It was a pleasure to put questions to Katrina Fox one of the true champions of vegan entrepreneurship. Katrina is the host of the Vegan Business Talk Podcast and recently became a contributing writer to Forbes where she has been shining the light on all things vegan business. This interviews shines a light on her extraordinary career, work ethic and hopes for the future.
To celebrate International Women's Week (yeah, we think it should be a week) and our upcoming Vevolution Topics: Entrepreneurs event on the 13th March we've created an IWD series where we've hand selected some inspiring entrepreneurial women to tell us their stories. This series is in collaboration with Badass Vegan Women.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do
I’ve been vegan for 21 years and was involved in animal activism since the late 1980s in London where I’m originally from. My background is journalism. I’ve written for a variety of niche and mainstream media over the past 18 years, including on social justice issues, animal advocacy and ethical business. In 2001 I moved to Sydney, Australia with my wife Tracie. In 2015 I wrote a book called Vegan Ventures: Start and Grow an Ethical Business, a how-to guide for anyone looking to start or grow a business of any kind and run it on vegan principles. I’m the host of the Vegan Business Talk podcast, editor at the VeganBusinessMedia.com blog and a contributor to Forbes. I currently work with vegan business owners and entrepreneurs helping them to raise their profile, particularly in the media, through one-on-one PR consultations and my online PR course and group coaching program Vegans in the Limelight. I want to see more vegans in the limelight!
You are contributing to Forbes which is amazing! How have you found this and what has been your highlights so far?
It’s a real treat to write about vegan and plant-based businesses in such an iconic business publication. I have a regular online column on Forbes.com, in which I share news, trends, research and profiles of vegan entrepreneurs. The fact that the editors were happy for regular coverage on this topic shows how far we’ve come in the recognition of veganism as a philosophy and way of life. Highlights so far including waking up to see my ‘Move over McDonald’s, the future of fast food’ article had gone viral, plus the popularity of one of my recent articles ‘Here’s why you should turn your business vegan in 2018’. The latter was a roundup piece showcasing many of the key developments, data and players in this field. Again, the fact there was so much to cover in this space is heartening and I love sharing these exciting stories.
There has been a shift within business where we are seeing a rise in social change advocates, conscious entrepreneurs and ethical leaders in the business and corporate sector. What do you think is causing this increase? And how do we get more entrepreneurs and people in business to become ethical advocates?
I think it’s down to the tireless work over many decades by vegan and animal rights activists who’ve used different methods to open people’s eyes to the truth behind animal agriculture and exploitation. That’s the foundation. This has resulted in later generations embracing conscious living and ways of doing business. More traditional businesses that want to survive have realised they need to get with the program and embrace vegan and plant-based living. We need to continue to take a multi-pronged approach to activism: Continue to share the reality of what happens to animals who are exploited for human consumption in all its forms and how this impacts all of us – human health, animals and the environment, as well as showing vegan living in a positive light and making veganism and ethics ‘cool’ and attractive.
I read that you’ve been vegan for over twenty years - that’s incredible! It must be amazing seeing the progress and change happen over the years and how veganism has gone mainstream. Why do you think veganism has exploded over the past few years?
I think it’s a culmination of what I mentioned above: All the work of vegan and animal rights activists getting out, unfiltered, to a much bigger audience via social media. Then younger generations using Instagram to show vegan and plant-based living as being fun, healthy and attractive. All those photos of veganised versions of classic comfort foods helps to dispel the myths that plant-based food is boring. It’s incredibly exciting seeing all the new vegan products coming out nowadays. When I went vegan 21 years ago, there were 2 options for milk in Sainsbury’s: Soya milk unsweetened, and soya milk sweetened with fruit juice. And don’t get me started on the vegan cheese back then! There are some terrific innovations happening in the plant-based meat and cheese arena, as well as in fashion, and it will only continue.
In the past some people would frown upon making money out of veganism. Being a vegan entrepreneur what are your thoughts on this?
It depends how it’s done. Some businesses have always made money out of veganism because we live in a capitalist system and that’s how it works. If there were no vegan food products or shoes or clothes and so on, the same people complaining about those making money out of veganism would be pretty annoyed and would be forced to wear cruelty-ridden outfits or risk arrest by going naked! When you look at amazing vegan business pioneers like Plamil in the UK which started up in the 1960s and literally created the market for vegan milk and chocolate, how can you frown on that? The founder, the late Arthur Ling and his son Adrian, the current MD, were and are activists at heart, it’s just that their form of activism comes in running a vegan, ethical business.
I get that many brands are jumping on the bandwagon to make a profit and are not really interested in the ethics, but the more we make vegan and plant-based the norm, the more likely it will reach tipping point and actually become the norm. Businesses are and will continue to play a huge part in this, so instead of frowning, start celebrating!
What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
I’d have to say my wife, Tracie O’Keefe, who I’ve been with for nearly 25 years. She’s always been self-employed, running a whole range of businesses from health clubs and luxury car export to her current clinical hypnotherapy and naturopathy practice. She has an entrepreneurial spirit and is also a passionate activist who champions the underdog. She has an astonishing work ethic. She’s so resilient and determined and consistent and has overcome huge adversity throughout her life. She does what it takes – within an ethical framework – to succeed. I haven’t always appreciated this but over time I’ve come to recognise how positive many of those traits are.
What drives you to work every day?
My mission of vegan world domination! Knowing there are so many animals experiencing excruciating pain and suffering, which in turn results in disaster for people and the planet motivates me to do my best to create a more equitable world.
For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?
Mainstream and business media have put the spotlight onto women entrepreneurs in recent years, particularly millennials, so it’s actually a good time for young women to start their own businesses and become ethical leaders. Obviously the old boys’ network is still alive and well, although the #metoo and #timesup campaigns are hopefully making a dent in this. We’re also seeing more women’s business networks springing up where women lift each other up. Find your tribe who will help you become your best. It’s hard work and long hours, so it’s important to be on purpose and surround yourself with those who will work as hard to realise your vision and of course you reciprocate to help them, so it’s a win-win.
Veganism in the past has been accused of being only for the white privileged few.Do you feel that over the years the vegan movement has become more inclusive with there being more voices represented?
Even though I’m half-Persian by birth, I have white privilege so I’m wary of answering this question as I feel it’s more appropriate for people of colour to decide whether the vegan movement has become more inclusive to them. From my white-privileged observations, I’m seeing some concerted efforts by some organisations such as the brilliant VegFestUK team to provide platforms for a diverse range of speakers and to address structural white privilege within those organisations. I’m thrilled to see events like Black VegFest in New York, and projects like Black Vegans Rock. We have a long way to go though.
How can women entrepreneurs help each other?
Create or join support groups and networks, either in person or online, share each other’s social media posts, media coverage and other wins. Collaborate whenever you can so it’s win-win. Work on yourself. It took me until my forties to ‘get’ a lot of stuff – don’t wait that long! Invest in yourself in terms of personal development, as well as your business. Men are good at fraternity. Women need to get better at sorority. Be genuinely happy for another vegan woman’s success.
How do you find inspiration?
I get inspired by certain quotes or books. I find inspiration for stories to share from people around me and on social media.
Who are some of your favourite inspiring female entrepreneurs?
Gosh, there are so many. I don’t want to offend anyone by leaving them out, but off the top of my head, in addition to my wife Tracie: Joy Pierson from Candle Café vegan organic restaurant group in New York; Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart of vegan fashion brand Vaute; Liz Dee, VP of Smarties in the US; Kiki Adami of Veganizer in New York; Laura Way of Votch in the UK who lost all her skin and started a vegan watch company – I loved sharing her story on Forbes; Naijha Wright-Brown from The Land of Kush vegan soul food eatery that brings plant-based eating to disadvantaged communities in Baltimore; Tracye McQuirter, an amazing pioneer within the black vegan movement; Victoria Moran of Main Street Vegan Academy; Clare Mann, vegan psychologist and communications trainer in Sydney; Jessica Bailey, founder of the Cruelty Free Shop chain of vegan grocery stores in Australia; Stephanie Redcross of Vegan Mainstream who was helping vegan business owners to succeed way before it was cool and trendy; Cynthia King, who runs a wonderful vegan dance school in Brooklyn; Miyoko Schinner and her ‘phenomenally vegan’ approach to being an entrepreneur; Rebecca Mink, a pioneer in the vegan shoe space; and Kathy Divine, Australian vegan author and publisher who’s spearheading the Plant Powered Women’s Leadership Conference Series, book and project.
There are of course many, many more. And yes, all the women I’ve named are vegan because, well, vegan women entrepreneurs are the best!
What advice can you offer to someone who wants a career in your industry?
Well, journalism has changed a lot which is why I’ve moved into PR consulting and training to share my skillset. Know your stuff and become known for it. Put yourself out there by creating and sharing content both on your own platforms as well as other media, and come from a place of wanting to genuinely serve your clients. Diversify your income too, especially in the beginning, so you’re not putting all your avocadoes in one box.
What are your hopes for your projects in 2018 and the future?
For my own projects, I love teaching and training people, so I’m keen for more vegan business owners, entrepreneurs, authors, coaches and other experts to enrol on my 12-month online PR course and group coaching program Vegans in the Limelight. I get sent a lot of pitches (story ideas), not only from business owners but also publicists, for my Forbes column, and some of them are terrible! I hate to think of vegan entrepreneurs who can’t yet afford to hire a good publicist and need to do their own PR doing it the wrong way, so I’m looking forward to helping more of them get regular positive media coverage so they can spread veganism far and wide. I also love speaking and MC-ing at events and sharing the vegan and plant-based message. Basically I want to see veganism, kindness and compassion for all beings become the norm. Oh, and more vegan (eco) glitter, sparkles and bling, please! 😊