Sisters Deby and Karen McCloy talk to Vegan Life and tell us their stories on how they were both inspired to run their own vegan businesses
Sisters Deby and Karen McCloy, from Swansea, South Wales have been dedicated vegans for over a decade. Their shared passion for food, activism and ethical living inspired the creation of their own businesses; Valerie Kitsch Clothing and Fancy That! Bakery.
When I was ten years old I went over a school friend’s house for tea, and I was surprised to find that her whole family were vegetarian. As an animal lover for years, I hadn’t realised that there was an alternative to killing them for food. The seed was planted in my mind, and I wanted to become veggie myself, but I’d been conditioned to think that it was unhealthy and impossible to live that way. I started to research veggie nutrition and recipes by writing to brilliant charities such as Viva! Armed with the facts, I managed to convince my family that I wouldn’t become ill by eliminating meat from my diet and was, happily, finally a vegetarian.
A few years later I met a local group of people called Swansea Vegans at Swansea’s annual Green Fayre. They helped open my eyes to the cruelty inherent in the dairy and egg industries, and made me realise that veganism was the next logical step as I was already half way there. That was almost thirteen years ago. I’d learned how food was produced, and the price paid by fellow animals that were treated as products. This started a chain of thinking about my effect as a consumer on other people – and the environment too. I became more interested in recycling, food miles, how clothes were made; and as a vegan I was learning more and more about the way animal ingredients were a fundamental part of our society, even down to the glue in shoes and fibres in clothing.
I studied a degree in fashion design a few years ago, and then went on to work for designers and manufacturers to learn my trade. I have developed my skills as a dressmaker and pattern cutter working in the Bridal industry. I always wanted to be self-employed and start my own business, so I decided to combine my professional work experience with my eco vegan ethics and start my own clothing label. Valerie Kitsch is named after my nana Valerie, who was a glamorous fun-loving woman with a huge collection of gorgeous clothes. She introduced me to dressmaking and dressing up as a teenager, and since then I have developed a love of all things colourful, and patterned print fabrics are my favourite.
I collect eclectic fabrics from vintage pieces, manufacturing offcuts and reclaimed textiles to use in my collections. Being selective enables me to create unique garments for my customers. A Valerie Kitsch piece will always be a one off that doesn’t cost the earth. The majority of fabrics I use are recycled, any new fabrics in my designs are organic, fair trade and of course everything is animal free. I design and make everything in my little studio in South Wales, and add new stock to my online boutique every week.
I went vegan over ten years ago. I had always considered myself a big animal lover but had never really thought about the connection between the animal and what was on my plate. Until one day when I looked through some campaign leaflets that my sister gave me, and I was so horrified by what I read that I haven’t eaten meat since. I felt disgusted, not just at the reality of the meat industry but at myself for contributing to it. I wondered why anyone would want to contribute to the suffering of another living being when it wasn’t necessary for us to survive. It was like a switch went on in my head and I still feel the same way now. It was a natural progression for me to remove all other animal products from my diet.
At first I thought it was going to be very tough and limiting being vegan but I found it easy once I’d gotten used to things and I feel that I eat a more varied diet now. Since going vegan I have found a real passion for food and, in particular, baking. I would veganise old family recipes such as banana bread and Welsh cakes. Whenever my friends and family tried something I’d made they’d say “I would have never have guessed this was vegan”, which is the inspiration behind the name Fancy That! Bakery.
My aim is to create delicious cakes and other baked sweets that are also 100% vegan. I want to show people that they don’t have to miss out when adopting a cruelty free lifestyle and that they can still indulge in scrumptious cakes, cookies, doughnuts and brownies. I love to use butter cream, fresh fruit and chocolate to decorate my cakes and I am always experimenting with new flavours. I get a lot of positive feedback from both my non- vegan and vegan customers who are often surprised at how great looking and tasting my food is, considering it is made without eggs or dairy. I even had one customer tell me recently that she looked at my stall and thought “that all looks too good to be vegan” but then noticed my bakery sign and ran over. I often have to promise customers that it is all vegan!
I create made-to-order celebration cakes for all occasions and sell at various local markets each month. We are lucky to have a growing vegan community in Swansea and it’s great to see such a wide variety of vegan businesses thriving. It’s often the vegan food stalls that sell out first at the markets. We are both part of a small team of local activists organising Swansea Vegfest 2015. It is a free event celebrating all things vegan; open to anyone who is interested in exploring alternatives to meat and dairy for the good of health, environment and animal welfare. I am excited to be part of such an important movement and can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Get in touch with Karen and Deby via: www.valeriekitsch.co.uk