Charlie WhiteStaff Writer
For vegans and vegetarians, shoe shopping is not always an easy task. Leather, glue derived from animal products, and fur are just a few things these consumers have to watch for when purchasing a new pair of shoes. Also, most of these same people tend to cringe at sweatshop labor resulting in huge corporate profit, which is how nearly every shoe that you find in your average footwear outlet is made. Jon Novick's new store on Snelling Avenue is no average footwear outlet.
In fact, it's not a footwear outlet at all. Fast and Furless Skinless Fashion, located just south of Macalester between St. Clair and Jefferson, sells all sorts of products, from cookies and handbags to lotion and tee-shirts, and, of course, shoes. And not a one of them contains any trace of animal products or unfair sweatshop labor.
Fast and Furless opened its doors on November 25, which happens to be Fur-Free Friday, an annual event taking place every year after Thanksgiving to protest the use of fur products. "I originally wanted to open a vegetarian café," said Novick. "I used to work at the Grille at Mac. But, I soon discovered that I do a much better job at eating vegan food than actually cooking it."
Novick has had family connections to this community since his great-grandfather built the place in which he currently lives and runs Fast and Furless back in 1925. "My grandpa grew up in here. He was an apprentice at a battery repair shop for a while, then became a mechanic in 1928 when he was 17," he said. "Now, my Dad is a mechanic next door."
Novick moved to Los Angeles from 2002 to 2004 after his job at the Grille. He worked at the Whole Foods in Westwood, near UCLA. During this time, he started hearing about vegan boutiques popping up all over the place. "I thought about how frustrating it is to order vegan shoes online," he said. "Getting the size right, shipping them back and forth, it's just a big hassle. It might be easy for a wallet or something, but when it comes to shoes, it's best to be able to try them on in person."
With these ideas, Novick moved back to St. Paul. It took him about another year to really commit to the idea of opening up his own store. But now that he has, he has no regrets. "I'm not only realizing my dream as an entrepreneur, but I'm doing it without producing plastic bottles and such things," he said. "It's so important to be a resource for vegans and vegetarians."
When deciding where to locate Fast and Furless, one of the big things that kept him from moving to Minneapolis was the fact that he would be so close to Macalester at his location in St. Paul. "I've felt a connection to the Macalester community for a while," he said. "I worked at the Grille, and my Dad has been fixing Mac professors' cars for a while."
Novick made sure to bring some flyers over to some environmental groups on campus to help get the word out. "I'm so thrilled whenever I get a Mac student in," he said. "I'm really impressed with the students and all of their various liberal, forward thinking causes."
Novick also mentioned that he did some advertising at St. Catherine's, Hamline and St. Thomas. He has had enthusiastic students come in from St. Catherine's and Hamline, although nobody has identified themselves as a St. Thomas student yet.
Novick is very much against the idea of animals being treated like a commodity. In today's competitive world, everything seems to be all about the costs involved in production. "Everyone seems to just be asking how we can get the prices as low as possible," Novick said. "That's where the sweatshops, overcrowding, and other terrible living and working conditions for animals and people come from."
Novick, on the other hand, isn't as worried about the price of his products as much as how they can help reduce the unfair treatment of laborers and animals around the world. "I want to carry products good for people and animals," he said. "I import my vegetarian shoes from England. I'm not trying to gouge anyone with my prices, I just charge what I have to in order to break even with the shipping costs."
While most non-animal products are made with vinyl, a cheaper material, all of Novick's products are made of micro fiber, a very high-quality tightly-woven fabric. Although it isn't particularly cheap, it is incredibly strong and durable. So although Novick's prices may appear a bit high at first, they're as low as he can afford to charge for the freely traded, animal-free, high quality products that are offered.
Among Novick's shoes are Blackspot Sneakers. These shoes feature 100% organic hemp uppers, a vegetarian toe and heel, a recycled tire sole, an anti-logo (a "hand-drawn symbol of defiance against corporate cool"), and a hand-painted red "sweet spot" on the toe, "for kicking corporate ass." Other free trade vegan shoes offered include Earth Shoes, Vegetarian Shoes, and Adbusters.
But there is a lot that Fast and Furless has to offer besides shoes. Leather-free wallets, belts, purses, locally made scarves, hard-to-find books, and a vast array of hemp products from The Merry Hempsters including lotion and lip balm. "I also have the best vegan cookies in the whole world," Novick said, referring to cookies from the Sun Flour Baking Company in California.
Novick is able to provide a letter from each manufacturer, proving that all of his products are free trade, with no sweatshop labor. He is also able to provide very detailed background information about the production of ev
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