Cruelty-free luxury is not an oxymoron

Courtesy of Gunas New York

From haute couture to high-end vacation packages, today’s vegetarian and vegan consumers aren’t willing to compromise quality in their quest for a kinder lifestyle.

At Gunas New York, an upscale vegan accessories boutique, the name of the game is “High Fashion, Zero Cruelty.” Owner Sugandh Agrawal, a vegetarian since childhood, founded the upscale vegan accessories boutique in 2009. After earning her degree in industrial design, Agrawal said she had an “aha moment” when she interned for a handbag company.

“I realized I’d found my calling,” said Agrawal, who would go on to pursue an advanced design degree at the Pratt Institute.

When she first started out, very few companies were producing high-end, non-leather handbags. “There was a very large gap between the very inexpensive products and the ‘not for everyone’ products,” Agrawal said. These days, as it turns out, people from all demographics are adopting cruelty-free lifestyles, including the jet-setters and high-rollers.

“I think the word is finally spreading, and people are realizing this isn’t just a matter of choice for some people,” Agrawal said. “The vegan market is no longer perceived as ‘hippy,’ people aren’t willing to compromise their style anymore.” Guntas’ selections range from a $20 “Bold” cosmetics pouch to the $675 “Paris” duffle bag with Italian zippers, customized hardware and an oversized logo. It recently sold out.

All items are 100% vegan and are produced in an ethical manner. “We do try and focus on upscale, on glamor,” Agrawal said. “And classic always overrules trendy: I want to offer something people will enjoy using for a long, long time.”

Amy Isabella Chalker, owner of the California-based Isabella Gourmet Foods, founded her business in May 2013 in hopes of supporting the global locavore food movement, along with the parallel “Food Revolution happening in the nooks and crannies of Santa Barbara.”

“Even in the short time since I opened, the specialty food market has become even more highly specialized,” Chalker said, noting that such products as gourmet nut butters and kombucha, a specialized tea drink, have made a particularly big splash over the past year.

“The demand for vegan products has increased exponentially since we first opened,” she added.

A registered dietician by profession, Chalker said she foresaw the growing niche to be filled, and began focusing on offering specialized fare with “all the taste and none of the stereotypical ‘cardboard flavor’ that mainstream consumers tend to associate with eating vegan and vegetarian diets.” Today’s vegans and vegetarians seem to gravitate towards ready-to-eat/ready-to-heat products that can be quickly enjoyed, Chalker said.

Isabella Gourmet Foods is the first retail store in the country to carry Outer Aisle Gourmet: a line of vegetable-based gourmet breads, pizza crusts and pastas, which are primarily cauliflower-based and also appeal to those on gluten-free diets. The Outer Aisle line of products is expected to be sold at Whole Foods (WFM) locations around the country later this year, according to Chalker.

Ashley Isaacs Ganz of the Artisans of Leisure travel agency in New York, said the firm has always worked closely to accommodate vegetarian and vegan travelers, though the demand for such offerings appears to be on the rise. “People are feeling more comfortable vocalizing their dietary preferences and requirements now,” Ganz said “It’s no longer perceived as an unusual, picky or difficult-to-accommodate request: in fact, it’s a level of service they expect from the hospitality industry.”

Specializing in private tours in more than 60 different countries, Artisans of Leisure typically tailors its individual trip packages to meet client’s needs and desires. “For instance, someone might want to tour Peru or Bhutan, but they want to be reassured that arrangements are in place for them to eat well along the way,” Ganz said. “Other travelers might select a destination largely for its food appeal.”

Among the top destinations for vegan vacationers are Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, Turkey, Israel and France; Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, India and Japan (known for its highly-regarded vegetarian Buddhist shojin ryori cuisine), and places like Australia and England where vegetarianism is relatively common.

“A lot of travelers are surprised to find out that we can arrange for any of our private culinary tours to be vegetarian and include cooking classes, special meals and other activities,” Ganz said. “All of our tours are one-of-a-kind.”

A recent group of clients booked a tour of South Africa, where they were treated to vegetarian meals not only at top restaurants in Cape Town and the Winelands, but also in the middle of the desert and at rustic safari camps.

A vegan client traveling to Southeast Asia was treated to a street food tour in Hanoi, a nightlife tasting tour in Saigon and a cooking lesson in Hoi An.

“Clients want to know that there will be delicious options: they want ease of travel and to be able to relax and thoroughly enjoy all aspects of their tour, including meals,” Ganz said. “They also want to be sure that the can experience the best of the local food and culture- and to be able to do so as a vegetarian.”

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