Teams are Launching New Plant-Based Products and Services as the Appeal of Veganism Expands
BY ASHLEY BISHEL
ILLUSTRATION BY HUGO ESPINOZA/ISTOCK PHOTOS
Veganism has gone from fringe to fad to on fire—and the business world is hungry for more. The vegan food industry recorded 20 percent year-over-year growth last year in the United States, with sales topping US$3.3 billion, according to the Plant Based Foods Association. In China, the vegan market is on pace to increase 17 percent between 2015 and 2020. With more people embracing a plant-based lifestyle, and with the full-throated support of global celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z, retailers and manufacturers are rolling out the red carpet to satisfy demand.
While the explosion of vegan trendsetters Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods has fueled a spate of product-development projects among food manufacturers, the appetite for veganism extends beyond what people eat. Those looking to forgo animal products for ethical, health and environmental reasons can find vegan options in increasingly expanding sectors. For example, the global vegan cosmetics market is projected to reach US$20.8 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research.
Teams are using data on the behavior and mindset of vegans to generate innovative product ideas that “trickle into all parts of the economy,” says Daniel Karsevar, CEO, brand agency PlantBased Solutions, New York, New York, USA. Organizations see an opportunity to launch vegan projects in categories including clothing, personal care and household cleaning. And the animal-free imperative shapes the requirements for these projects from start to finish.
“People want to make conscious choices, and as a result, companies need to be more transparent about how their products come to exist,” says Kiki Adami, founder of restaurant consulting firm Veganizer, New York, New York, USA. “If they're willing to dismiss the existence of cows for their appetite, they will be equally willing to dismiss the existence of cows for their accessories.”
—Kiki Adami, Veganizer, New York, New York, USA
PHOTO COURTESY OF HILTON
A Room With a Point of View
Here's a snapshot of how the vegan lifestyle is influencing project development in three sectors: Guests at the Hilton London Bankside hotel can book a vegan suite. The concept for a project to develop such a room came after a guest told James B. Clarke, the hotel's general manager, that travel options for vegans were very limited. Mr. Clarke was inspired by the idea of a seamless, luxury suite furnished only with vegan materials.
The hotel team partnered with food design studio Bompas & Parr for the 18-month project. While the project requirements seemed straightforward enough, sourcing materials proved daunting. “The project really opened our eyes to just how many products weren't vegan-friendly,” says Mr. Clarke, of London, England.
—James B. Clarke, Hilton, London, England
For example, the team learned that laminate would be off-limits, as the sealant that bonds the material is often made with casein, a protein derived from milk. That meant all of the room's paper products (including stationery and room service menus) had to be specially made with laminate-free adhesives, and those strict requirements had to be carefully communicated with third-party vendors that might not be well-versed in the nuances of vegan sourcing.
Seating was covered in Piñatex, a leather alternative made of pineapple fibers. The floors have sustainable bamboo and carpets made of organic cotton rather than wool. Pillows were stuffed with buckwheat, millet seeds or soft bamboo fibers instead of traditional feathers.
The suite, which was completed in February, has become a feel-good space for vegan clients—as well as non-vegans who are keen to spend a night in a plant-based room, says Mr. Clarke.
TOP PHOTO COURTESY OF VOTCH. SIDEBAR PHOTOS COURTESY OF, FROM TOP, VEJA, CASSINA, LAND ROVER AND THE LIP BAR
Time for Change
A painful skin condition caused designer Laura Way to second-guess everything she put against her skin. It also inspired an unexpected pursuit: launching Votch, an entirely vegan watch brand. Its wristbands are made from materials that meet animal-free requirements, ranging from vegan leather to innovative fruit-waste materials.
Yet the most challenging part of product development was sourcing suppliers, says Ms. Way, of London, England. Early iterations of Votch used wrist straps made of a woven microfiber base, coated with polyurethane and, later, thermoplastic elastomers with woven microfiber. To find the right supplier fit, she cast a wide net—reaching out to both traditional watch-strap fabricators and vegan fabric manufacturers—and dug deep into the potential suppliers’ materials and supply chain. She evaluated both the immediate look and feel of the potential material as well as the long-term durability.
“As the demand for vegan materials increases, there are more environmentally friendly fabrics on offer,” she says. Even after choosing a supplier, Ms. Way made it a point to periodically review offerings and weigh the ROI of launching a redesign project. Most recently, Votch rolled out a new line of Piñatex watches. “Our aim is to always improve and evolve,” she says.
—Laura Way, Votch, London, England
Her team applied lessons learned from conventional watchmakers and pushing a first-mover mindset. It had to innovate to identify the right custom materials. But it turned to traditional sourcing practices to ultimately keep retail prices in check. The team priced materials based on how many straps it could acquire per yard of fabric prior to production, and it placed bulk orders to keep the materials’ line item as trim as possible.
There is no set-it-and-forget-it option when it comes to vegan product design, Ms. Way says. As the market evolves and matures, so too will project teams’ approaches and processes—across all industries. “Food is always at the forefront when thinking vegan, but this will become a 360-degree way of living—across upholstery, cushions, carpets, sofas, everything,” she says.
PHOTO COURTESY OF KUJIRA
When restaurant Kujira Brighton opened in September 2018 in Brighton, England, it was met with rave reviews and long lines. What flew under the radar for many diners was the 12-month project to design and build a space that uses vegan materials from floor to ceiling. But the strict vegan specification requirements management didn't lessen the team's emphasis on budget control or the luxury aesthetic.
Affordable vegan interiors are becoming an increasingly common requirement among commercial project sponsors, once they learn more about the use of animals in the materials industry, says Chloe Bullock, founder of Materialise Interiors, Brighton, England. Many seek out her firm initially with a focus on environmental sourcing, only to fold veganism into their project's requirements at Ms. Bullock's recommendation.
“They're very happy to go along with suggestions—provided no cost is added to the project and the suggestion is a fit for purpose,” she says.
At Kujira Brighton, the project's final design included flooring made from recycled vinyl and table-tops made from recycled glass. An Oeko-Tex Standard 100-certified vegan suede-alternative was used for the upholstery covering, and a non-animal-tested paint was sourced for interior and exterior walls.
“I have to admit, paint can be a challenge,” says Ms. Bullock. With residential projects, clients are more flexible with the cost and timing of sourcing vegan paint. But on commercial projects, contractors are often balancing tight schedules and want to work with a small list of vetted, easy-to-access suppliers, which can be a challenge.
Getting contractors on board took a combination of education and research. She explained the reasoning and business proposition behind the requirements and came prepared to all meetings with a list of approved paint brands, with help from paint selection software. “I do a lot of pre-sourcing to prepare myself with resources, which does mean that the initial sourcing and research takes longer, but it's all worth it for a cruelty-free specification,” she says. PM
Projects to expand the limits of veganism are gaining momentum across many sectors:
Last year, French shoe company Veja completed an initiative to develop a sneaker that was entirely vegan. The resulting trendy kicks, dubbed Campo, are made of bio-based materials.
Italy's Cassina partnered with designer Philippe Starck to introduce a line of furniture this year that uses a vegan leather-alternative material made from the core and skins of apples. The raw materials for Apple Ten Lork would otherwise be considered waste but have found new life as an alternative upholstery.
Land Rover has introduced premium non-leather materials for the interior of its Range Rover Evoque. One is a wool-polyester blend with a synthetic suede. The other is a plant-based material, derived from eucalyptus bark and developed by Land Rover, which is then paired with an animal-free, antimicrobial polyurethane material in the seats.
The burgeoning vegan cosmetics market is going mainstream—largely because of savvy marketing efforts and startup mindsets. Tired of the beauty industry's use of chemicals, The Lip Bar founder Melissa Butler began making lipstick in her kitchen while she was still working on Wall Street. Even after being rejected on the U.S. product investment reality TV show Shark Tank, Ms. Butler didn't give up on her vision. Thanks to heavy engagement with retailers and after scaling production, The Lip Bar has expanded to more than 450 Target stores across the United States and opened a flagship store in Detroit, Michigan, USA.