By Jacquie Surges
Faunapparel, a new Ottawa business, is out to prove that compassion is always in style. The brand, which launched on Valentine’s Day, specializes in t-shirts that sport a vegan message—all printed on sweatshop-free clothing.
The business was co-founded by Shannon Riley, 24, and TJ Nickerson, 26. As Riley puts it, the couple are “partners in life and partners in business.” An avid animal activist, she came up with the idea for the brand while looking to buy shirts for herself. “I wanted to wear a shirt that if someone passed me on the street, they could recognize right away what the message was,” Riley explains. “It would stand out and there wouldn’t be too much clutter.”
In her experience, many vegan advocacy shirts appear aggressive and busy. As Faunapparel’s designer, Riley aims to provide minimalistic, friendly design that sparks conversations about animal rights rather than alienating people. “By coming off as friendly first, it opens up a conversation on a really good note which is better for animals,” she says.
“It’s just really exciting to be part of something so good for everyone.”
The minimalist design of Faunapparel’s shirts is intended to make them versatile. “I want people to look good while advocating for animals,” says Riley. “With a plain, simple t-shirt you can dress it up, you can dress it down, you can punk it up, you can nerd it up. It’s really up to you. It’s that opportunity to really add your own flair and just feel comfortable in whatever you’re wearing.”
One unique facet of the brand is their commitment to print solely on sweatshop-free apparel. “We’re never going to support exploitation of humans when we’re trying to support freedom for animals,” says Riley. They are also committed to donating 10% of their sales to an animal rights group which will rotate every few months. Faunapparel is currently supporting Toronto Pig Save, a grassroots organization that focuses on bearing witness to animals on their way to the slaughterhouse.
Earlier this month, the pair ran a pop-up shop at the first anniversary celebration for Little Jo Berry’s, a vegan coffeeshop and bakery in Hintonburg. Nickerson explains that they had an outflow of support, with many people approaching them to say hi and buy shirts. “It was kind of a surprise, because you never really expect people to be like, ‘oh you’re here, that’s so awesome!’”
Beyond their customers, Riley and Nickerson have also found the business community in Ottawa to be very supportive of them as a start-up. “I think that’s one of the best things about Ottawa,” says Nickerson. “Everyone in every community is just super supportive I find.”
Faunapparel is supported by Shopify, another Ottawa-based business that has staked itself as a leader in e-commerce in recent years.
While the brand currently carries only t-shirts and crop tops, they plan to expand and start carrying other items, including sweaters and hats.
“It’s just really exciting to be part of something so good for everyone,” says Riley. “Good for animals, good for the environment, good for people.”