Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Market: Q+A with Ruwani Ekanayake

The vegan community in Melbourne is expanding by the day, bringing with it an exciting platform for vegan businesses, entrepreneurs and not-for-profit organisations to thrive. What’s even more encouraging are the grassroots opportunities available to these businesses and NFP’s so they can meet their loyal fan-base, while reaching out to a new audience at the same time.

One such opportunity that offers Melburnians – vegan and non-vegan – a chance to travel to a new area of Melbourne is the Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Market. This series of pop-up markets, organised and curated by Ruwani Ekanayake, is an ethical, compassionate and sustainable living, pop up stage to cater for the vegan community in Melbourne. Since its inception in 2017, the Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Markets have seemingly outgrown their start in Melbourne’s south-eastern Melbourne suburbs to branch in to new areas of the city, all while staying true to a grassroots ethic. Ruwani took some precious moments from her time organising her next market in Upwey to talk about the event and how she spreads the word about living a compassionate, cruelty free lifestyle.

The Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Markets started in July 2017. Why did you decide to create the Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Market series?

“As a vegan, I really felt the shortage of intimate, localised, grassroots scale vegan markets where vendors and visitors could interact and form meaningful relationships and networks. I also wanted to cater for people who can’t attend extremely crowded events for a variety of reasons such as mobility or mental health conditions. All the vegan markets I’ve been to have been extremely crowded with limited opportunities for vendors to interact effectively with customers and potential customers. So, I wanted to create a more relaxed and fun space for everyone to enjoy hence the inception of #CLVM.

I decided to create the market in a pop up format as my plan is to literally pop up in different suburbs of south east Melbourne, providing different communities with opportunities to enjoy our events. Most of the visitors who have attended my events have provided feedback comments such as ‘relaxed’, ‘kind and loving atmosphere’ and ‘wonderful day filled with compassion’.

Also, as a small vegan business owner, I felt that the larger vegan markets were not very financially viable, as the stallholder/vendor fees are very high. This limits small businesses from participating in vegan markets and having physical platforms to showcase their businesses. My events are not for profit as I charge my vendors fees that are just sufficient to cover venue hire, live music and other event-related expenditure. I also host, for free, a few vegan not-for-profits at each event to help them with their fundraising. That’s another point of difference between my events and the larger vegan events that charge NFP’s stallholder fees as well.”

You are no stranger to markets in Melbourne, running your own Ru’s Veggie Kitchen stand and catering business. What is your driving mission in creating Ru’s Veggie Kitchen and what are some of the customers have you attracted – are they all vegan, or vegan curious, or non-vegan?

“I established Ru’s Veggie Kitchen in January 2017, mainly working weekends as I also had a regular job working as a Business Manager for a large NFP. My driving mission is to provide people the opportunity to experience the flavours and variety of vegan food with the vision of encouraging more people to adopt veganism or at least a plant-based diet.

A majority of my customers are non-vegan and have never had a ‘vegan meal’ per se; they are often surprised with how delicious and healthy vegan meals and desserts can be. One of my happiest experiences has been a young lady trying my food at least once a month for a few months. She told me that tasting my food has encouraged her to evolve to veganism as she hadn’t realised how tasty and healthy vegan food can be.

I believe we can all be activists in different ways. Since food is probably one of the main reasons people shy away from adopting plant based diets, I strongly believe that providing people with delicious, fun and healthy vegan food is a form of activism as it helps with changing their mindset.”

Can you describe your style of ‘fun and healthy vegan food?

“I would describe my food as hearty plant based fusion food. I was born in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon and Serendib) which, surprisingly for some, is actually a melting pot of culture: former Portuguese, Dutch and British colonies intertwined with Arab nations, India and China using the island as exotic trade stop-overs for some of the best teas and spices as well as jewels. My menu ranges from biryani and curries to jackfruit toasties and pasties and sausage rolls, as well as fun desserts such as cheesecakes, brownies, doughnuts and raw desserts. I’m very versatile and I cook with passion and I love cooking to order to please my customers!”

Can you give me a ‘behind the scenes’ look into the Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Markets?

“I curate the markets myself. All my vendors are fully vegan businesses and my events are capped to have no more than a couple of vendors selling similar products. This is sticking with the grassroots scale boutique market theme to support emerging vegan business entrepreneurs.

I’ve provided guidance to some of the business entrepreneurs to help them transition from vegetarian to vegan businesses as some of them were new to veganism themselves. I have also provided free guidance to a few of my vendors to ensure that their businesses meet the legal requirements of trade. Some of them were doing it as a hobby and were unsure how to launch their businesses professionally. My markets provide them with opportunities to showcase their businesses to a wider community of customers. As a result, unheard of businesses are now well established.

Brodie from Brodie Botanicals has been helping me with the graphics and social media promotions. My husband Conrad, my nephew Dilan – who is also the founder of Young Voices for Animals and last year’s co-organiser of March to Close all Slaughterhouses – helps me out on the day of the event. Other than that, it’s just me, myself and I.”

Have you always been vegan?

“I have been vegan for just over two years now. My journey to veganism started at a time when I was not even familiar with the concept; limited exposure to the internet and social media helped keep me ignorant. I made a conscious attempt to stop consuming animal flesh about eight years ago when I was travelling a lot for work; I would often come across truckloads of animals heading to the slaughterhouses. After making eye contact with a few of them, my desire for animal flesh diminished. I then transitioned to pescatarian and then vegetarian before eventually transitioning to veganism. It was information shared by my nephew Dilan that helped me move from pescatarian and vegetarian to vegan. I only have my sister’s family and my dad living in Australia. My sister and nephew are vegans and our combined influence has moved the rest of the family here to be ‘reduce-atarians’, since we do not cook or purchase anything non-vegan. Hopefully one day soon, they will evolve to veganism as well.”

What personal message do you deliver to your customers and attendees at the markets?

“I would like customers and attendees to know that by participating in our markets, they are helping spread veganism as they are supporting lots of emerging small vegan businesses, and being an audience for lesser known vegan NFP’s. For the non-vegans/vegan curious, this is a great intimate setting for them to absorb the wonders of a vegan lifestyle and proof that you don’t need to ‘give up’ anything to live a compassionate, cruelty free lifestyle.”

How do you view veganism here in Melbourne? Is the movement becoming popular? Are there more emerging vendors wanting to get involved?

“I believe veganism has evolved in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years in Melbourne. We are seeing more and more vegan events, cafes and restaurants popping up as well as more and more establishments offering vegan options. We have quite a few new and emerging entrepreneurs joining our next event in February in addition to our regular vendors.”

How important is the vegan movement?

“I believe veganism has a huge impact on the sustainability of our mother earth because it is one movement that causes least damage or negative impact. I believe the main solution to a better world is humans of the earth adopting a vegan lifestyle – for the environment, for the animals, for our own health and for our future generations who we have borrowed this world from.”

Given your own market experience and travel around Melbourne, where in Melbourne are the most vegans? Are numbers growing in other areas of the city?

“I understand there are lots of vegans living on the parameters of the city (i.e. Fitzroy and surrounds), however, the community is well expanding to the outskirts and rural Victoria which is one of the reasons for my pop-up concept.”

Where do you see veganism and the direction it’s heading in the near future?

“Veganism is becoming more and more popular now that people have access to the internet and there’s so much information flooding through. It’s harder to ignore the horrors of animal agriculture and the benefits of veganism, so people are able to better educate themselves. In my journey, all I needed is someone to give me a ‘heads up’ and I would then do research and find out the facts for myself. Ironically, I was even avoiding palm oil and products not certified cruelty free before becoming vegan, simply because someone shared some information with me which I further scrutinised. Unfortunately, it took longer to become vegan and my only regret is not doing it sooner.”

The Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Market is branching out beyond Melbourne’s south-east suburbs and into other areas like the upcoming Upwey market in the outer east. What made you decide to branch out?

“Given that the first two markets were well received and keeping with my pop-up theme, I felt the need to expand to other areas where I’ve noticed larger communities of vegans. I want everyone to enjoy our events so I try to find areas that otherwise lack vegan events.”

How many people have been attending your markets?

“So far, we’ve had two markets and approximately 300 to 350 people have attended each. I believe the first market was the most successful. Unfortunately the second event, which was a twilight market, was upstaged by scattered thunderstorms. But we still had a reasonably good show rate and the vendors were happy. Because of the relaxed vibes of my markets, the vendors really enjoy the opportunity to network as well. For the volunteers running the NFP’s, sometimes my events are some of the very few opportunities they get to actually attend vegan events and socialise outside their commitments as volunteers or sanctuary operators.”

What can a first-time visitor to the Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Markets expect?

“Visitors can expect a very relaxed, happy, kind vibes with a quality range of vendors. I believe quality is always more important than quantity and what we lack in size we certainly make up in quality. There’ll be live music, a range of food including different cuisines, cheeses, chocolates, sauces and condiments, healthy sweet treats, gluten-free options, hot and cold beverages, beauty and body care, fashion and accessories, sustainable living lifestyle products and homewares, art and crafts as well as holistic services.”

The next market is in theme with Valentine’s Day. Are there any extra-special plans for the market?

“Most of the vendors are preparing to have products and services that would be lovely vegan, cruelty free, ethical gifts perfect for Valentine’s Day. I’m a great believer in zero waste so you won’t see the venue dressed up in red balloons etc. Fortunately, by the time the vendors set up, they would have painted a beautiful picture on a blank canvas, much better than any store bought decorations. This market is gearing up to be our largest market ever with 12 new vendors, so it will definitely be different no doubt!”

Can you share a success story from a previous market?

“Big Sky Sanctuary Inc provided feedback that they got a platform to present their charity to many people who had never heard of them previously. They also had quite a few visitors help them out by volunteering at working bees, etc.

The overall feedback from emerging businesses has been that they are very pleased with the outcome of my markets as they got to interact and present their business to all the visitors who attended.”

Are there any future plans for the Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Markets?

“I certainly plan on having more markets this year, perhaps with another one in May or June. Planning will commence soon after our Valentine’s event. I will also be working with a few small vegan NFP’s this year to help them with running fundraising events.

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with the readers out there?

“Our events are unique and fully embracing the concept of compassionate living; visitors will be supporting the growth of vegan micro businesses and small vegan NFP’s as well as vegan musicians.

I would like anyone reading this to visit our events and/or share our events within your networks.”

The next Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Market will be held on Sunday February 11, from 10.00am to 4.00pm at Upwey Community Hall, Sherbrooke Family & Children’s Centre, 1443 Burwood Highway, Upwey Victoria 3158. Entry is free. Parking is available next to the hall, or catch public transport to Upwey train station. Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Vendors and Not-for-Profits on the day include:

Aliki – upcycled & reusable produce bags, AVS Organic Foods , Brew Sisters, Brodie Botanical – Health and Wellbeing, Chef Na’s Plant-Based Kitchen, Elysa Tancheff – Arbonne Independent Consultant, Ethereal Beauty Studio, Ethics Disrupted, Futuro Vegapop, Healthy Cass Creations, Kind Choices, Medita Chocolates, Mika Creations handmade art & craft, Polished Petals, Puri- Pure Use of Raw Ingredients, Ru’s Veggie Kitchen, SoulPod Foods, Soul Quest Creations , SunBird Animal Communication and Healing, The Friendly Pout Page- LipSense / SeneGence, United Heart Apparel, Vitamin Earth Natural Threads, Vusion Eatery

Animal Justice Party AJP Victoria, Melanie Attard – Animal Rescue/Wildlife Rescue and Release Volunteer and Young Voices for Animals

with musical performances by

Laura Eloise and Imagined Order

For more information about the Compassionate Living Vegan Pop Up Market and future events, follow the Facebook page or on Instagram @clvmarkets.

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