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How veganism inspired Shaun Robertson to leave the fashion world

by | Jul 10, 2020

Cape Town-based vegan food photographer, food stylist, and co-owner of Vegan Goods Market, Shaun Robertson lived and breathed fashion for 22 years. But after graduating from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology with a degree in fashion design, Shaun’s life changed direction.

Shaun became a vegan in 2017 in protest of the animal rights abuses in the meat and animal production industry. The catalyst for this lifestyle change was a shocking series of health and environmental films and documentaries from “Earthlings” to “What The Health”. Now, Shaun pursues vegan, minimal, low-impact living and zero-waste shopping.

 

When did your interest in fashion begin?

I’ve been interested in fashion for as long as I can remember. At first, I had a passion and love for illustration. In grade one, I used to draw female models wearing boots, hoping to not get caught by my very strict teacher.

As I got older, I was inspired by fashion visuals and by designers like Alexander McQueen. While I was still at school, I took design classes. I studied surface design at Peter Clarke Art Centre, formally known as Frank Joubert Art Centre before studying fashion design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

Tell us about your wardrobe?

My wardrobe is a mix of things. From plain and printed tees, to vintage cardigans, high-waisted jeans and old-school “oupa” pants that I absolutely LOVE. I am a big believer in keeping clothing as long as it lasts. If anything rips or breaks, I fix it, and if it looks fashionable ripped, I’ll wear it ripped!

I have a variety of second-hand clothing: coats, pants, and jerseys from thrift shops, to shoes and jeans that I have been handed down from my family. When I travelled into town everyday via train for my studies, I walked across the Grand Parade. It was there that my love for thrifting was born. My favourite places to thrift include my first love, The Grand Parade (Wednesdays and Saturdays), uTurn, Help A Rural Child charity shops, and of course, my friends and family’s cupboards.

When did your vegan journey begin?

It started in September of 2017. At first I was a vegetarian but that didn’t last. After watching a video by James Aspey talking about the cruel reality of the dairy industry. What The Health, recommended by my classmates, I decided to go vegan.

I wanted to take control of my health and to nurture and nourish my body with the foods it needs to thrive. I was motivated to continue doing research, finding out what minerals and vitamins I could get in various vegan foods, identify the vegan-friendly shops and restaurants in Cape Town. I found vegan vloggers such as Pick Up Limes, The Happy Pear, and Caitlin Shoemaker. I wanted to delve into animal documentaries.

After discovering how animals are treated, abused, and killed in the food, entertainment, fashion, and cosmetic industry, I was angry. I was angry at myself, angry at these industries, angry at the workers who inflicted pain and death onto these animals and angry at my fellow humans who defended these “practices”.

After going through a process of unlearning and relearning, I have been inspired to change and be conscious of other aspects of my life. Veganism changed my career path. Going from living and breathing fashion, to not wanting anything to do with it because I gained a new passion and inspiration to live my life differently.

Tell us about the Vegan Goods Market?

The Vegan Goods Market was founded in 2016, by one of my best friends, Sarah-Lee Beckett. She is the mother of this beautiful meeting place of like-minded people who are seeking a space free from worry, judgment, and animal cruelty. When she stepped back to explore other avenues, I became involved in the markets. I have graphic and visual design skills from studying fashion, which I use to run Vegan Goods Market.

3 favourite vegan meals?

Nothing slaps harder than slap chips on a roll with salt and vinegar. It has to be the right slap chip though: the slap chip that holds its “slap” overnight to be enjoyed as leftovers. Getting the chip to be the right type of “slap” is a serious business and should not be dealt with lightly. If I’m feeling boujee, I’ll add hummus to it.

I also love Indian cuisine. My top three curries include Vegan Butter Chicken Curry, Chana Masala, and Navratan Curry with a side of Naan.

My favourite ‘no-fuss under 5-minute meal’ is toast with peanut butter and jam, topped with banana slices and a sprinkle of seeds. If you’ve noticed a thread of bread throughout, you are correct, because bread and I belong to the same WhatsApp group!

 

Your 3 favourite vegan-friendly grocery shops?

I try my best to follow “ZWAA” – Zero-Waste, Affordable, and Accessible. I am not strictly zero-waste. I indulge in the packaged, processed meat alternatives, luxuries, and other vegan alternatives, but I make an effort to find zero-waste options.

Three places that fulfil “ZWAA” are Food Lover’s Market, Atlas Trading Company (they have paper package options), and the fruit and vegetable vendor businesses alongside the streets in my community. At Food Lover’s Market, they have fill-up, bulk-bin stations for seeds, grains, nuts, dried fruits, and spices too! They also have a lovely variety of produce that you can buy and package in your own reusable produce bags. Atlas Trading Company has recently become my favourite for a lot of affordable dried pantry essentials. They also offer the option of packaging certain dried goods in paper as opposed to plastic, such as seeds, grains, legumes, certain seasonings, soya mince, and chunks as well as coconut flakes.

The local street fruit and vegetable vendors are also a great way to support small local businesses and form bonds with the people who supply you with really affordable produce, which can also be packaged without plastic.

What music are you listening to right now?

As I type this question, I’m listening to the great Tom Rosenthal. I love his unique voice and beautiful mix of quirkiness, emotion, and poetry. Crystal Fighters are another fave and the OG Beyonce will always be the queen to ‘do the things’. However, I’ve been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race recently and listening to music from the past seasons has been brightening the colours of my rainbow soul. I miss my gay friends so much!

Who has been your biggest influence?

The biggest influence in my life has been my late Mamma. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be the cheapskate I am today! We didn’t grow up with much, and her resourcefulness in every aspect of life from grocery shopping, to fixing broken clothes, to looking for specials in newspapers cultivated a lifestyle of saving and not wasting in the house. Now, I hate wasting and will make sure to use what I have.

What are some of the most common ‘vegan myths and misconceptions’?

The two myths I’ve mentioned below are textbook and often crop up in conversation with people who are not aware of veganism:

  1. You don’t get enough protein on a vegan diet: This is a very common myth. Contrary to popular belief, protein is very much abundant in a vegan diet. Just a few protein-rich vegan foods include, but are not limited to: tofu, seitan, tempeh, legumes such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils, grains such as oats, rice and quinoa, seeds like hemp, chia and flaxseeds, veggies like green peas, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts and kale, nuts and nut butter.
  2. Veganism is expensive: I will admit, the way that veganism has been whitewashed in Cape Town it is true that veganism can be expensive. But, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes – all containing so many great nutrients that nourish the body, allow you to thrive, and thrive affordably. Look at what is accessible and affordable around you, in your community, in your local grocery stores. You don’t need fancy powders and shakes when you can get it from your basic, affordable wholefoods.

Follow Shaun Robertson on Instagram 

Follow Shaun Robertson’s blog Shaun the Vegan here

Images: Supplied

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