When you’re vegan and you mention it for the first time to others, a certain inward pause precedes the admission. This is because you know that what you’re about to say marks you for ridicule. After all, the general consensus is that vegans suck. If, however, you’re one of the vegans featured in the Instagram account of the ethical, cruelty-free streetwear line Plant Faced, you’ll likely be too cool to care.
Plant Faced shares stories of a different brand of vegan — the ones with edges and attitudes. If your pic surfaces on their social media feeds, you’re likely to be sporting a piercing (perhaps a demure septum ring or a more robust dermal on the nape of the neck). You’ll probably be just as comfortable lounging unsmiling in a cluttered urban alley as you are standing on a cliff and gazing serenely over the ocean. You’ll eschew bright colors in your clothing, reserving them for bright, fresh meals. You will be #goals.
These images from the company’s look book and social media accounts are foremost in my mind when I begin my conversation with Charlie McEvoy, the owner of Plant Faced. Her customers clearly embody the punk spirit that Bad Religion founder Greg Graffin described as, “A belief that this world is what we make of it, and truth comes from our understanding of the way things are, not from the blind adherence to prescriptions about the way things should be.”
As Graffin said, Punk is about changing the world — so it’s hardly surprising that Plant Faced exudes this spirit. From the beginning, McEvoy was looking to start a movement, not just make clothes.
A graphic designer and Kiwi, McEvoy is the driving force behind the Plant Faced brand — an independently-owned clothing and accessories label aiming to make sustainability fashionable. Currently, Plant Faced customers can choose from among long and short sleeved t-shirts, hoodies, muscle tanks, tote bags, patches, pins, and dad hats. The aesthetic is pure streetwear, drawing inspiration from art, music, street, skate, surf, and tattoo culture. Plus, every item is produced using humane manufacturing processes.
“We are 100% ethical, cruelty-free clothing,” the company’s web site asserts. “We aim to spread messages and start conversations. We aim to be more than a brand – we are the Plant Movement.”
So how does a 24-year-old find herself at the forefront of this crusade? The child of an artist mother and a father deeply interested in entrepreneurship, McEvoy started selling things at a young age. She always wanted to own her own business; she just needed a product she could passionately support.
“When I went vegan, I noticed that there weren’t really any other brands out there doing the kind of clothing that I wanted to wear,” McEveoy explains. “It was like everything aligned together with all my passions, which are design, fashion, entrepreneurship and veganism.”
Vegan fashion doesn’t use any animal products, like leather, fur, exotic skins, angora, down, or wool. It’s considered cruelty-free style. And when McEvoy looked to the market, she wasn’t finding fashion that appealed to both her aesthetic and her principles. She knew she had found a design niche to fill. Streetwear, she maintains, has a certain coolness about it, something the oft-stigmatized vegan community desperately needs.
“I thought streetwear has a bit of street cred,” she says, “which I wanted to bring to veganism.”
For all the fuss they stir up, there aren’t as many vegans as you might think. A 2008 study performed by Vegetarian Times determined 3.2 percent of American adults follow a vegetarian diet, and roughly 1.5 percent of those people are vegan. That means there were approximately one million vegans in the United States nine years ago. Though more recent data has not been gathered, anecdotally it seems veganism is on the rise (but I live in Portland, so… my worldview is skewed.). Regardless of the numbers, vegans are a small minority, but a vocal one.
There’s a natural reason for this: More than a set of dietary rules, veganism becomes an important part of a person’s identity, and it shapes not only the food they consume, but the purchases they make and the actions they take. It permeates their lives. McEvoy wanted to create something that not only aligned with those ideals but promoted them. This is one reason she considers her company a movement instead of just a brand.
“A movement is a group of people working together to advance political or social news or ideas, so I aim to do a brand that will represent that,” she states with pride. “We’re moving towards a cruelty-free lifestyle and a way of wearing it.”
McEvoy describes fashion as “wearable activism.” As such, each piece she creates and sells spreads a message; it forwards the movement. She believes these garments are the start of a conversation. Some of her designs, like those that read “Babes Not Bacon” and “That Fur Won’t Warm Your Cold, Cold Soul,” leap into the collective discussion with the force and volume expected from people who burn with conviction. But, there are also designs that broach subjects more gently, simply reading “Kale ‘Em With Kindness” and “Ethical Is The New Black.”
Even fashion without overt slogans or brand messaging can function as a way to participate in the movement.
“If it’s ethically made fashion,” McEvoy says, “then you’re standing against purchasing from the big brands that are exploiting their workers. It’s activism in itself that you’re not buying those other fashion clothes.”
McEvoy acknowledges that the word “ethical” means different things to different people. For her, it can be summed up as a lack of exploitation.
“They have no child labor, for example,” says McEvoy of the companies she partners with. “They pay workers a living wage for their work hours and provide safe working conditions.”
To ensure that the factories she works with match her values, McEvoy uses suppliers with ethical policies already in place. Most of the products sold on Plant Faced are certified as Fairtrade, Fair Wear, or Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP). She also supports sustainability by using vegan, water-based inks, and organic cotton. As the company grows, she has demanded transparency across the supply chain.
Currently, McEvoy is touring Europe like a true punk rock star, something she dubs, “weirdly awesome.” Two weeks ago, she was in Bristol. Last week, it was Glasgow. In the coming months, she’ll bring her movement to Stockholm, Leeds, Liverpool, Berlin, Zurich, and London.
“I noticed that they were a lot of different vegan festivals, different trade shows that were happening around Europe, so it just made sense that I should go and visit as many as I could,” McEvoy explains. “And I may as well sell stuff while I’m doing it.”
On a recent tour stop in London, McEvoy and a friend visited a phone store to snag a SIM card. During the required customer-salesperson small talk exchange, they revealed they were on their way to a vegan festival and Ryan, the young man helping them, responded with delight. They had found a fellow vegan, one with an Instagram account dedicated to juicing and the plant-based lifestyle. Now, he’s featured on Plant Faced’s social media accounts modeling one of the company’s hand-printed black t-shirts. This is the movement in action.
When asked if her designs are solely for gorgeous dreadlocked juice makers in London and Instagram influencers, McEvoy assures me the cause is welcoming. “I think anyone can appreciate a good design or a good message, so it’s not just confined to what we think is our target audience; it could be anyone really who has good taste.”
Accepting in nature but uncompromising on ideals? That’s very punk rock, indeed.