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A group of purple toned Sans Beast vegan bags sit on shelving in a factory


By Cathryn Wills


Cast your mind back.  They were long, hot days between Christmas 2019 + New Year 2020 in Australia.  The fire season had already started in June 2019 + progressively got worse as the end of the year approached. 

We watched the news daily, seeing more land burnt, human lives + houses lost, animals in their millions (we now know it was billions) dead.  The air in Melbourne was thick with smoke haze + we were advised to stay indoors.  The nightly news repeatedly showed blazing scenes + the devastation inflicted on our country + her inhabitants.  There was a blanket of sadness that descended on Australia.  

The fires were eventually controlled + we got on with our lives.  Those who were watching international news closely, noticed a virus had popped up in China, allegedly from the horror shows known as wet markets where live animals are kept in abysmal conditions, prior to pre-purchase slaughter.   I was aware of the impact of the virus as January moved to February, as our manufacturing partners + collaborators in HK + China were immediately affected.  However, I had a trip to the US + Mexico planned for late February, and I had no concept of how COVID19 (only given its official name on February 11th) could possibly impact that.  How naive I was.  The virus was already spreading across the globe.  

I flew to LA - no safety precautions in place, no social distancing + the only questions asked were in relation to being in China or Iran.  I flew to Guadalajara, Mexico to meet with the founders of Desserto Pelle + visit the cactus fields, after sampling some of their cactus leather fabric post their Raw Assembly Australia debut in 2019.  I then flew back to LA, then on to NYC, roamed the streets, went to restaurants, caught up with friends.  No masks, no difference to any other trip I'd done in years past.  I flew back into Australia March 4th.  Victoria entered a State of Emergency 10 days later.

I explain all of this to outline how different the world felt, even just 9 months ago.  I look back on this time + it feels like another lifetime ago.  We were excited to turn 2 years old as a brand on March 9th, (Melbourne fashion festival) VAMFF was in full swing, our Series 5 collection had just launched and it was all brought to an abrupt halt when the Victorian state government recognised the need for drastic action.  None of us knew what was going on, it was just a feeling that things were about to change.   We continued working from our studio in Clik Collective for another few days, but by Wednesday 18th March, we recognised it was time to move to a 'work from home' scenario.  This was the beginning of a new world + in many ways, it's where the true test started for myself + our small team.  

The lessons learnt. 

Control what is within your circle of influence...and do your best not to stress about the rest.   The shock of ensuing lockdowns meant retailers were hit hard.  This in turn meant that our wholesale accounts cancelled stock we had purchased on their behalf.  We were left with more stock than we needed or could easily handle.  This is a risk brands take when running a wholesale strategy, and our lesson was to limit the exposure for the future. We now only wholesale to a select handful of retail partners.   

Support + keep in touch with the makers.  I am proud of the fact that we never considered pulling back on committed orders with Tony + his factory or moving deliveries out.  His working situation has changed enormously this year.  A typical week would see Tony move between the HK office + the China facility, yet since March, Tony has not been able to physically be at the factory + has relied on his merchandiser, Lara, as well as his co-owner, his brother Sing, to keep him abreast of what's going on with client orders.  Thank goodness for WeChat is all I can say; it's our lifeline.  We also checked in regularly with Patrick who is managing our hardware manufacturing + Rod who produces the Everything Pouches we make for the Edgars Mission charity collection.  

Trust the team, trust yourself, everyone handles a crisis differently.  I am ashamed to admit I fell apart at times + our team were often the ones who felt this burden.  I was not the perfect leader, yet I expected myself to be - and I expected the team to share the emotional burden that I felt when the economy took a dive.  No one else can (or should) feel this weight when it's your own business, or you're wearing the *boss* t-shirt in a business.  It's taken me a long time to learn this (despite thinking I had it down after many years of leadership) + can thank the pandemic for hitting it home.  The team we've had pretty much since day 1 have been essential in building the brand thus far + whilst we have a different dynamic in our small workforce now, for a variety of reasons, I'll always be grateful for the dedication of Jen, Em + (freelancer) Simone, along with Rhi who was here for a short spell but an impactful one.  We will be growing our team in 2021, and making some changes to our approach, all actions that came about through lessons learnt this year.  

Revel in the quiet times.  I have struggled with this enormously.  John, my partner (and the person who packs the orders, writes the cards, does our books + manages the warehouse at Sans Beast) would regularly tell me to enjoy the downtime, everything would be OK.  I started meditating regularly in January + doing daily solo walks when lockdown started.  Both practises have been life changing + have helped me get real with my noisy head.  I'm by no means a super calm soul.  I'm generally considered high energy; but now, thankfully, I have a greater capacity for slowing down.  

Feel the love.  I have been so thankful for the support of old friends + a few new ones, who have been there with words of encouragement or simply to be sounding boards, throughout this year.  I hope I've been able to do the same for them.  My family + John, as always, remain my strongest allies + I'm so fortunate to have them in my corner.  

Remember your purpose + make plans for when the sun shines again.  I have found when times have felt dark, to make plans for the future brings hope.  After all, if we're planning for the future, then we're not giving up.  And when building a business, this can be the temptation.  The purpose of Sans Beast is to build an inspiring, stylish + environmentally responsible brand world without animal exploitation.  We use our collections + our storytelling ability to do this.  To donate to causes + entities that are important to us is part of our mission, and we aim to take this further as we enter 2021.

Connect to + support non human animals.  The past 9 or so months primarily worked from home, has meant more time with our feline companions, Luna + Wolf.  They have loved us being around more + I feel that bit more relaxed when I can hear them snoring alongside my desk.  I am determined to do more for animals in 2021.  The environment quite rightly resonates loudly with most consumers, and animal exploitation less so.  Yet with connectivity being what it is + information being readily available now more than ever, I hope more people wake up to the poor treatment of animals across the globe (and I'm talking land + sea) + how this is intrinsically linked to environmental health.  If you're not at least considering going vegan, perhaps ask yourself why not? 

For the record, I didn't make the switch to veganism because I stopped liking the taste of meat + dairy - or stop working with leather because it ceased to be a strong, versatile + tactile material.  I started following this path three years ago because I recognised that animal exploitation on a mass scale was unjust + it is having untold damage on planetary health.  Farmed animals + animals for testing are not protected by law - they can be used, abused, bred, caged, gassed, starved, injected + more.  I know that most people would not agree with the poor treatment of non-human animals.  Yet, choosing not to watch the documentaries or read the books, or listen to the podcasts doesn't make what's happening to more than 70 billion animals a year any less real, it just means the cognitive dissonance continues. 

Veganuary 2021 (the month of January) is the perfect time to give it a go.  As always, we invite you to join the revolution...even small steps can make a difference.     

Wishing you a brighter + lighter 2021.  Thank you for being here.



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