I met Andy Tabar of Compassion Co at the Vegan Pop-Up Show in Morristown, NJ this January. He was one of the vendors there, along with Sullivan St. Press selling his line of t-shirts, tank tops, sweaters, gloves and so forth. What got me interested in Andy’s business was the fact that he traveled to VegFests all over the country by van and lived in his van. He offered these answers in response to my questions.
1. Describe your business and how you got the idea to travel and live in your van from VegFest to VegFest.
Compassion Co is a vegan clothing line that is committed to creating organic or recycled, USA made and sweat shop free garments. All of our designs feature original hand drawn graphics and are printed using water based inks by a small eco-friendly printshop. My goal is to create clothing that will start productive conversations while still maintaining the vegan ethic throughout the entire chain of production. I started the company over five years ago and it has evolved greatly since then. At the time I still had a home base in New Haven, CT and worked a full time job. I was traveling to local VegFests in the Northeast as much as I could before taking a touring position with the 10 Billion Live tour, a traveling vegan education program. As a tour member, I had a schedule that was 6 months on, 6 months off. During my off period, I decided to pack up my car and visit as many VegFests as possible and see if I could sustain myself off of it. I really enjoyed the lifestyle and seeing I was on the road more than I was home, I decided it was time to ditch my apartment, as well as most of my belongings, and move into a new van. It just made the most sense for the life I wanted to have. One with plenty of freedom and lots of travel all supported by a company promoting a message I believe in strongly.
2. How many people are involved in your business?
As far as the day to day operations go, I am the only person in the company and am technically a sole proprietor. But I do rely on a number of good friends who help with everything from tabling at the VegFests I can’t attend, doing my screen printing and providing some of the art. With all of those folks tallied up, there are 8 of us who make things happen.
3. How many miles per year do you travel?
Currently I travel about 35,000 miles per year.
4. How long have you been in business and how much longer do you think you’ll be living like this?
I’ve been in business since October, 2011. The van life definitely suits me but as the company grows it’s becoming less manageable from a van. I tell myself that I’ll keep doing it until it no longer makes me happy.
5. Can you explain what you sell, how well your sales are going? Do you see any trends in terms of locations/demographics/time of year/year-to-year?
We sell graphic screen printed garments, this includes t-shirts, tank tops, scarves, hats and hoodies as well as buttons and stickers. Sales continue to grow every year. I don’t know how well I’m doing compared to others in my field, but I know I’m able to provide enough for myself and that’s all I really need. As far as trends, I see things like tank tops selling much better in warmer climates and obviously hoodies and scarves sell much better in colder parts of the country.
6. How would you characterize your typical shopper? What kinds of questions do they ask? What’s the most popular item(s) you carry?
People of all demographics seem to love what I produce, it’s hard to tell who my clothing will resonate with. Though I pride myself on sourcing clothing from more ethical sources, the average shopper really only cares about whether they like the design and if it will fit them well. Our most popular design is almost always our “humane meat does not exist, go vegan” design featuring a snarky, rainbow haired, unicorn.
7. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get started in this business?
The first piece of advice I give anyone that wants to get into the t-shirt business is “don’t” (haha). It’s a LOT of work and it’s a very crowded field. People think the business consists of coming up with a few clever plant-related puns, then stick them on a shirt and they will sell thousands of shirts. It is much more complicated a business than that. It comes down to determination: If someone is truly determined to start their own clothing line, then make sure you have something interesting and unique to offer, then go for it. If someone IS doing what you want to do but you know you can do it better, go for it. Otherwise, it may be time to think of something else to do.