Emily Turnbull’s talks to Vegan Life about how her decision to go vegan is reshaping the way she runs her design business

emily turnbullEmily Turnbull is the compassionate and talented woman behind Studio Can-Can, an independent vegan design and build consultancy that creates interiors and experiences that inspire, and distinctive spaces that work. Emily founded Studio Can-Can in 2009, having spent the previous fifteen years creating award-winning interiors for architects, brands and individuals all over the world. Her consultancy can take clients right through the process, from the initial idea to the completed build, and she even uses vegan contractors.


Based in Queen Street, Colchester, Emily has worked on a huge range of projects including large hotels, house renovations, perfume boutiques, coffee shops, and an organic food store. She has designed a treetop restaurant in Saudi Arabia and handled a medieval abbey conversion. Emily has even collaborated with Turner Prize Winner, Keith Tyson, and somehow finds the time to lecture at design colleges across Britain.


Impacting more than just her personal health and well-being, Emily’s veganism has changed her life in the way that she now works and runs her business. She spoke to us about her reasons for being vegan and how it’s affected Studio Can-Can and the work that they do.


‘I became a full vegan 3 years ago, after watching undercover films on farms, but stopped drinking milk about 6 years ago and I haven’t eaten meat for 30 years. I always felt guilty eating meat as a child, I asked too many questions about how it arrived on my plate and I was always crying if I saw any animals in films. I have a huge amount of empathy.


I find it quite easy now really food-wise. The hardest thing is being aware of the realities of worldwide animal exploitation. I have the peace of mind of not being involved with cruelty towards animals via my food choices.  Along with that, I feel generally healthier and more alert. I don’t seem to get nearly as many colds!


It’s important to me to try and talk to others about veganism because so many people often just don’t realize what’s going on in the meat and dairy industries. In this information age, it’s easier and easier to gain knowledge on the issue. I’m a big researcher! Also, once people go vegan the only thing they normally regret is not going vegan sooner. I’ve heard that one so many times and I agree!


I have been working as a designer for fifteen years, but veganism is one of the most important aspects of my life. I’m also speaking for my builders on this, so it seems like the only path to take now, which aligns with our beliefs. We’re a design and build company, spreading out into specifically vegan design and build. I have been lucky to meet great vegan builders. At Studio Can-Can we design shops, cafes, hotel, homes and even sanctuaries! We can clients through the initial concept process, right through the build to completion.  I’ve also been working with PETA on a sculpture for Christmas 2015, so we work on anything 3D really. My builders also have experience with Cob houses, which would be my ideal home – an earthship would be nice too though!


It’s not just about me and my builders or contractors being vegan, a lot of people don’t realise that there are animal-based materials involved in buildings and interiors. In the past I have been asked to use leather and sheepskins in projects, (which I always try to talk clients out of) and quite recently to design a butchers with a café attached to it. I turned that one down! I do think it’s important that vegans are having an influence in all areas of industry, but it has helped us to realize that we’d like to help promote veganism and animal rights via any talents we might have. If we can help get more people into a vegan café, because it’s a great space that people want to be in, then brilliant. At the moment we’re working on a vegan café called “The Den at Twenty Three”, it’s on Crouch Street in Colchester and it’s due to open in March. It’s being run by Jennifer Dunn from Colchester cake business “PS It’s Vegan” and it’s going to serve waffles, ice cream, cakes, breakfasts, lunches, teas and coffees. All 100% vegan! It’s really exciting that my local area is getting a completely vegan café, and I’m even more pleased that I’m involved. They’ve said they’re really pleased with how we’ve been working with them, and it’s great that I’m able to work with a business that’s so in line with our own ethics. It’s better to work with something close to your heart, rather than something that doesn’t inspire you, or even directly contradicts your own beliefs. That’s why I turned down the butcher’s shop work, that wouldn’t sit well with me at all. It’s one thing to encourage clients to not use animal materials, but that can seem like a drop in the ocean when they’re business is selling meat.


It could feel quite daunting to effectively limit who we’ll work with in such a way, but fortunately we’re not starting from scratch by any means – we have lots of experience with big brands, so we can use that knowledge to help vegan businesses and promote compassion through design. Veganism has changed my life in that way, and I hope that our work with Studio Can-Can will help influence others to make that positive change’


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