Can you do what you love for a living? Is it possible to “veganize” your vocation? An accomplished graphic designer and wordsmith answers these questions and talks about finding the road to success while building the vegan business of her dreams.
Veganism as a Vocation
The vegan lifestyle took its time finding me…but then, maybe I didn’t want to be found. As a long-time vegetarian, I spent 22 years in an ovo-lacto limbo before making the leap. While dairy milk and eggs on their own weren’t appealing to me, they seemed perfectly edible when disguised as delicious and “necessary” ingredients in pizzas, pastries, and the like. I’d found a comfortable rut and convinced myself I was sacrificing plenty to make things better for animals. Just doing them the courtesy of not consuming their flesh, avoiding leather, fur, and products tested on animals was more than enough, wasn’t it? Plus, vegans seemed so extreme. Voluntarily giving up cheese and ice cream?!? That was crazy talk. (Cue ominous thunderclap.)
Fate finally kicked in when my small business, Parfait Studio, hit a crossroads several years back. I started considering the possibility of utilizing my graphic design and writing skills to support other vegetarian businesses…and vegan ones as well, by association. This concept seemed too good to be true. Could I partner with other animal advocates and still have enough cash to buy tempeh bacon and non-leather shoes (among other necessities)? I was willing to give it a whirl, and the research began. Clearly, I had a lot to learn about a 100% animal-free lifestyle. I could recite my reasons for being an “ethical vegetarian,” but I didn’t fully understand — or had conveniently blocked out — the facts that compelled people to go vegan. It didn’t take long to uncover them.
After the first few days of poring over statistics and viewing undercover footage of factory farms and “processing” floors, I was a mess. Shock, grief, and paralysis set in…but anger, disgust, and determination soon took over. I knew I had to stop supporting the egg and dairy industries — and the related torture and slaughter of animals — about which I’d been so blind and dismissive. Turns out I’d also ignored the hundreds of reliable sources that explained why raising and consuming creatures for their flesh and secretions was destroying our health, our planet, and all of its inhabitants. It wasn’t an overnight transition, but within the course of several months, I’d morphed into a full-fledged vegan. (Cue glorious sunshine.)
My personal life was unfolding in a new direction…but how would this shift manifest itself in my professional life? More than ever, I wanted to focus my efforts on supporting compassionate companies that shared my values and vision. Gradually, I started to make changes in my business practices in order to merge my work with my worldview, including:
~ Getting to know the groups and people in my vegan community
~ Talking about my new focus to friends, clients, and prospects
~ Revamping my marketing materials (new website launching in July!)
~ Reaching out to likeminded businesses and organizations
~ Advertising my services in vegan directories and magazines
~ Attending more animal advocacy events and conferences
~ Offering discounted rates to my vegan and animal-friendly clients
These external changes were big ones, but the most crucial adjustment took place internally. I felt energized by my profession again, and eager to do my best work, not just for the sake of pleasing my clients or honing my craft, but because there was something bigger at stake: the lives and well-being of animals everywhere. Suddenly, the process of designing and writing felt less like a job and more like a vocation. Tapping into this vein of awareness lifted the veil that was dividing the “personal” me from the “professional” me: I realized there was no discernible difference between my life and work goals…and that was exactly how it should be.
Despite this “aha!” moment, drastically switching up one’s business model comes with its own set of anxieties and challenges. This is especially true for those offering a service (like graphic design) vs. a product (like plant-based cheese) that isn’t automatically associated with a vegan lifestyle. Nagging questions have a way of surfacing…but the answers gradually materialize:
Q ~ What if my vegan focus somehow alienates my current clients and prospects?
A ~ First off, keep in mind that anyone who’s put off by your compassionate focus probably won’t make a good client for you (and vice versa). That said, most people — vegan or otherwise — are intrigued by specialization, since making a conscious choice to support a particular group or cause shows courage and initiative. Less-than-perfect prospects will often weed themselves out for you…and, in some cases, may even introduce you to someone who’s a better fit!
Q ~ Will I have a hard time attracting vegan and animal-friendly businesses?
A ~ Finding the right clients, and ensuring the fit is a good one, is an ongoing process. If your product or service is solid, and you’re willing to thoroughly invest your time and energy in getting your name out there, persistence and patience will eventually pay off. Dream clients don’t typically stumble through the front door without a bit of encouragement, so introduce yourself to those whose work you follow or admire, and let them know you’re keen to partner with them.
Q ~ Can I actually make a living by doing what I really love?
A ~ Yup, you can. You may not be able to purchase that dream home tomorrow, but remember that you’re doing this for the animals…not for the big bucks (no pun intended). Offering the occasional trade/barter or pro bono work can be a good way to get your foot in the door and/or support your favorite vegan group, but don’t devalue your products or services. Regardless of how much you want to team up with a client, it’s important to ask for what you’re worth!
So, should you “veganize” your vocation? In the end, it’s all about what feels right for you. For me, it’s extremely satisfying to know that I’m channeling my efforts to increase awareness and reduce animal suffering through my business practices. If you have the opportunity to merge your head with your heart — whether you happen to be a photographer, an accountant, or an IT specialist — I’d strongly suggest giving it a shot.
Five years ago, you couldn’t have convinced me that I’d be cultivating a vegan client base…let alone that I’d be a vegan myself! The ride has been both challenging and rewarding, but when I stopped hiding from the facts and decided to take action, almost every aspect of my life changed for the better. Truthfully, it feels good to be found.
About the author:
Robin Ridley is an experienced graphic designer, wordsmith, and ranch dressing addict (plant-based, of course!) who lives and works in sunny/snowy Denver, Colorado. Through her creative business, Parfait Studio, she partners with other vegan and animal-friendly folks to spread the word about their compassionate products and services. Follow her on Facebook to see more of her work!