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Interview with Heather Doherty of the Vegan Police Shop

Heather

This week, we welcome Heather Doherty, creator of the Vegan Police Shop. Heather has been creating original vegan designs since 2011, such as the Ferocious Vegan bunny shirt many of us are familiar with, and recently celebrated her 20th vegan anniversary.

Heather was born and raised in East Vancouver. She grew up creating art and snuggling with her cat Poochie. As a teenager she spent her time skateboarding around the city and going to punk shows. She played various instruments and sang in a few underground bands. Heather became vegan at the age of 18 and felt politically motivated at the same time, participating in protests like the WTO in Seattle. She studied art and political science and spent her time between Vancouver and Toronto. After the birth of her son, she was drawn back to the west coast where she now works from her home studio. Heather is of Metis and Scottish descent and lives with her husband, two children, dog and cat on the Sunshine Coast in BC, Canada.

Tell us about your journey to becoming vegan!

I was one of those people who had a bunch of different events over a number a years before finally making the decision to go vegan. These events started at a young age, the first one being a very moving experience that I had at a zoo. I was looking at the animals and they all looked horribly sad and depressed and I felt like I was the only one that was seeing this. I couldn’t get their faces out of my mind and I still remember looking around thinking, “Is anyone else seeing this?”

Another incident that pushed me in that that direction when I was about 13. I was eating some take out from the lovely restaurant chain KFC. I took a bite out of a chicken’s thigh and a vein popped out and literally slapped me in the face. I vomited my guts out all the while realizing, oddly for the first time, that the chicken was killed because of me. I went Vegetarian from that experience and had a few others after that which slowly led me to veganism.

Mainly I credit the music I was listening to and my friends that I was hanging out with in the Punk/Hardcore scene in Vancouver. Listening to (non commercial) punk bands is actually really educational as far as politics and questioning the status quo. A lot of the bands that I was listening to at the time had songs about going vegan or not supporting the animal agriculture industry. Some of my older friends that I was hanging around with were vegan and that was the first time I had ever even heard of that term. It was at a punk show that I picked up a pamphlet on veal crates and finally went vegan. I was 18 at the time and had no idea what I was doing but still felt healthier than I ever had. November 25th of this year will be my 20th Veganversary!

How did the Vegan Police Shop get started?

VeganPolice had been brewing in my mind for quite awhile before it actually started. My husband bought me a basic screen-printing kit for my birthday about eight years ago and I completely fell in love with the process. Siobhan, from Cedar Row, wanted me to print some bags for her because they didn’t have any merch at the time and that really helped push me to get better. I made my first print which was a picture of a little calf that said “ only monsters eat babies “. I listed 2 shirts on Etsy and it snowballed from there.

I really had no idea that it would turn into an actual business for me.  In hindsight, I didn’t spend that much time on the name but it’s kind of a funny story as to why I called it that. I was working at a café at the time that was “vegan friendly”. The ladies that ran it , who were pretty funny actually, would come in and make themselves a (dairy) cheese sandwich and I would be minding my own business chopping veg or something. Then they would start saying “Oh the Vegan Police is here she’s going to slap this cheese sandwich out of my hand.” They would think it was hilarious and I would be like “whatever ha ha you guys are ridiculous.”  That’s when I started to realize that I had been too much of a closeted vegan over the years and maybe I should be doing something more for animals. I am not one to slap a sandwich out of someone’s hand ( has that ever happened? ) or freak out at people but I decided that I would actively speak up for animals from that point forward.

The vegan community helped me start this business and has enabled me to keep it alive throughout the years. I am so grateful to all the people that buy my shirts and help me keep it up! I am also very happy to be able to donate to people and animal rescue organizations. I would not be able to do that without this business so I am very appreciative.

What is your philosophy on materials you use for your shirts?

From the beginning of VPS I have made a commitment with myself to only use fair labour clothing made in the USA or Canada. I also only use water based inks, because plastic inks , which are standard in the industry, are incredibly toxic to the water system. I am really trying hard to move as much as possible to organic and will keep moving in that direction in the future.

What’s a go-to meal you cook for your family when short on time?

When we are short on time I usually just cook up some rice noodles and steam some veggies and tofu. My kids go so crazy for that, it’s kind of hilarious. My son is the one in the store going “ BOK CHOY OH YA!! “. He can’t hide how excited he feels about bok choy.

What kind of homemade treats do your kids get excited about?

My kids are very easy to please when it comes to treats! They get very excited when I make banana muffins. I love making those because you can really cut the sugar down when using bananas. They are great for school lunches too. 

Tell us about the vegan community in your area.

I live in a small village on the coast of BC where the main employment for people has been logging and fishing for generations so veganism is really not on the radar. However, there is one other vegan family living here and they have a son who is in the same grade as my son so that has been amazing. I think having two vegan families in such a small town has definitely brought awareness and it’s generally been accepted.

We have had a lot of people approach us with questions about baking, or what we eat for breakfast, that kind of thing. It’s amazing that about half the time we go to birthday parties, the parent has made vegan cupcakes so that our children can be included. If they don’t feel comfortable making them, they let us know and to me that’s a great thing. Just to have people thinking about it and accepting it is so great.

We can get basic veggie sushi here but the next closest restaurant with vegan food is 45 minutes away. We have the basics at the grocery store here but nothing fancy. I do a lot of cooking and when we go to Vancouver we basically just eat the whole time. I like it out here though because the living is very “slow”. There is not much to do so we spend a lot of time in the forest or at the beach and I feel like I have the space and time to be creative.

What’s you’re creative process when designing a new shirt. What inspires you?

My goal, when coming up with a new shirt design, is to create something that hasn’t been done before. If it has been said, I stay away from it. It’s hard coming up with something original sometimes but when I do, it usually just pops into my head and then I just draw it. Some of the stuff I have come up with like ‘Ferocious vegan’ for example , I really didn’t think people would “get”.

It’s really nice when you create something and it’s embraced by other people. When I think of what inspires me, the first thing that comes to mind is the needless suffering of millions of animals. I think of what I can do or say to somehow alleviate some of that suffering. I am also heavily influenced by the screen-printed political shirts that I used to see at underground punk shows back in the 90’s.

Another thing that has always inspired me is the boldness of North West Coast first nations artwork, which I was surrounded with growing up. We had these huge prints of powerful animal figures all around my house. The intensity of the animals in that imagery is so stunning and dreamy. I felt like those images really evoked the importance of animals early on in my life.

What are you reading right now?

The last books I ordered were ‘Comfort Eating with Nick Cave’ and ‘Defensive Eating with Morrissey’. Both of which are amazing and have really cool art and simple recipes.

What advice do you have for someone considering starting a vegan business?

Start with good intentions and don’t falter. Be original. Focus on your impact and give back to the vegan community to help it grow. Remember that this is not just about animals, health and environment but it is about breaking out of the status quo. So, the more we get out there, the easier it is for people to accept it as a normal way to live.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I am always working on new designs and looking for more creative ways to get the vegan message out there. As I find time, I am going to do more blogging. I have a few children’s books that I would love to create one day. I will also start doing some other politically motivated art work. We are headed towards uncertain times faster than expected and we all need to push harder and become more politically active. We need to see that different forms of activism are all interconnected. Big oil, racism, homophobia, rape culture, colonialism, and speciesism are all seeping out of the same cesspool.

When I went vegan, something changed in me. Not just physically but I felt a stronger connection to nature and more at peace within myself. People like to give vegans a hard time for even mentioning their food choices but what it really comes down to, is the fact that it makes you feel great. You want your family, friends and community to feel great too. We all have a lot of power when it comes to our food choices. Each of us can have a huge impact and I want to continue working on getting that message out there.

 

Remember that this is not just about animals, health and environment but it is about breaking out of the status quo. So, the more we get out there, the easier it is for people to accept it as a normal way to live.

 

Thank you to Heather for answering our questions and sharing her story.

Have any comments or questions for Heather? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Learn more about Heather’s designs on her site at veganpoliceshop.com and on Instagram @veganpoliceshop and Facebook

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One Response to “Interview with Heather Doherty of the Vegan Police Shop

  • I have known Heather for half my life and can honestly say she has shaped who I am more than anyone else.
    I’m so happy to see her in a position where she can share her talents and passions with others as well. Thanks for sharing this story.

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