Hannah Jones is the brains behind The Vegan Box, Australia's first Vegan subscription box that hand-picks and delivers cruelty-free products directly to your door each month. I was lucky enough to meet Hannah during my days of The Lush Scoop Magazine, and after collaborating on a few small projects and bonding over a variety of shared interests, we quickly became good friends. Knowing Hannah as I do now, on a more personal level, I can say that she is one of the most driven, kind-hearted and generous humans I know. I am so happy to be sharing this conversation with you all, an intimate one, between two friends, along with snippets from her partner Trent, and Jiji the adopted cat.
A: So I’m really excited about this conversation because not only do you already have a booming vegan business, but you’re also about to release a new vegan brand! Before we get into all of that though, how are you?
H: I’m good! Cold, but good, thanks. How are you?
A: Oh, you know, I’m good, thanks. What did you have for breakfast?
H: I had a Thai tofu scramble, which was delicious.
A: What do they put in it to make it Thai?
H: It had lemongrass, coriander, lemon… it was really good.
A: Ooh, that sounds amazing!
H: Oh and it had fried shallots on it too, and chilli–it was delicious.
A: I really want to go there now! (Pearl Oyster)
H: That’s really good, and the Tokyo roll with smoked tofu is really good too.
A: Yum! I’m keen. Ok, so describe a bit about who you are.
H: I … am… a … scatterbrain! That would be the first thing that comes to mind.
A: That’s a really good description actually; I might use that for myself if you don’t mind (laughs).
H: (laughs) Yeah! I’ve got lots of good ideas, lots of plans and they usually all happen at the same time in my brain–which means that I don’t sleep very well. Yep. That’s where I’m at, at the moment.
A: What about your family life?
H: Well I grew up in Tassie; I’ve been living in Melbourne for almost 10 years now after a little stint in Northern NSW where I studied Naturopathy at Uni. Then I came down here and after a few years I met Trent.
A: Oh I didn’t realize you studied all the way up there!
H: Yeah so I left Tassie straight after grade 12 and I moved up to Lismore, I did 4 years there and I was in Brisbane for a couple of months because I thought I wanted to move there.
A: How did you meet Trent?
H: Well I moved back down here and a few years later, while I was at Falls Festival, I met Trent and it just so happened that we were both living in Melbourne. We got engaged 6-8 weeks later and then we moved in together and got a cat!
A: Jiji the cat!
H: Yes! I’ve mostly worked in private clinics and health food stores in Melbourne, and then 3 years ago I just decided to start a subscription box as a side project.
A: Tell me more about how The Vegan Box came to be?
H: I decided to start The Vegan Box because there were only 2–or so–subscription boxes in Aus at the time, and I thought it would be great to give people a cruelty-free option. I started it from the lounge room, and then it moved into the spare room, and it’s moved into 3 different sized warehouses since then.
A: How would you describe what you do for work now?
H: Which one (laughs)?
A: Any, all.
H: I work as an account manager for a health food distributor part-time, and I work on The Vegan Box part-time as well–sourcing new products takes up most of my time with TVB–Trent helps me pack, as do friends and family. I’m also in the process of developing a new range of cruelty-free cosmetics.
A: What would you say your title would be?
H: Umm, Veganpreneur? Naturopath, Vegan business owner. (laughs)
A: Was The Vegan Box your first business venture?
H: No, I had two businesses before that. One was called Tram Friends, I worked with a friend doing a lot of craft markets, we would sell badges, necklaces and things that we made, crochet scarves and what not. I also had an online business called Let Food Be Thy Medicine, which was an online health food shop, so I guess that was the beginning of The Vegan Box–where I started figuring out how to source products. These-days there are so many online retailers for super-foods and things like that.
A: I can imagine it would be competitive?
H: Yeah, at the time it wasn’t so much. There were big nutritional supplement and protein stores, but there wasn’t really anyone bringing in super-food stuff from the States.
A: So it went well?
H: Let Food went ok, but I didn’t really have much to separate me from what other people were doing.
A: Do you mean it wasn’t niche enough?
H: Yeah and at the time I was really into the raw-food side of things, so it was all focused on that. These-days that’s all sort of changed as well, people are realizing that maybe not everyone can live on a raw food diet.
A: Yeah, ok. What would you say your aspirations were when you were young?
H: I was going to mention that earlier actually, the first business I had was when I was about 10 years old and I made gingerbread men for a craft shop in Sheffield, Tasmania. (laughs)
A: (laughs) That is ridiculously cute.
H: My Mum used to drop them off once a week. I think I made 50c per gingerbread man or something. I spend a whole day icing them, I probably made $20 a month but at the time that was really good.
A: That’s amazing for a 10 year old. I made $2 a week from doing my chores I think.
H: That’s good though!
A: Enough for some hot chips and bag of lollies from the corner store (laughs).
H: I thought ‘wow I’m going to be a gingerbread man maker when I grow up’ (laughs). In high school I always wanted to work with animals and I thought I’d end up doing something like Environmental Science, Zoology or Veterinary Science but that didn’t happen because I was told I wasn’t good enough at science.
A: No way! I wasn’t good at science in High School, but then when I decided I wanted to study Health Science and I went great.
H: Yeah! I had to do physics, chemistry and biology for Naturopathy anyway. I might not have gotten into Veterinary Science but that wasn’t my focus anyway I wanted to do something like Wildlife Conservation–so I guess that’s Environmental Science. A few weeks ago I looked into studying it now, and then I realized it was 4 years full-time.
A: That’s what throws people off study isn’t it. You think ‘how can I survive for 4 years while studying full-time’.
H: It also said that the employment opportunities after graduation were ‘volunteering at an animal sanctuary’ (laughs).
A: Oh man. Bizarre. Did you ever picture yourself where you are now?
H: No, not at all. When I was at uni, I thought about opening an inner city retreat/massage/naturopathy clinic, but that seems so far removed from where I am and where I want to be now, I can’t imagine…
A: Do you think you would be unhappy if you had followed that path?
H: Yeah. Absolutely.
A: How do you get yourself up and into action each day?
H: Jiji usually (laughs).
A: (laughs) Ahh yep, I’ve experienced that.
H: She’s my 5am wake up call. She breaks my rapid eye movement deep sleep and then I start realizing that it’s about that time. I have to be really strict when my alarm goes off because if I don’t get up then I just don’t get enough done in a day. It’s just constant emails, I always feel like I’m running slightly behind with responding to them.
A: Well there’s only so much you can do as a sole business operator.
H: Yeah. That’s the thing–I’m not ready to hand something like emails over to anybody, because that’s the face of the business.
A: I totally understand that, because it’s not coming from you anymore.
H: I’d be heartbroken if somebody responded to an email in a way that I wouldn’t want to deal with a situation. So I’m not quite ready to hand that side over to anybody at the moment.
A: Yeah. I think it makes sense for a business owner to want to control that side of things.
H: When I first started I wanted to be really anonymous, it actually scared me having people direct emails to me whether it was a compliment or a complaint. These-days I would hate for that reply to be anonymous.
A: Because you feel like the business has grown and is shaped around your morals?
H: Yeah, and you take ownership of every action within the business. I’m not a control freak…
A: I think that anyone who’s created a small business understands wanting to control that, it’s not necessarily a ‘control freak’ thing, but it’s your own creation so you’re going to feel attached to it.
A: How do you maintain a positive attitude?
H: I think I could count on one hand the amount of times that I’ve had to deal with an uncomfortable or awkward interaction through the business. I get a heap of emails throughout the day from people that say really nice things and I guess that gives me motivation to keep doing what I’m doing. I think living in Melbourne makes it a lot easier than it could elsewhere in Australia–I mean crappy things are happening in the world, like the gorilla that was shot, the tiger temple where they found those baby cubs in the freezer, all of this stuff is going on–but in Melbourne you’ve also got this amazing community, like the vegan food truck weekend, where you can just turn up and know that you’re around your people.
A: Even though the gorilla being shot is horrible, it’s just one thing that happened, and was broadcasted all over the world.
H: Yeah and it’s bringing light to the situation. The number of people I saw who aren’t even vegetarian or particularly conscious about that sort of thing, are now saying that for the first time they realize that zoos are inappropriate in this day and age.
A: Exactly, it took something like that to make people wake up a little bit, which is sad, but I suppose there is a positive to that. So describe your perfect day.
H: Perfect day would be Jiji sleeping in until at least 7am (laughs), breakfast somewhere that has lots of avocado and lots of coffee, no emails coming in…
A: (laughs) No-one emails you that day.
H: No one! And then in the afternoon I get to read a book and listen to records and drink a glass of wine, and eat a vegan burger or something. So mostly just food, and coffee…. (laughs)
A: And alcohol and music! (laughs) I like that. I also like that you didn’t mention people at all.
H: Oh no I don’t like people. People are emails–they’re the same thing aren’t they?
A: People are obstacles (laughs). How do you handle criticism within the business?
H: I think it’s really important to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so sometimes a criticism or a complaint can seem like something that’s completely irrational or doesn’t make any sense to you, but if you try really hard to understand what they’re talking about and why they’re upset it’s a lot easier to deal with. I also believe that 99% of the time you can turn a criticism or a complaint into a repeat long-term customer, depending on how you manage the situation.
A: Totally, so if you can understand them, fix the problem, and respond in a positive way, they can end up appreciating you more.
H: And wanting to support the business ongoing rather than a one off ‘oh well, have a refund’ type thing. There’s a message in there as well, I mean, you learn from it. Like I said it’s very rare that I’ve had to deal with that, but when I have it’s actually changed the way I do things in future.
A: Are you creatively satisfied?
H: Yes. Very much so.
A: Oh good! I like hearing that answer. It’s not very often that people say yes.
H: I think especially before when I used to do craft for the markets, I was always searching for a creative outlet but I was never really good at… well–I cant draw, I’m not a good sewer, I cant knit but there’s creativity in there–it’s just about finding the right outlet. Once you find it, it’s quite easy to feel satisfied, but like I said, I do fill up every spare moment trying to do more of that. You would be exactly the same.
A: Yep, totally.
H: I don’t have an art medium as such… but I feel like I do get to be quite creative with what I do.
A: Who inspires you?
H: So many people. There isn’t an individual that comes to mind straight away when I think about inspiration, some people would name artists and things…
A: Oh yeah, I could be here for hours listing mine.
H: Yeah. But I guess my inspiration comes from the sadness and the violence in the world. That inspires me.
A: To be the counter of that?
H: Yeah. There’s not really a person, there’s just too many. I could say Trent inspires me because he’s so solid when there are things that happen that I wouldn’t be able to cope with. Or Jiji inspires me because she still loves people after being treated really badly by humans, or my Mum inspires me because she had a really bad childhood–you know, all those sorts of things.
A: Oh hello! (Greets Jiji who enters the room)
H: (laughs) Jiji!
T: She must have known you were talking about her.
H: There’s so many people that we know, who have all been through things, but at the end of the day the inspiration for living and doing life the way that I’m doing it comes from the opposite of that.
A: Were there any people in your life who helped you to get to where you are now with your businesses?
H: Yeah definitely. Well I couldn’t do it without Trent, also my parents. From a really young age I was–like I said earlier, selling my gingerbread men–but also my Mum would let me busk on the street, even though I was terrible at guitar and a terrible singer, she would drop me off and allow me to do it.
A: People would have loved to see someone young just giving it a go though.
H: Yeah. I think that’s the thing, she always knew that…
A: She was supportive.
H: Yeah she was really supportive. There are lots of other people too; my friends and family are all really supportive.
A: Did you have any mentors that helped you with shaping the businesses, people that you would turn to for advice?
H: I guess Adele (Vegie Head) has helped me a lot, we both sort of started out around the same time. As far as dealing with tricky customers and things like that, she’s quite outspoken and doesn’t hold back when something pisses her off, so to hear that someone else is also going through those same frustrations, it makes you realize that it’s normal.
A: What is success to you?
H: Success is going to bed at the end of the day and feeling as thought you’re making a living for yourself, but not so much on a monetary level. Obviously that helps–making enough money to live comfortably–but knowing that you’re doing something that feels good to you, that isn’t hurting anybody else and that is helping or inspiring someone else.
A: So success isn’t just about the individual, it’s bigger than that.
H: Yeah I think it has a ripple effect, I don’t feel like I would be successful if it was something that only I benefited from, it has to be involving the people or the community around me.
A: Or if it was directly hurting someone or something else…
H: Yeah that’s not successful, that would feel like shit. You’re like me in that way, it’s a Libran thing as well. I can’t sleep if I know that I’ve upset–or even if I feel like I might have said something that someone interpreted wrong. I’ll bring it up like a month later after I’ve been wondering how to for so long, and they say…
A: ‘what are you talking about?’ (laughs) I’ve been there.
H: I freak out about it! The number of times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and said to Trent ‘I feel so bad about this thing that happened’ and he’ll say sleepily ‘don’t worry about it’. It’s a Libran thing–I’ve got other Libran friends who are exactly the same. One of my friends Laura will call me about something she’s said to me weeks ago and say ‘I just realized how much that must have upset you’ and I have no idea what she’s talking about it.
A: Have your thoughts on success changed over the years?
H: Probably, yeah. When I first I moved to Melbourne and started working, I had 4 jobs. I was working at a Health Food Shop, a Pharmacy, a Pizza shop and a Bar. At the time success to me was money, I had to make money, I had just moved to a city, I was 21, and I wanted to travel and do all of the things. I had a lot of fun but obviously that was exhausting and I also wasn’t doing work that made me feel good, so that has changed a lot.
A: Are you yearning for anything at the moment?
H: Um, more pets (laughs), a dog.
A: Yes get a dog! Then I can just visit your dog and I will be fulfilled.
H: More cats, I don’t know. Whoever wants to come and live with us can come and live with us. If they just turn up–as in a pet, not a person…
A: (laughs) Everyone will be showing up on your doorstep after they read this post.
H: (laughs) No–if any furry, feathered or scaly friend shows up on my doorstep it would be very well looked after for the rest of its life–I can guarantee it.
A: Oh that’s sweet.
H: I don’t think I’m yearning for anything else. I mean, I love holidays. I love travelling.
A: It seems like you get to do that a fair bit, so it’s probably not something you’re dying for.
H: That’s the best thing about having a business that’s once a month, you have time off peak.
A: Have you thought much about the future?
H: Yes and no. I don’t really know what my hopes and aspirations are for the future other than just keep on going and seeing what happens next. I’m very open to what happens next.
A: Plans always change too, I feel like we can disappoint ourselves by having set plans sometimes.
H: Yeah and I feel like the business will keep evolving and moving forward, maybe change into different things, I’m not sure. That’s exciting.
A: So tell me a bit about Hanami?
H: Ok, so when I launched TVB I didn’t launch The Beauty Box for about year after that. I didn’t have a business plan or anything, but over time I realized that the beauty boxes existing in Australia were non-vegan. In the States there were a few cruelty-free beauty boxes, which seemed to be a really fun way of finding cosmetics.
A: Yeah it’s a great way to find cosmetics!
H: I’ve always loved makeup and skincare. So I thought I’d try it as a once off box to see if people liked it, and it went really well. So I started doing it more frequently, but through that, over the last 2 years, I’ve realized how limited we are in Australia with cruelty-free products that are vegan but aren’t harmful for us. There are heaps of products coming over from the States and others being made here that are accidentally vegan–aren’t tested on animals–but on a production level they’re really bad for the environment and your health. So I thought, we seem to be featuring the same brands, which is great because there’s lots of products to choose from, but if I’m having to feature the same brands so many times over the course of a year in The Beauty Box, there must be a gap in the market that needs to be filled.
A: I feel like a lot of the vegan brands that are based in Australia don’t really have the styles that a lot of people are after.
H: They may be targeted at a more conservative group. I just think someone needs to make it fun. I really love the whole eco, green beauty aesthetic, but at the same time that’s not really me. I wanted to release something that I would see in a shop and want to buy. I just thought, if no one’s going to do it, then I’ll do it.
A: Yeah! Why not. I’m excited, so when do you launch?
H: Hopefully July 1st, that is the plan.
A: What will you be selling?
H: I’m launching with nail polish, so they’re non-toxic, free of the nasty chemicals that most are made from (7-free), made in Australia–a lot of the non-toxic nail polishes are made in the U.S or Europe. I’m launching with 6 colours and then a month later I’ll be releasing more–mascaras, blush and lipsticks.
A: I’m so keen on the lipstick, but I’m excited for all of it!
H: I’m excited too. It’s hard to think about what other people are going to like, because I like some really bright, out there colours.
A: I think a lot of people do, and there is that gap in the market–people will love them.
H: Yeah and they’re going to be fun as well. Green, eco, beauty–whatever you want to call it–doesn’t need to be so serious all the time. There’s definitely a market for that, but that part of the market is saturated, so why not do something different.
A: What do you value?
H: I value friendship and open, honest communication. No bullshit, no secret issues with people, no high-school attitudes that people seem to maintain into adulthood.
A: (laughs) yep, they do.
H: People do, don’t they! It’s so ridiculous, I just think ‘Really? Are we really still doing this?’
A: Yeah I’ve got no time for that anymore.
H: Yeah. I also value quiet time where there’s nothing happening. I can only think of one or two days over the last year where for the whole day…remember that day Trent where we just sat and read books for the entire day.
A: (laughs) Of course he remembers that!
H: It was just, so dreamy.
A: Yes that is a dream!
H: (to Trent) Do you remember that? We just sat here and read, and snoozed the whole day, and the guilt that I felt…it was worth it.
T: (nods and smiles)
A: Some days you’ve got to do it. Even now when I’m not working so much, if I just spent a day doing nothing…I’ve got constant errands to run, people to reply to, washing to do.
H: We’ll you’re the same because you’ve got so many projects on the side it’s not like you’ve just got one job that you need to turn up to, do for so many hours and then switch off when you get home.
A: Exactly. Do you have advice for others who may be where you were when you first started?
H: Seeing other people doing a similar thing or talking about starting a similar thing, to me that used to make me so anxious. I’d think ‘oh, why am I doing it then, I’m just going to pack it up and let someone else do it because I don’t want to compete’, it’s the worst feeling. If what you’re offering is a true reflection of your own originality and creative flow, then no one else will be able to copy that because it’s yours. If people are attracted to that, it’s because they like what you’re doing. Don’t worry about what other people do, they’ll come and go–there’s always going to be other people doing something similar. There’s no idea that’s original, but there’s original ways of …
A: Portraying an idea.
H: Also, its really easy to see through people after a while, things start falling away because they aren’t being genuine–they can’t keep that up. When you support small businesses these-days, it’s because you actually want to support the person behind them–it’s nice to see who that is and share that message.
A: I agree, when I was interviewing Adriana in her shop the other day, I couldn’t help but support her business by purchasing some things, and one of the things I bought was Accidental Discharge Magazine. I didn’t think twice about it, I want to support those women because they’re doing such great things.
H: That’s it! The people that don’t support you, they’re not your people. Your people will spend whatever the cost needs to be and support you no matter what.
A: Yes! Do you live by a philosophy?
H: No? Well… I guess so…I think it comes back to going to bed knowing that I haven’t intentionally harmed or hurt anyone and I can be happy knowing that I’m creating something that’s worthwhile.
T: Do No Harm.
H: I haven’t really thought about it though, have you thought about it?
A: Um, whoa. I think Do No Harm is a good one. I’ve got so many that I write down all the time, I don’t have one that I live by specifically, but whenever I see a good one I think ‘I’m going to try and be active with that’, I will for a while and then I’ll forget about it. I’m always trying. I think I’m similar to you in the way that I’m trying to be aware and conscious of myself and my actions, what I’m doing and eating, but also being productive and not falling into the trap of the ego. All of that! There’s so much.
H: Yeah! Were you going to say something Trent?
T: No, I was just interested in your response, it was very different to mine.
H: What’s yours?
A: Yeah tell us yours Trent!
T: (laughs) Well it’s a little bit of a ‘rage against the machine’. I like to rattle the cage...
H: I’m a pacifist though, you love confrontation…
T: I don’t love it; I just think it’s really important to fight for the things you believe in. I just don’t think the apathy that surrounds non-confrontational mindsets is productive; it allows forces that are counter opposed to take control in those circumstances. If you don’t stand up and say ‘here’s the line, don’t you cross it’ then people will walk all over you.
H: See I would love to be like that, but at the same time it’s so unnatural for me…
T: Yeah but your philosophy is kind of ‘lead by example’
A: Yeah that’s it!
T: …and hopefully something will change.
H: Yours is more ‘fighting for a cause’, and I would rather be like that, but it’s not in my nature. It’s not an effort thing, it’s a confrontation thing–I’ve never been able to deal with confrontation. Even when I was managing health food stores for example, if I had to fire someone, I would lose a week of sleep over it, where as Trent would be able to have a really comfortable conversation with someone, take them out for a beer, everything would be cool–they’d probably catch up the week later because he’s so good at explaining that to someone.
A: I try to hope that by doing the best I can, trying not to upset people, push people or hurt people, that the universe will return the favour. I don’t know if I believe in it, but I hope that it’s there.
H: Yeah, the whole Karmic thing. It can be hard to separate that from ego as well though.
A: Yeah totally.
H: You know like, is it a reward system that I’m playing with? I do the same thing.
A: I don’t imagine it’s a reward system, I don’t even like getting rewarded for things really, I feel guilty having things given to me most of the time.
H: But you hope that if you did something that was really helpful to someone else–I’m talking from personal experience–there’s part of me that also thinks, oh I hope they’re really appreciative of that.
A: Or that they see that there’s good in the world and it makes their day better, or maybe one day it will be returned to someone else around you, that ripple effect type thing.
A: Last question, do you have a reason for being?
H: Reason for being? No, I don’t (laughs).
A: The interesting thing about this project is–that question is essentially the project. I feel as though all of these people that I’m sharing are portraying the Art of Being, and every single person I’ve asked has hesitated. It makes me think I need to take the question out or change it because it’s a hard one to answer.
H: It’s a hard one.
T: But it’s a good question!
H: It’s a great question!
A: I feel like it makes people uncomfortable though.
T: Like you said, it’s the comparison between the picture that’s being displayed of the person and their reaction to the question, which makes it so good.
H: My initial reaction to it is–I’m pretty upset that there’s so many people on the Earth, so I feel like I am taking up valuable resources, time and space in the world.
A: No! You’re not at all. You’re one of the few people that are actively doing things that are benefiting animals, the environment, humans...
H: Even on a scientific level, I think, is there a reason to exist? …and, well, it’s just biology. I don’t believe that I am here at this time for a particular reason, but I grew up with a very Buddhist Mum and a very Atheist Dad. What you were saying about Karma, I want to believe that, but on a scientific level I’m not sure why I’m here and all I can do it try to live as closely to my ethos as I can, I guess.
For more information on The Vegan Box, head to the website: theveganbox.com
To stay in the loop about the release of HANAMI cosmetics, find them on social media: Facebook / Instagram: @hanami_cosmetics