It’s never been cooler to go vegan in Melbourne

Mo Wyse and Shannon Martinez. Photo: Bonnie Savage

Mo Wyse and Shannon Martinez. Photo: Bonnie Savage

From Hollywood to Melbourne, veganism is shaping up as the hottest trend of 2017. Choosing a lifestyle free of animal products might once have meant munching on mung beans and having a closet full of hemp shoes, but suddenly it’s cool to go cruelty-free.

“The stereotype went from a dirty hippy to a tattooed hipster, so the image of veganism has really changed in the past three or four years,” says Justin Mead, the brains behind compassionate fashion brand Vegan Style.

Australia was the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world last year, according to market researcher Euromonitor International – and Melbourne has embraced the trend and run with it.

Our city offers a burgeoning choice of cool places to dine, shop and connect with fellow vegans.

Spearheading Melbourne’s changing face of veganism are Shannon Martinez and Mo Wyse, who put vegan cool on the map when they opened their Fitzroy restaurant Smith & Daughters in 2014.

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With its rock’n’roll vibe and Central and South American-influenced menu, the restaurant has attracted crowds of omnivores and carnivores, as well as vegans, since day one.

“People were ready for the mainstream-isation of vegan food, where you could have an amazing experience as well as having a really good dinner,” Mo says.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that they named their recently released recipe book A Cookbook (That Happens to be Vegan), or that the book has been named Amazon’s book of the month. Part of the book’s appeal, the duo say, is that the recipes are accessible to everyone.

“For us, it’s always been about making people super-comfortable with the whole idea of veganism, not making them feel out of place,” Shannon says.

FASHION

Upping the cool stakes are Vegan StyleVegan Wares and the world’s biggest vegan shop, The Cruelty Free Shop Melbourne. They offer a large range of vegan items, from food to footwear, accessories and personal care products.

Justin says looking stylish and living a vegan lifestyle are no longer mutually exclusive. He launched Vegan Style out of his home in 2010, selling ethically made shoes, handbags and accessories for vegan consumers online, before opening a bricks and mortar store on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, in January last year.

“You don’t have to sacrifice anything to be vegan,” Justin says. “You can live an ethical, compassionate lifestyle with as much interest in fashion and style as you had before.”

He says the vegan fashion industry is thriving largely because of this image overhaul. Revenue for his own business has doubled in the past year.

Justin’s line of women’s shoes, Zette, gives consumers a locally designed choice, but his brand’s strength also lies in its focus on stocking the hottest vegan shoe styles from around the world.

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FRIENDS

Want to learn more about veganism, but not sure where to start? Across town, a host of social groups offer vegans a place to chat with and meet like-minded people, as well as giving non-vegans the opportunity to learn more.

There’s Happy Fun Vegans Melbourne, The Melbourne Vegan Meetup Group and Vegans of Melbourne – even Melbourne Vegan Strength for fitness lovers.

When health science student Liam Davies became a vegan in 2015, he started going to Happy Fun Vegans Melbourne gatherings. He says joining the group proved to be a great resource.

“Everyone is willing to answer questions, and help with anything you need to know. They’ll connect you with websites or videos and books that will help.”

Liam says he learned a lot from the group, and found new places to go and different ways to make his new lifestyle choices easier.

“Go for it,” he says. “You’ve got nothing to lose. You can make friends with the same values as you and learn new things as well.”

FOOD

Melbourne is spoilt for choice when it comes to specialty vegan eateries, with places such as Supercharger, Matcha Mylkbar and sweet haven Mister Nice Guy’s Bakeshop attracting serious crowds.

But there’s also a growing list of places that offer quality vegan dishes alongside non-vegan fare. The Cornish Arms, Transformer and Raw Trader are all worth a try – and they’re only a small sample of what’s out there.

“If you don’t put a vegan dish on your menu nowadays, you’re basically saying that you don’t want to make money,” says Smith & Daughters’ Shannon.

The Alley in St Kilda offers fast and healthy vegan delights. Owner Alexandra Pyke wants to bridge the gap between devout vegans and everyday diners who are conscious about their food choices.

The former lawyer hit on the idea while living in the US. “I loved that you could eat food that is good for you and good for the planet, and is really tasty.”

First-time diners at The Alley might be forgiven for thinking they’re heading for instant cheat mode, because the menu features the likes of maple bacon burgers and mac ’n’ cheese.

But Alexandra says they are actually hearty, nourishing meals made from whole ingredients. “We try to make good meals that just happen to be vegan,” she says.

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