Selva Chats | Hannah Jones of The Vegan Box
This August, a fleet of beauty boxes will leave their home in Melbourne, Victoria and make their way across the globe. In the current climate of subscription services, this little vignette is not uncommon. What sets this scenario apart, however, is that every item, in every single box, will be palm-oil free.
Hannah Jones is the creator and founder of The Vegan Box, the world's first vegan and palm-oil free subscription box service. Her innovation is, quite literally, a gift to anyone struggling with conflict-free living. If you subscribe to the The Beauty Box, up to eight of the best, new palm-oil free products will arrive right to your door. If finding palm-oil free snacks is your main inconvenience, there's even a monthly box for that, too. Every item is also carefully curated, researched, and approved by Jones - giving you a little less homework to do in your daily life.
A native of Tasmania, Hannah now calls Melbourne her home, as well as, the hub of her growing business. She shares the stress and joy of daily operations with her husband, Trent, and her darling, chubby rescue cat, Jiji. When she's not enjoying the vegan restaurants and stores that the CBD (Central Business District) has to offer, she's running one of the most successful, ethical companies we have ever encountered.
On today's Selva Chats, Hannah Jones talks veganism, palm-oil free living, and explains how The Vegan Box got its start:
How did you start your business? Did you see a need in the Australian market, or maybe within the landscape of subscription box services?
Actually, it was never my intention to start The Vegan Box to make money. I thought it would be just a very small side project that I could do on weekends, around my full time job as a naturopath. Subscription boxes were really new here at the time (early 2013), there were only 3 or 4 on the market and no-one was offering cruelty free products.
The idea came one day when I was speaking with a friend of mine who I was planning to visit in rural Australia. She was asking what she could cook for me, snacks to stock the cupboard with, and anything else she'd need to prepare for my visit - as she wasn't sure which vegan products were available at her local shops, or actually where to even start looking. That's when the idea hit me - what if I could help, inspire, or encourage people to go vegan by showing them all of the delicious, ethical, and healthy vegan products we actually do have access to in Australia? That day I made a very basic website, and within twenty minutes the orders started to roll in!
After working in the 'health food' retail industry for over 10 years I realised I was a bit blind to the fact that many people don't have access (or the time) to find vegan options in their every day life. Many people have to spend hours online checking out what's new, and doing a heap of research on vegan alternatives, which can be a minefield as well as frustrating when you realise you're on an US or UK site who doesn't ship to Australia (this happens A LOT to us Aussies!)
There has always been great debate about where palm oil fits into the concept of veganism. Where do you see palm oil and/or conflict palm oil falling into your own personal definition of vegan living?
It goes beyond my definition of veganism; a core principle of mine is environmental conservation. Most people know the impact of palm oil on the orangutan population in parts of Asia, and beyond that, so many other species are threatened by this sort of deforestation, including species of flora. Our forests are the lungs of the world, without them we cease to exist.
Add to that the dangerous working conditions and child labor, which are rampant in the industry.
Many vegans that I've had this conversation with have said they're ok with palm oil in their products as long as it's been sustainably sourced - I've done a HEAP of research on the reliability of 'green' palm oil, and found that RSPO certification and other 'sustainable palm oil' originations are completely green washing consumers. In fact, it's been found that corporate members of the RSPO are some of the most active companies involved in deforestation (you can read more about this here).
Veganism is not only a diet, it's a commitment to living a life which causes as little suffering and harm to others as possible, and this is why we completely avoid palm oil as a business. We are the only subscription box with this commitment, and it would be wonderful to see others join us.
Is it tough finding palm oil free products every month for new boxes? I notice that you feature items from around the world (not just Australia) - Do businesses come to you now with their products?
Initially it was hard to find enough products that were new and interesting to feature every single month without ever doubling up, but these days we get sent so many new and exciting products every week that it's hard to get through testing and tasting them all!
'Is your product vegan' and 'is it free of palm oil and all derivatives' are the first two questions we ask any business that approaches us with products. I am also really fussy when it comes to ingredients, and try to avoid featuring anything that contains artificial ingredients, preservatives, nasty chemicals and GMOs.
Finding products free of palm oil (as it has has over 100 names) is almost a full time job in itself, it's very time consuming to constantly ask companies the source of their ingredients, and to get a straight answer. Lately though we've been noticing new brands proudly spruiking PO free stamps, which makes me oh-so happy!
We find that going palm-oil free is a lot like going vegan: it takes a fair amount of time, research, and dedication at the very beginning. What's your #1 advice for those struggling with making changes to their purchasing habits and lifestyles?
I think what shocked me most when I started to look into palm oil was how many products it's actually in! Over 60% of household products contain palm oil, that's pretty overwhelming - which is why it is so important to be on the lookout, and to vote with your dollar! It's important to realise exactly how many products it's in, otherwise we are blind to the reality, and huge extent of the issue.
It takes time to learn and recognize all of the names that palm oil (and derivatives) can be listed as on products, and so I would say the best place to start is in your own home!
Pull out all of your essential 'could not live without' items (including toiletries, baked goods, cleaning agents, confectionery, snacks and skincare/cosmetics) and check them using one of the "does this contain palm oil" scanner apps on your phone, or you can do this manually by checking out a palm oil list such as this one from Palm Oil Investigations. This will help you to start making changes in your own buying (repurchasing) habits, and train your brain to better recognise the sneaky names that companies use for palm oil in their products. I promise that there are a heap of palm-oil free alternatives to most of your favourite items.
Related: Identifying Palm Oil Derivatives 101
If you could make one thing palm-oil or conflict free this instant, what would it be?
Chips! I love a good salty snack, and far too many chip (potato crisps) brands are still using palm oil - deceitfully disguised as 'vegetable oil'. Its important for people to understand that businesses are deliberately trying to deceive us by pulling the wool over our eyes, because this sort of practice is profitable to them at the expense of our ecology and lives of multiple species.