Louisville’s Designer Vegan Bags: GRACESHIP

It’s always a good thing when vegan products make the news, because it puts the word vegan – and the beliefs behind it – in the minds of people who may not have thought about such an issue. Consumer goods, and in particular designer goods, often seem far removed from the animal rights activism that we engage in every day by choosing plant-based foods. But activism takes a variety of forms, and I’m happy to hear that GRACESHIP, a Louisville-based company making designer women’s laptop bags, has put this message at the forefront.

It’s with this in mind that I was excited to learn about GRACESHIP’s receipt of PETA’s “PETA-approved Vegan” logo, certifying them as a cruelty-free company:

GRACESHIP meets the high standards PETA sets for endorsement, and is the only Kentucky based company to have received the endorsement. GRACESHIP utilizes advanced technology in its manufacturing process to create premium products without sacrificing durability or style. GRACESHIP bags resist scratching, fading, and water damage. [press release]

I spoke with GRACESHIP’s Emily Gimmel about the company, and her thoughts on sustainability:

TNTSU: Congratulations on the PETA certification. Did you pursue this, or did they come to you after learning about the product?
GRACESHIP: Thank you, Sam! We learned about the new Vegan-Certified program that PETA was starting, and brought our line to their attention. We went through an extensive application process where they assessed our company and brand… and found out a few weeks later that they accepted us!

Can you talk a little about why you decided to make the line with vegan/synthetic leather?
At GRACESHIP, a primary reason our products are made from animal-friendly materials is because animals deserve to live and breathe free from suffering just as we do! Plus there are various other advantages to this alternative material. Our vegan leather is very low maintenance, so you can effortlessly remain stylish while maintaining an on-the-go lifestyle. Furthermore, choosing vegan products like ours mean you can remain confident that your bag won’t lose its impeccable and consistent color. Genuine leather is notorious for fading, becoming blotchy, and cracking. Our laptop totes will maintain their ideal shade and continue to look as if you pulled it right out of the box! Through our rigorous testing processes and compliance with the California Prop. 65, we also guarantee our products are both lead and chemical free. Using vegan leather also allows us to create a product that is accessible to a larger market. Our price point is well below many designer leather laptop bags, and we are able to offer a product that looks and functions as well or better for a more easily attainable price.

Does the sustainability factor of the brand play an important role in marketing, or is that a “bonus” and simply ethically satisfying?
Sustainability is something we feel very passionately about. We strive to be ethical in everything we do as a business, and think that our customers appreciate our efforts. The fact that the products are vegan is a great bonus for us. We want to educate consumers to let them know that good fashion does not have to be synonymous with waste, cruelty, or greed.

What are some things that women who travel frequently can do to be more sustainable?
There are so many things you can do! Be conscious of your choices. Limit fuel usage as much as possible. If you have the choice of whether to drive or fly to your destination, calculate the possible environmental impact of each choice, so you can make an informed decision. Where possible, take a non-stop flight. Pack lighter to limit the amount of fuel that plane or car requires to carry you. Once you have reached your destination, rent a bike or use public transportation instead of a car. If you have to rent a car, ask for a hybrid vehicle. While traveling, limit eating out whenever possible- bring your travel snacks from home, and if you have access to a kitchen, cook your own meals. If you don’t, try out some locally sourced restaurants to sample local fare and limit the environmental impact of your meal. Stay away from disposable “travel-friendly” products- bring your own water bottle and reusable silverware for eating on the go.

When choosing where to stay, research your hotel options, and stay in one that is environmentally aware. Some larger chains that focus on the environment are Kimpton, Hyatt, The Fairmont, and Marriott- but searching for a small boutique hotel can often land you in a greener spot. Treat the hotel like your home: turn the lights, air and electronics when you leave. Limit the length of your shower, and reuse your towels (they aren’t dirty after one use so there is no need to wash them). These actions may not affect you financially like they do at home, but they have the same environmental impact.

Do many of the employees of GRACESHIP follow a vegan lifestyle?
The employees at GRACESHIP follow varied lifestyles when it comes to food choices, but we all recognize the needless harm (both for animals and the planet) involved in using leather for fashion products. We are huge animal lovers, and our office mascot Harper, the dog, brings joy to our lives every day!

Are there any plans to develop a “budget” or less expensive line?
We have a lot of pride in the craftsmanship of the GRACESHIP products, and feel that we offer them at a fair price point. The GRACESHIP brand was created in part to offer a less expensive, well made alternative to very expensive designer bags. We have been known to offer occasional giveaways or discounts on social media, so savvy shoppers should keep an eye out for those!

Where do you see GRACESHIP in five years?
GRACESHIP aims to become an authority for mobile professional women. Our goal is to be a top of mind, go to brand for women who work and travel. We constantly strive to expand our customer base and international reach. We have plans to expand the product line, using input from our customers to create products that truly fulfill their needs, and offer them more fashionable and functional products that add value to their busy lives. We will continue to focus on sustainable growth and ethical practices as our business grows and our goals are achieved.

Thanks to GRACESHIP for their time!

Misunderstood: A Foie Gras Follow-up

Foie Gras protest

In the weeks after the foie gras protest, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the issues, the protest itself, and of course the immense amount of controversy it generated both online and off. The internet – mostly Facebook – was abuzz with status updates about the protest, often from people who care little about the animal rights issues I post so frequently about. This signified something “different” about this particular issue.

From my estimation, the criticism could be characterized into one of three categories: 1) attacking Game was unethical because they’re a small, locally owned and operated restaurant, 2) attacking foie gras is inconsistent because either a) all meat is bad or b) many other restaurants in Louisville also serve foie gras and have been doing so for much longer than Game, 3) protesting people’s food choices is inherently unethical and shouldn’t be done.

Point 3 was often contorted into various condemnations of PETA (“Going to come picket and do their disgusting displays of blood, etc, and how evil everyone is that eats meat, and in particular hunters and their taste for wild game.” link) or how we (the activists) shouldn’t force our views onto others, and that people should be “free to eat whatever they want.” In general I agree with that, although I think the understanding and acceptance of just how food is produced should be a prerequisite before it is consumed. And really, that was the whole point of the foie gras protest: understand how foie gras is produced, and then make a decision. For Game, I felt like the logical choice was to stop serving it, especially after speaking with Adam. For patrons, I feel it’s morally necessary to abstain from eating it unless a plethora of carnistic beliefs are firmly understood within your brain.

To the gawkers and “trolls” that said “well, isn’t all meat bad?!” – Yes, and we addressed that (both Loyd, the co-organizer and myself). In fact, they betrayed their own morality by admitting that point and then not following it up by adopting a vegetarian diet. But that’s not surprising, and we work to educate and combat ignorance in that area every day. Animal lovers, even those who resonate with just dogs and cats, would most likely (with a very high level of probability in my opinion) not be okay with the way 99% of meat is produced in this country. The only consistent choice after that is to abstain from eating it.

The other points I will let Loyd address, in his remarks below. Louisville.com journalist Collette Henderson was on top of things enough to write both an pre- and post-protest piece about the Game debacle that generated some much-needed press for our cause. Wave3’s coverage was laughingly docile, but once again the cognitive dissonance bled through: a man justified his eating of antelope by claiming that even though they are cute, so are cows, and he eats them. Watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Collette’s piece was cut short due to the website’s guidelines (not by her), so the full interview is below. My points made it online in their entirety, which you can read here.


(more…)

An Open Letter To Louisville’s “Game” Restaurant

game 2

If you haven’t heard the news on Facebook or elsewhere, a new restaurant called Game opened last month in Louisville. True to its name, it serves mainly “game” meats, including some more exotic ones including kangaroo, ostrich, and wild boar. As disgusting as this is, it’s also insane to me why people have an obsession with weird meats like this. However, the inclusion of foie gras on their menu is a point of contention between myself and the owners. After talking with one of them, Adam, and learning about their source of foie gras, I felt it necessary to write openly about the problems of sourcing and serving foie gras.

Many will condemn this approach for being too narrow: “why don’t you go protest McDonalds too?” they say. We do. “Well, don’t you think all meat is inhumane?” I do, yes. But foie gras is expensive, unnecessary  and supremely cruel. Far beyond raising animals for their flesh, ducks and geese are force-fed and tortured to put them in a diseased state where their liver becomes so fat that it is – for some twisted reason – considered a delicacy. This isn’t right, and I’m urging Game to stop carrying the dish. Read on for why:

(more…)

Cyclocross World Champs Goes Up In Foam

USGP Cyclocross

Above: a shot from the dusty US Grand Prix of Cyclocross, held annually in the fall, here in Louisville. The riders up front will be representing Team USA this weekend!

It’s the last week of January, and the UCI Cyclocross World Championships are upon us! What is all that gibberish, you say? Let’s break it down:

  • UCI: Union de Cycliste Internationale / International Cycling Union (the group that oversees all world-class cycling events, from BMX to the Tour de France)
  • Cyclocross: A “cross” between road and mountain bikes, gaining popularity rapidly, that engages riders on short courses over sand, grass, and mud. The racing season is typically early fall to late January
  • World Championship: The race that decides who is the world champion for the 2013-2014 season; in other words, a big fucking deal!

Bike racing is great an all, but why it this suddenly so important? Because it’s being held right here in Louisville, Kentucky! In fact, less than 5 miles from my house, at our dedicated cyclocross facility, Eva Bandman Park. Preparations have been going on for, well, years (Louisville won the bid back in 2010), but in the last few months things have been moving fast. I spent the last two weekends helping set up the course, and in fact there are two distinct courses: the one at Eva Bandman for the World Champs, and a separate course just down the road for the Masters World Championships. “Masters” in cyclocross indicates a racer over 30, broken up into age groups of 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, etc. They’ll race on a different course, for slightly less time, but with a similar level of prestige.

The World Championships for “elite” men and women, are, however, of very, very high prestige. Consider the race in 2012 race held in the town of Koksijde, Belgium. An estimated 60,000 people turned out over the course of the two days, which is a lot even when you consider the fanaticism of Belgians and their love of all things cycling. Will we have 60k crazed fans? Unlikely. But the official Louisville 2013 twitter account claims upwards of 5,000 per day, plus the residual from Masters Worlds, and hey, who knows? There’s a giant buzz going around, and of course social media is leading the cause:

Among the crazy hubbub of the week, including the Belgian team heading to a Cards game (snapped by local cycling star and blogger John Mandrola) and the giant signs at the airport and on cars, the craziest by far is the phenomenon known as “Louisville 2013 Foam Party.” Perhaps you know it better by its title, #Louisville2013FOAMPARTY” as Twitter has been going nuts with that hashtag for several days now. A foam party is, by all accounts, a giant rave with foam (yes, like the bath kind) shooting everywhere, causing general mayhem and wetness, but mix into this the grittier, no-fucks-given, party-all-night attitude of cyclocross, and you have the makings of a sensation.

Beyond that, the team behind this party was able to craft together a short, professional quality teaser video, interlacing shot of sexy girls dancing in foam with cyclocross racers. Does this appeal to the demographic? Hell yes it does. See for yourself:

Beyond that, The foam party people have been able to get @ mentions, rewteets, and shit loads of chatter from some high influencing twitter accounts. If you know much about Klout or the spread of twitter, this can mean good things for event promotion:

(more…)

Coco’s Chocolate Cafe: Vegan Treats in Louisville

I’d been hearing about Coco’s vegan ice cream for awhile now, so I stopped in to check it out today. In addition to the three flavors of cashew-based ice cream (a nice twist from soy or coconut), they have a few vegan chocolates too, such as the “Chocolate Fire” which has habanero and green chilies infused into the chocolate.

The place has a nice ambiance, and decor, and I’d only been in there once, over a year ago, when the vegan ice cream was out, so I felt it time for a proper taste. While I wasn’t stoked about the cherry chocolate ice cream coming out in Styrofoam, it was insanely good: rich, sweet, and hardly any cashew-y taste at all. Tasted just like homemade ice cream. If only the waffle cones were vegan! The chocolates were good – nothing amazing, but I appreciate hand-crafted vegan chocolates. The “fire” one was seriously spicy, but not so much that it wasn’t edible (I like spicy food, too).

I’d definitely recommend Coco’s for a late-evening dessert after dinner – if they can keep the vegan stuff in stock all summer it will cement itself as one of the few places with authentic vegan ice cream in Louisville. Homemade Ice Cream & Pie Kitchen has apparently rolled out a coconut-based version, but I have yet to try it.