Fair-Trade Vegan Choices Matter: Q+A with Debra Lawson, Owner of Gatherer

Debra Lawson opened her vegan and fair-trade store called Gatherer in February this year. She has a deep passion for fair-trade and vegan goods plus a love for change. These attributes have been the impetus for Debra to open her store on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, much to the local vegan community’s delight.

Debra was on hand to answer a few questions about her journey into retail and how she strives to develop her business as well as support talented fair-trade, vegan makers.

Debra, how long have you been vegan for and what inspired you to start your business Gatherer?

“I have been vegan for around five years now. I wish I’d done it sooner. I wanted to bring together all my passions – animal rights, fashion, skincare, food and talking to people. I love being social!”

Gatherer is a cruelty-free, fair-trade vegan retailer. Why did you want to enter the retail industry from this angle?

“It is my way to advocate for the animals in a gentle, but yet effective manner. I’m waving the flag saying ‘things can looks good, be fashionable, taste good and feel good and don’t need to involve any harm’.  It’s my way to advocate on a daily basis, but allow people to see things for themselves.”

You love fashion and you love style. Why do you love fashion and style, and what do these mean to you?

I like to look good; most of us do! Fashion and style for me isn’t about what’s on the cover of Vogue, although of course these great designers contribute to the latest styles. For me, fashion and style is about the representation of you, of me, of our inner selves expressed outwardly. We take what we see in the world, connect with some of it and feel yes, that’s me, that’s how I feel or that’s the image I want to project.”

Years ago, style and ethics weren’t always linked. Once upon a time, if you dressed ethically you would compromise on style and vice versa. Things are changing in this respect. What are the main changes you’ve noticed during your time in ethical fashion?

“Like everything now, our eyes are more open and social media access has given us more knowledge about what really goes on; it is more public knowledge than ever before. The treatment of people and animals is definitely front and centre! Where we can and where it’s possible – people are making different choices based on this knowledge. As the need grows for fair trade and vegan goods, more products become available to fill those needs and from what I’m seeing most people want that to happen.”

Price is also a common – deciding – factor when customers consider shopping more ethically. How does Gatherer make ethical choices affordable and accessible to all?

“I have searched high and low on a global level and continue to do so daily for products that are affordable and fair-trade. I do all the leg work to ensure the website and store offers those choices at reasonable prices.”

Gatherer sells fashion, footwear, groceries, gifts, toiletries and more. How do you choose which products to stock and what are some of your bestsellers?

“The choices to start with were totally all based on what I like, use in my life and what I gravitated towards. I have my ears open and I am definitely evolving into what others love, need or look for. I’m learning so much everyday!

Gatherer is a representation of me whole-heartedly, it’s the only way I could start it, but I love change so it’s always changing and will continue to do so as I move into the next chapter. Best sellers — people love the fair trade fashion. The quality is obvious and the pieces are unique and it’s always nice to know everyone else won’t be wearing it. We stock a local vegan chef’s meals (Tucker To Table) and people love those for easy dinners and our other meal ideas as well in the freezer! The naughty corner is a big seller, all the chocolates and lollies.

Gifts as well – we have lots of lovely little gift ideas for people from jewellery, toys, kids/babies wear and more of those small pressie ideas. Gatherer is definitely getting known as a great place to find a unique gift. To be honest, it is a fairly even spread that’s what I love about it; variety.”

Do you stock all-Australian made products? If Gatherer supports local makers or overseas enterprises, how does Gatherer support local communities in a positive way?

“We stock food and fashion items made here and overseas. I love to support local small batch producers from here on the Sunshine Coast and Australia-wide. The meals I spoke of earlier are all local, our soaps and some skincare are made here on the Sunshine Coast. I love what we have here in Australia; there are so many talented and gifted artists and designers!”

Do you travel regularly to discover new products? If so, how important is travel to you when it comes to sourcing new products?

“Travel far way for me right now is hard. I run Gatherer all on my own so getting out can be tricky. I try to get around to as many local markets as I can and we are lucky enough to have a heap! That’s how I have found our soaps, skincare and more products coming. Internationally, I research everything online for now. I have Bali, Africa and India products and those are found online and word of mouth. I can’t wait to get over there though; I am planning a Bali trip for next year to meet more fair trade designers and the great vegan community there!”

You have a bricks and mortar store on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland as well as an online shop and you ship Australia-wide. Does your location affect your ability to source and secure stock during the current COVID pandemic? If so, how did your business adapt?

“I only opened in early February so, for me, I’ve been ok thus far.”

We can all create the type of world we want to live in by being mindful about our everyday choices. How important and how powerful can individual choices be (particularly here in Australia)?

“Every choice matters and every person can have a positive or negative effect on those around them. We can all contribute to change even if small steps! It’s about opening yourself up to the truth and that often gives us a reason to change and grow as a person.”

Where do you see the future of vegan retail?  

“Growing and growing and growing and I hope I get to continue on this journey for the long term! Very exciting! Gatherer is about to change things up; we will soon be serving coffee, vegan sourdough made here on the Sunny Coast and more yummy treats by our local community!”

To learn more about Gatherer and the full range of vegan and fair-trade products, visit the website. You can visit the Gatherer shop at 1 Howard Street Nambour Queensland 4560 Australia or shop online via the website if you’re within Australia. The physical shop’s operating hours are Tuesday to Friday 9am to 3pm and Saturdays 9am to 2pm.    

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