, “Hey, this is a really hard job, I could really use a lift,” and didn’t mention the “activism” part of it. Many of my artist friends do similar campaigns to get their albums and films made, and there’s not this emphasis like there is in the vegan world of a “cause”—it’s just that you should donate to their art, because art is a wonderful thing to have in the world. I agree. So are vegan caramels!

OK, I’ve rambled on for wayyyy too long. I hope this doesn’t come off as mean…I’m just speaking from my heart, from one biz-owner to another. Trust me, I totally recognize that when it comes to running your business, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. If this is right for you, as clearly it is, then there we are. But I felt I owed it to you to explain some of my reasons why I don’t feel comfortable promoting it.

Much love,

Lagusta

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13 Responses to “indieSTOPSTOP”

  1. dustinbuster

    While I agree with you about the whole asking for money issue — it’s clearly out of control — I disagree about vegan businesses not being activism: they are! And oftentimes they are WAY more effective than organizations (and, for the record — even though Lagusta already knows this — I work for one).

    I think vegan businesses are the best hope for reaching the masses. Animal advocacy organizations, even the best ones, struggle to be heard, which in turn limits our audience — regardless of the issue. There are only a handful of animals that matter to most people — like puppies and kittens. It’s a sad reality.

    On the other hand, people love chocolate and doughnuts and other pop culture expressions of the so-called vegan lifestyle; and when that exists in conjunction with animal advocacy on a deeper level (which is what organizations like the one I work for chisel away at), the entire movement benefits. Animal rights, in my opinion, must be expressed in many ways, and vegan businesses play a big part of that. I’d go so far as to say they’re essential. The reality is that many people just don’t give a shit about animals, but might be motivated for other reasons.

    Sure, your bottom line is paying the mortgage — and that’s fine. It doesn’t take away from the fact that you’re making something excellent that appeals to a wide variety of people. Sometimes that translates into something deeper and more meaningful.

    Anyway, I get the gist of the argument here…but there’s plenty to be said for more, not less, vegan businesses. But, yeah: begging for money and exploiting the vegan community in the process…it’s out of control.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      Thanks, D. It’s a good point, maybe I’m just splitting hairs too finely here.

      One quick thing: the person asking for the support emailed me back and mentioned that one reason she’s able to donate so much (she donates A TON to amazing groups) to a/r groups is that she has another f/t time job that pays her bills. And that one reason she wants to grow her biz is so she can donate more. That puts things in a very different light for meit seems like she is actually working more as a nonprofit, which is wonderful. I sure wish (well, not really) I had a day job that paid all my everyday bills and allowed me to donate the profits from my food biz to tons upon tons to great a/r groups I believe in. But I actually, like, need this job to feed myself. It makes more sense now why she’s asking for support. And also why I will not ever do it for myself. We’re two different types of businesses. That’s all.

      Reply
  2. Jack Nugent

    There are some really good point here. Vegan owned businesses should be supported by vegans especially. I have resisted doing the crowd sourcing thing because I wrestle with it in many of the same ways that you bring up in this post.

    Yet at the same time, I have enjoyed supporting Kickstarter vegan projects. As a vegan and an atheist I don’t see the difference between throwing a few dollars into the crowd sourcing collection plate to be that bad of a thing. I like the opportunity to do it. I get to pitch in what I want and when I want.

    As an Economic Vegan I think that the opportunity to monetarily support the change that you want to see is probably an okay thing to do.

    I’ll still keep plugging away with my own money until I grow and succeed or have to close up the factory. Never in debt. Never face regret.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      Yeah, I think *supporting* these kind of projects comes from a wonderful place, I’m totally not hating on anyone who does…I’m just questioning the original impulse just a bit. Just trying to work through some things in my own head…

      Reply
  3. saracious chbl

    No, no, no. If your business model is so economically sustainable, get a bank loan or investors. If your business is a nonprofit, then be a nonprofit and ask for donations (which are tax deductible if the group doesn’t lobby). This asking for money for for-profit businesses is ridiculous. Why would I go through a for-profit middle man, when I could donate directly to the group of my choice.

    I see nothing wrong with your original rationale and a whole lot wrong with all the excuses these businesses are making to beg for free money. I will purchase from s business i support but I will not donate. This kickstarter phenomenon has gotten way out of hand.

    Reply
  4. Bettina

    Congrats on the new sign, Lagusta!

    I kinda agreed with you on this when you first posted but now I’m starting to go the other way. I think of it not as a way to siphon money from not-for-profts but to support businesses and projects we believe as a community. Like a CSA, for example. It’s a new kind of capitalism where we want to make money and have a direct relationship to our customers.

    I don’t remember the specific campaigns you mentioned, Lagusta, but I’ve been thinking about doing one of these campaigns myself, not as a vegan ’cause’ or anything. More like, here’s this thing I want to make for myself, and if you want one too, contribute $x so that I can pay for the production costs and send it to you when it’s finished.

    So it’s more about being supported beforehand by your customers / tribe to pay for the making of it, very much like CSAs help pay for seeds, etc, before the growing season.

    So it’s a new kind of capitalism rather than fundraising for the pure not-for-profits.

    And, in fact, if you were to put together a campaign for a mircoloan for a dough sheeter or ice cream cone maker, you’d probably get enough people from your blog to contribute. I would :)

    Reply
    • lagusta

      Hello!

      Well….a CSA is the old kind of capitalism though: I give my farmer money, and he gives me produce. It just takes longer. And, yeah, there is the element of risk involved, too.

      What you’re talking about doing sounds wonderful and completely different from just straight up asking for money as a donation with a few prizes thrown in as incentive. It sounds, as you said, like a loan, which is fine and great.

      I’m totally sure I could borrow money from my customers for all kinds of fun things for my biz. But I don’t wanna! I just want to make money, the plain old fashioned way, where you don’t buy things until you have the cold hard cash to buy them with. I’m stubborn and don’t like anyone giving me anything though. This is why I had to deal with people coming into the shop every day and asking what we sell for a solid year.

      So, I see your points and agree, but I think we’re talking about different things here. Honestly, if I linked to this specific campaign I think you’d see my point, but I don’t think that would be polite to my lovely business owner pal. (Though, maybe people who disagree with me would donate to her? Wait, I even want people who agree with me to donate to her, because though I disagree with her methods, I really want her biz to succeedshe’s so great! But linking to her when I’m grousing about it seems not so kind.)

      Reply
      • Bettina

        Ha! I only wish my CSA was a little bit more capitalistic, because that was why money was invented–less friction in value exchange.

        With my CSA we have huge meetings every six months or so to discuss the value of their vegetables, how much my labor on their farm is worth (mandatory work days), if it’s ok that they take on 30 more members, etc. etc. Because we have a relationship of solidarity with them, that means even when they miscalculated and can’t pay their bills, we are still involved. It’s not like we just walk away to the next farmer and say ‘tough’ to our CSA. We are in a committed relationship together.

        I totally understand wanting to pay in cash and not owe anyone anything. There’s a freedom in that that I want for myself also. So I respect that.

        I have this to say, however : Do you know how many people want to see you WIN? By which I mean take over the world with your creations? You have so much integrity, business skills, and above all good taste, I’d LOVE to loan you money because I’d LOVE to see your dreams come true. Others do too. We want to see what kinds of fun things you can do for your biz. I’m not trying to convince you; I’m telling you that the beauty of capitalism is leverage. For ill, which we can see all around us, but also for good. That’s YOU, Lagusta.

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