Shari Black Velvet: Most animal rights bags with a message are cotton carriers, while yours are proper bags that are very sturdy and durable. You even use chains as part of the strap. How did you decide on the materials to use and what do you think your bags have that cotton carriers etc don't?
Candy Brown: I actually set out to design ONE bag for myself. But I could not decide which design to use, I simply had too many ideas and thought why not make more than just one for myself, why not make a lot of bags, sell them and donate the money to animal charities? I had always donated to charities as much as I could, but felt this would open the door to even more giving. I was hanging out with a buddy in Vegas that night and I told him, "I’m going to start a bag line and make this design first!" It was the Whips & Chains design, sketched out on a cocktail napkin. To totally answer your question, I chose the materials that I use on my bags purely for style. And Whips & Chains just had to have some metal chains going on! So honestly, the chains are there because the Whips design was my first creation.
SBV: Anne Chen works on making the bags. How did you find Anne (you mention Stephen Potter was responsible) and what exactly does she do?
CB: Funny how this happened. About 1 1/2 years after I was in Vegas talking all big about how I was going to start this bag line, well I had given up and was back to square one, which would be just making myself one bag. I had searched for someone, anyone, to make my bags but had absolutely no luck and no leads. There seem to be no manufacturers left in my country that can make even a prototype for less than $15,000 USD. Yes, that is what I was quoted by the only company that would even talk to me. They wanted 15 grand just to make a prototype! I literally had maybe half that much to make the whole line so I had given up hope for starting the Ringo & Co. line. (side note: Calico Dragon was initially called Ringo & Co. after my beloved little rescued kitty, but as things finally progressed with the company I found out that Ringo Starr had the name Ringo copyrighted worldwide.) So here I am leaving Vegas, again, and I almost miss my flight. As a result I have to sit front and center on the front row of a Southwest Airlines flight. Turns out I sit in between two men traveling to my home city to make a presentation on an apparel line one of them owns. I ask him if he can make bags/purses. He said "No, but I know someone who can." He passed along Stephen Potter’s email address and Calico Dragon was finally born. We spoke on the phone, he in China and me in America, and he said he asked himself what he could do to give back to a country that had been so good to him. His work had taken him to China about ten years prior to this, and he had found success living there. He is a sculptor by trade and by living in China and mass producing his works of art, he had found himself in a position where he could help others. He decided to help abused married women escape their abusive husbands and support themselves and their only child by producing small lines, like Calico Dragon. I was put in touch with Anne, who was in charge of putting our first order together. It took a little over a year from start to finish, very long process. But we finally received our first order and were just thrilled. All in all they turned out exactly as I had envisioned. Lily Hauer put our second order together and it too took about a year to produce. Our third set of releases was actually manufactured by a totally different company under the supervision of Mike Genung, who verifies all work is fair trade. We had to change manufacturers on the last order because we simply did not make enough bags this time to meet the girls’ minimum order requirements, we hope to raise enough funds to place a larger order next time though.
FYI -- I have received a lot of flack over my bags being made in China and other than not being able to find a manufacturer throughout the US and Mexico (yes I searched south of my border too), I feel that with China’s known disregard and widespread abuse of animals, it might do them good to SEE these messages on the bags they are making! Stephen said the girls did not understand the “Whips & Chains” message, but how can you not get the anti-fur designs? The issue of animal rights and welfare is an international matter, and I hope some of these messages hit home with the people in China too. I even received my first order that shipped back to China just last week, so that’s promising!
SBV: How long does it take to get an idea for a bag made into a bag and then on sale? What goes into the process from brain to bag?
CB: It takes a very long time. First, I visualize an idea based on a cause, then I submit my visualization on a number of rough sketches, which I send to my artist (who is brilliant) for a series of renderings to include four or five redraws before the final version emerges. We cannot get an order made without having at least five or six designs to make it worthwhile for someone to even manufacture the bags so we repeat this process several times! Basically we are lucky to get one order out per year. And once we sell out of a design we are pretty much sold out. Designs are rarely reprinted, and never remade in the same color/style -- which actually makes Calico Dragon bags a bit of a collector’s item.
SBV: When did you first get into animal rights and when did you decide you wanted to do something to help animals? I read that you went to a circus when you were around 10 years old and realised then that it was wrong.
CB: Yes, that is correct. I was roughly nine or ten years old and my aunt took me and my cousins to a circus. I saw a woman standing out front holding a sign that showed an elephant all chained up and it broke my heart. I knew then and there it was so, so wrong. I never went back to the circus, and I never took my daughter. She now understands why and vows her children will know about the circus and the reason why they will not attend one either. I also strive to be that woman holding a sign when the circus comes to town. If I can make a difference to one child out there then it is well worth it. I love seeing the looks on their little faces when they see those photos and the wheels start turning in their heads, you can tell when one of them really gets it.
SBV: What animal rights victory that has taken place in the last year or so are you most happy about?
CB: I am thrilled about the $270,000 fine imposed on Ringling Bros. Circus. Although it is just all the cost of doing business for them, this is the largest fine ever imposed on a circus company and that is worth celebrating. The most important thing that came out of it was the fact that mainstream media picked it up, it was all over the news! That has to influence the way people feel about animals in the circus industry. I would love to see the HR 3359 TEAPA bill (Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act) passed. This would greatly restrict the use of Exotic and non-domesticated animals in traveling circuses and exhibitions. I also hope to see S. 3061 passed which is a bill requiring state tiger registration and tracking of remains to prevent the illegal trade of tigers and their parts. H.R. 2210 is also being voted on by our government and this bill would ban the incomprehensibly cruel act of canned hunting. I know that more and more countries are banning the use of animals in circuses, including Greece just recently, and this is always a huge step forward. I am afraid the US is light years behind other countries when it comes to restrictions against big business based on the rights of animals and that is maddening. Animals do not vote therefore they have no voice in this country. It’s up to the people to demand change, I wish it would happen faster. Letting people know about the torture they are supporting is best at this point, sadly some do not care at all. I have no use for these people!
SBV: One of your new bags and our fave, the Boycott Animal Testing bag took a while to perfect. Tell us about that.
CB: This is a topic that I feel strongly about, the testing performed by cosmetic companies, among others, is brutal and I wanted to encourage people to buy cruelty free. I needed a design that would make them think about the torture they are supporting as they shop. From household cleaning supplies to cosmetics, skincare products, and the like, just by choosing certain brands you are contributing to needless suffering. But getting that message across was difficult. How do you stylishly portray a rabbit with chemical burns all over his body, a cat with electrodes shooting into his brain, or a primate hooked up to wires that purposely cause him pain? There is nothing stylish about these images. We had to come up with the right words to get this message across, paired up with animals that are widely used in testing labs worldwide. We asked around for ideas and were able to use one idea submitted to us by yourself (Shari Black Velvet) who came up with “Lives are Lost in Labs”, and for that we thank you. This bag also features a favorite quote of mine from Jeremy Bentham.
SBV: A lot of people don't think about the products they use being tested on animals. Lots of brands from cosmetics to toothpaste to soap and shampoo are tested on animals. What would you say to people that don't think about whether the products they use are tested on animals?
CB: A favorite quote of mine comes to mind here: “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight” - Albert Schweitzer. If you’re sincere about going cruelty free, then follow groups like the Leaping Bunny and PETA. Stay abreast of what company is doing what, you would be surprised at the wide range of products that are used to torment and torture animals. And don’t just boycott the product used for actual animal testing, best bet is to boycott the entire company if you really want to make a difference.
SBV: You give certain charities such as Animals Asia and Don't Bully My Breed proceeds from the bags. How do you go about that? Do you wait until you have raised a certain amount before sending them the money?
CB: No we do not wait until we have a certain amount. Our monthly donations are based on our sales for the month. Obviously some months are better than others. We also contribute to random emergency cases throughout the year over and above our regular monthly donations.
SBV: Which is your most popular bag?
CB: Whips & Chains.
SBV: You have one design on one side of the bag and one on the other, so the owner can switch depending on what they want to say. The only slight bummer is that sometimes both together make the best message and people in the street can only see one. What are your thoughts on that?
CB: I think Ugly People is the best example of this, but I think the Ugly People image on the bag speaks volumes even without the front message being visible. Some designs, like Great Memories, just needed a little clarifying which is how the back message idea came about. The front message is for people who can process clever thoughts, the back is for those who need something blatantly pointed out to them. Take for instance, Whips & Chains...
SBV: How do you feel when you see leather bags - or bags made of other animal materials?
SB: The fur bags are disgusting, those designers should be ashamed of themselves such as Jimmy Choo and Burberry, but leather is rampant. Shoes, bags, coats. I don’t wear it myself, but I used to, like most of us. I feel there are plenty of awesome faux leather bags out there and wish brands like Susan Nicole would get more exposure in mainstream department stores. They look awesome and they are devoted to creating cruelty free designer bags.
SBV: Besides buying directly from your site, how can people get your bags? You've had stalls at some events such as Northwest Vegfest, right?
CB: I normally attend the Animal Rights Conference in America each year, and I would love to attend the World Conference in Luxembourg but it is not within my budget. When I cannot attend shows due to financial issues, I like to find a charitable organization that will be attending and partner up with them to sell a few bags. This allows Calico Dragon to have a presence at a show, and by splitting the sales prices with the charity they can earn a few hundred dollars for their cause as well. It’s a win-win situation!
Visit www.calicodragonbags.com and order a bag or three NOW!