Shari Black Velvet: How and when did you come up with the concept for ethical WARES?
Mike Newman: We’ve been running ethical WARES for about 15 years now. Seems even longer! We took it over from someone who set it up for a few years and was selling just two types of Vegan walking boots. We took it on from him when he moved to the USA with his then girlfriend, and have built it up to what it is today.
SBV: What had you been doing prior to ethical WARES?
MN: I had been a self employed gardener for some years and with my late wife had been very involved with animal rights campaigning. We saw ethical WARES as a logical progression of that. You can’t ask people to lead a more compassionate lifestyle if the alternatives aren’t there.
SBV: What was it like building up stock to sell initially? Was it daunting, not knowing whether you’d sell them or whether they’d sit there unsold?
MN: Well, we took out a small mortgage and borrowed some money from my dear old, and now much missed, Dad, to kick things off. Running any business is always a worrisome thing, and selling Vegan footwear, which you have to get specially made and made in fairly large quantities, has meant many sleepless nights over the years.
SBV: What background did you have regarding selling and having your own business? Have you had to read up much on the business side of things?
MN: No background in business. We have never really seen it as a ‘business’ anyway but as a means of promoting a more compassionate world. Our ‘business plan’ has really always been more instinct and conviction rather than anything more detailed. When you see nowadays so many companies going out of business that are run by professional business people, it does make you wonder anyway.
SBV: How do you go about choosing what items to sell in your store?
MN: Well after all these years we like to think we have some idea as to what our customers want. But going back to the instinct thing, we really choose stuff that we like ourselves, I can’t think of anything we sell which we don’t appreciate. And as it’s all Vegan, whatever we are selling will be making a statement that you can easily live you life in a humane way without having to make to many sacrifices.
SBV: What are some of your best sellers?
MN: We’ve always sold a lot of our walking boots which are worn all over the world. Also our sweat shop free Motion Sneakers have done very well.
SBV: Do you think the future lies with online stores rather than retail stores?
MN: I think in general terms it will be a mixture of both, but stuff like non leather footwear will never be really available in the high street (apart from cheap stuff from China) so for us it has always been mail order with most now being done online – although we make a point of not excluding people who choose not to use the web to shop on.
SBV: How do you cope when many people buy cheap items on ebay? Is it hard to keep prices competitive so you can sell but still make enough to live on?
MN: To be honest we don’t pay too much attention to cheap alternatives to anything we do. We could never compete with cheap Chinese goods or with the ebay sort of stuff, so we wouldn’t try to. We sell our products at a realistic price, we don’t make loads of money doing this, but you do have to pay for quality. There would be no point in us trying to show how easy it is to live a Vegan lifestyle by selling cheap products that didn’t last and weren’t comfortable.
BV: You set up www.fourdogsmusic.co.uk in 2006 and sell music mostly through that site, with just a few items being on ethical WARES. Do you listen to music much yourself and what are your fave artists?
MN: Four Dogs Music actually caters for non vegan music, the Music For A Better World section on ethical WARES only has Veggie/Vegan musicians in it. As great as animal friendly music is, there is a lot of good music around made by non Veggies or Vegans that we wouldn’t include on the ethical WARES site, hence Four Dogs. Like you, music plays a major part in our lives. It has the ability to move and inspire people in so many ways, I just couldn’t imagine a life without music. As for fave animal friendly artists, I was asked this in an interview the other day and said both Benjamin Zephaniah and Robb Johnson, who is a very political folk singer. Both have had long careers but have kept their principles intact. I am just getting back into the music of Jolie Christine Rickman. Jolie was a very radical singer/songwriter/activist from the USA who was blind for most of her life and then died at a tragically young age of ovarian cancer. She left behind a legacy of some great music and was certainly Veggie and I think Vegan.
SBV: The music you sell ranges from P!nk to Eastfield. Again, how do you go about picking and getting CDs to sell?
MN: Well like the stuff we sell through ethical WARES, the music we stock is either music that we play ourselves or made by musicians whose principles we admire. It’s very inspiring being in touch with musicians from all over the world with whom you share some common principles.
BV: Being an ethical store what are the things you definitely WON’T sell?
MN: Anything that contains any animal products or has been animal tested. And anything that has been made in China. Free Tibet and long live the Dalai Lama!
SBV: You’re planning on launching Four Dogs Music Distribution. What should musicians/bands do if they are interested in having their music distributed by you?
MN: We are always pleased to be in touch with any bands or musicians that take an interest in either politics or animal rights. So if there are any like-minded souls reading this, please drop us a line.
SBV: You look after an amazing number of 50 rescue animals at your home base in Ceredigion. Tell us about some of the animals you have and how you ended up looking after so many.
MN: Well the income from ethical WARES goes towards looking after the animals. We’ve got some sheep, pigs, goats, horses, Aunt Dotty the cow and then the cats, dogs and rabbits. We heard that Carla Lane was struggling financially last year and was looking to re-home some of the animals from her sanctuary so we took some sheep, goats, rabbits and Jeremy the horse – a beautiful horse but not a name we would have chosen! Aunt Dotty was destined for the slaughter house as she had become barren and was therefore of no use to the people who had previously kept her. Two of the pigs kept escaping and again were literally en route to be slaughtered when they arrived here. Two of the goats were the result of over breeding and yet again were destined for the slaughter house. It doesn’t really matter what an animal looks like, but they were just so pretty. All the animals really have the same depressing story of their ‘owners’ deciding they weren’t wanted anymore for various reasons and then deciding to callously get rid of them.
SBV: How do you manage looking after so many animals? Does it ever get tough?
MN: It is very tough and very demanding. They take up most of our free time, energy and money. But what can you do? We didn’t consciously decide to take most of them in, but when an animal comes to your attention and is in trouble, you can’t just walk away.
SBV: Besides Four Dogs Music Distribution, what other things do you have planned for the future? What can we expect from you, ethical WARES and Four Dogs Music in the future?
MN: Well the current economic conditions don’t exactly encourage great expansion at the present time! So we are still bringing in new lines with ethical WARES and a lot more good music for Four Dogs. There’s such a lot more we want to be able to do but it is a time to be cautious. That doesn’t come easy for me as I still tend to get excited about bringing in new product, but needs must! We are though working on a new website for ethical WARES which we hope will come online throughout the Summer. Life never stands still for us, it is a more than full time job running the two businesses, looking after the animals, enjoying watching our little boy Bryn developing. But despite the limits on our time and finances we will also be striving to look for more ways to promote our ethics in any way we can.
SBV: Looking at Four Dogs Music, you have all sorts of categories for the music you sell including ‘politics and struggle’. How do you imagine our world becoming, politically? Can we look forward hopefully to a brighter future or do you see it becoming (more of) a struggle for us?
MN: I do tend to see things in a fairly political way! It is hard though to be too positive about how the world will develop politically at present. In the midst of the biggest economic crisis we will probably ever see in our lifetime, there seems no real debate about the need to change the economic system we live under, which caused this crisis in the first place. Politics and politicians have been seen to be failing and corrupt in the UK and beyond, and the BNP have attracted enough support to get two MEPs elected. Yet there seems no real desire for fundamental change other than the cosmetic nonsense that comes from the body politic. As with the scale of animal suffering, politically things are so bad all you can really do is keep plugging away and do what you can in your everyday lives to make the world a better and more equal place in anyway we can. ‘Human rights, animal rights, one struggle one fight’ was never more important.
Visit www.ethicalwares.com and www.fourdogsmusic.co.uk for more info.