If you follow me on Instagram, you may have recently seen this post of mine when I participated in The Tree Kisser’s acts of kindness challenge.
After my post, Jessica Schlueter (creator of The Tree Kisser) got in contact with me, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask her a few questions about her small business. Over the past year, my husband and I have tried to be very conscious about where our dollars go. We realized that every time we buy something, we are not only creating a demand for that product but essentially we are voting for the business we are buying from. We are voting yes for their product, their morals as a company, their practices, and upon realizing this we wanted to make sure we gave our money to people who create great products but do so ethically. One of those businesses is The Tree Kisser.
The Tree Kisser is a charitable clothing line, part of the proceeds of each sale go towards helping different charitable causes. Jessica is nice enough to send these notes telling you how much your purchase helped. That’s a big difference from just buying a shirt from Forever 21, am I right?
(This picture was taken in Okinawa with my good friends Carola and Naoko, buying vegan cookies supporting “We Love Okinawa’s Neko”, a small group of people helping the huge amount of stray cats in Okinawa get food, medical care, and homes.)
Without further babbling, I give you my interview questions and Jessica’s wonderful answers.
Q: What prompted your decision to start The Tree Kisser clothing line? Has it always been a dream of yours?
A:The clothing line honestly started on a bit of a whim. Last July, my uncle tragically and unexpectedly passed away, leaving the software company he founded without a CEO. My boyfriend, Chris, who had zero software experience but a lot of knowledge about running various types of companies, offered to step in while things got back on track. This meant both of us stopping work on the various projects we had going in California and moving to my hometown of Denver for six months. Chris was working 24/7 on the software company, so I was spending my days alone, feeling a bit directionless. I spent a lot of time writing for my blog and working on activism through social media. I was growing an Instagram following and gaining the opportunity to discuss important issues, but I was really craving an actual project. For quite a while, I’d been dissatisfied with a lot of “message apparel” out there, feeling much of it was either too aggressive for my style or too unfashionable. I’ve always had a desire to make activism (whether it be for animals, humans, or the environment) “cool”, for lack of a better word, and at some point I realized creating my own clothing line was the perfect opportunity. As soon as I started brainstorming and planning, I was hooked.
Q: Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?
A: So many places. Honestly (I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this in writing), I had consumed quite a few glasses of wine the night I came up with the “Kale-Afornia Girls” concept. I was riding home (with a designated driver, of course!) from my boyfriend’s office party, and I just said it out loud. Everyone in the car loved it, so that’s how I chose my first design! My most popular design since the beginning has been “Animals Are Not Fabric.” I’d come up with it and been using it as a hashtag on Instagram for quite a while, because I just really liked its bluntness. During a late night brainstorming session, it was my brother who actually came up with “Wear Pink Not Mink”!
I use the Notes app on my computer and my phone to write down ideas as I have them. If I’m unsure of an idea, I can look back on it weeks or months later with fresh eyes. It’s hard to know which ideas will connect with people and which won’t. I actually didn’t think “Animals Are Not Fabric” would do very well, and I thought “Wake Me When Jon Stewart Is President” would sell out immediately. I was very wrong in both cases. I just try to remind myself to design for me, not for what I think other people will like, because that’s the only way to keep it fun.
Q: Part of the profits from your line goes towards charity, are there any charitable causes that are especially important to you?
A: I could go on for pages about all the incredible non-profits I respect. It’s so hard for me to choose which organizations to donate to, because there are so many in need and so many doing exceptional work. I’ve been involved in animal activism for about seven years now, and one of the rewards is having had the opportunity to meet so many inspirational, selfless, creative people on the front lines of animal advocacy. I just tried so many times to start a sentence with “the cause most important to me personally is,” but I really can’t choose one! I’m passionate about any organization that spreads awareness about factory farming, that coordinates protests against exploitative companies, that facilitates rescues from shelters, the provides plant-based foods to homeless animals and/or humans, or basically that works to combat society’s institutionalized animal abuse in any way! Every organization I’ve been able to donate to through The Tree Kisser (the full list is here: lipanimalfund.wordpress.com) deserves all the support in the world.
Q: You yourself are vegan, is your line 100% vegan as well?
A: The materials used in my production and shipping are absolutely all plant-based, cruelty-free, and as environmentally friendly as possible, but I shy away from using the word “vegan” to describe almost anything these days! Not because I have any problem with the concept of abstaining from animal exploitation, of course, but mostly because I worry that people who aren’t vegan might assume I have nothing to offer them. On the contrary, I have some designs that have absolutely nothing to do with animals or even activism at all, but they do still generate donations for the non-profits I work with. I’m actually in the process of writing an excruciatingly long blog post about all my thoughts on the word “vegan”; hopefully I’ll finish that up within the month!
Q: What has been the best part of the process of starting your line?
A: I’ve had a lot of “life plans” and started a couple businesses in the past, and the only consistent theme among them is that I’ve always wanted to do something I enjoy that simultaneously helps others. I’m so thrilled that I’ve found a way to do this. The absolute best moments come at the end of each fundraising session, when I get to tally up the donations and give them to an organization I respect. I get giddy every time I click that “send” button!
Q: Is running a small business like yours stressful at times, and do you feel it’s worth it?
A: I’m someone who unfortunately gets stressed very easily, so yes. I have an irrational fear of upsetting people, so despite the fact that I’ve only had one or maybe two vocally unhappy customers out of the thousands of orders I’ve sent out, I’m constantly worried about letting people down. There are definitely days when everything seems to pile up at once- I have 50 orders to send out, I accidentally miscount the inventory and sell someone a shirt I don’t have in stock, I run out of packing tape 30 minutes before the post office closes, I get a letter in the mail reminding me my state taxes are overdue, etc. In times like these, I am SO grateful that my business has a greater purpose than just the bottom line. If it were just for my personal profit, there’s no way I would get through the tough times. When I need a pick me up, I just think about the non-profit I’m fundraising for and remind myself that each order I’m working on, regardless of how complicated it might be, is generating a donation that will impact the lives of exploited or abandoned animals. Picturing the face of a death row shelter dog who will be rescued thanks to money I send that pays his adoption fee helps me get over my temporary, silly problems pretty fast!
Q: What are your hopes for the future of your business? Any plans to go into retail?
A: I’m in a really exciting time right now as I’m preparing to launch my new designs that, for the first time, are being printed on garments specifically manufactured for me in a factory in LA! Previously, I was printing on garments purchased wholesale from other suppliers, which meant I had to choose from their colors and their specific garment styles. I’m able to have much more creative control over the process now, which is huge for me. I definitely plan to start working with retailers now! I’ve had a lot of lovely people approach me over the past year, but until this step I wasn’t really ready. I still have so much to learn about this industry, but the education process is a rewarding adventure.
As for the longterm future, my answer to this question changes by the day. I have so much fun with what I’m doing right now, but I definitely want to branch out into more. I didn’t grow up with a passion for fashion design, I grew up with a passion for making the world a better, more compassionate place for human and non-human animals. The clothing line is how I’m choosing to do that right now, but I absolutely have other ideas in the works!
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the post. A big thank you to Jessica Schlueter for taking time to answer my questions and for making such an awesome clothing line, plus setting the example for what small businesses should be. Her new line just debuted, which you can check out at her website http://www.thetreekisser.com.
Also a big thank you to my friend Erika, who is the reason I originally found out about The Tree Kisser! Thank you for letting me use your photo Erika!
You can find Erika on Instagram, @peacelovevegan.
And lastly, thank you to my readers, whoever you people are! I am thankful for you and for this blog that I get to share with you! 🙂