It’s a slow time of year.
The shop is slow because the weather has been unbearable, and mail order is slow because there’s no chocolate-holiday happening right now.
It’s been wonderful.
Without the pressure of a looming holiday I have time to work on long-term projects, train new employees more thoroughly, have days off, make food that takes more than five minutes to prepare. Heaven.
Easter is gently winking at us, still a bit down the line, with the promise of busy hands making endless bunnies and peanut butter eggs and cream eggs and all that, which means bills being paid without even looking at the available balance and setting aside a little extra to pay off debt and maybe a nice treat night out in NYC, too. It’s a balanced life, in its unbalanced way, this one. Weeks of nonstop work followed by breathing. I’ve come to crave each cycle: the crush and the release.
We’re just going for it these days, saying yes to most things.
I used to think a lot about saying no.
I created this job to have a nice life, not to make a ton of money. I’m sure the former would lead somewhat to the latter, in some ways, but I don’t trust myself to find out. Better not to tempt it. I have a nice life now.
I can pay my student loans, my car’s paid off, my cats have food, so do Jacob & I, our mortgages for the house & the building the shop’s in will get paid down in time. Got a little credit card debt & some loans from some business expansion, but I’m paying it off fast.
If iI were the only person working at the shop, I’d keep things just where they’re at with the business forever. The capitalist decree to endlessly expand is sickening to me, seeing as It’s precisely what’s got our planet and so many of its inhabitants into such a pickle right now: ecosystem counting down the seconds until collapse, so many of us trapped by debt or obligation into unfulfilling jobs, leaning on developing nations to provide us with cheap commodities and services with built-in hidden costs that would break your heart fifty times over if we could see the realities of their production.
Endgame capitalism, nihilism writ large: not my thing.
Because I started the business in order to live a good life, a life in line with these beliefs, it’s been tricky, at times, to decide when to say no to things. Making money is a game, and I can’t deny I like playing it. It’s about being smart: minimizing risk, working efficiently. Efficiency gives me deep pleasure. Finding ways to coax a profit out of a raw material that costs more than gold and takes endless hours of labor to create is a riddle I always enjoy solving. It’s hard not to jump at every opportunity we can to do so.
But, so far at least (who knows, maybe we’ll massively and spectacularly sell out tomorrow) my little anarchist ecofeminist ethics keep me in check most of the time. I’m thankful I have this little set of beliefs to fall back on, because otherwise we could have gone down all kinds of weird roads, and right now I like the road we’re on a lot.
But! Ah, there’s a but. But it’s slow. It’s March, it’s the month after our busiest month of the year, of course it’s slow. I’m fine with it, but what about the other eight people who work at Lagusta’s Luscious? They don’t have the insulating layer of February-cash to fall back on during these quiet periods. We expanded their hours a bit during Valentine’s, but not a ton, and when you’re in your twenties, as most of them are, you always always always need cash. Student loans are a killer, rents in New Paltz are ridiculous, always something. Pretty much everyone at the shop would be happy with more hours right now.
And in the middle of all this, I went and hired two more people.
There were rumblings, yup.
They were right to rumble. It seemed unfair, because it was.
I tried to explain it: we can’t do what we did last December, which was to literally beg any friends walking by the shop to wash dishes or wrap boxes for us. Holidays will keep getting bigger whether or not we want them to (with luck), and we have to be more prepared. Pre-Valentine’s we were in this spot where literally no one could take a day off because no one could cover for them because everyone was already working every day. It was insane. So in order to be more prepared for the wild times that take over three times a year (December holidays, Valentine’s, Easter), we need to train new people now. What that means is more people working less hours—for now. And in the future: more people working more hours.
It sucks for them right now. But I don’t want to hire seasonal workers and then lay people off, that seems patently stupid for a business that needs such highly trained employees. We started the exhausting process of finding someone, and a weird thing happened: we interviewed some great candidates, and couldn’t decide between two people. So we hired both of them. And in the end everyone’s been super warm and welcoming to them and understanding of what I needed to do, which warms my heart and makes me love my team even more.
I feel so loyal to them, my little crew. I’m a loner. Solitude’s my thing. To have found people with which you can do meaningful work feels like winning some weird lottery you never wanted to enter. Strange, and really really nice.
As I said, if it were up to me, I’d stop this ride. I’d keep doing what we’re doing, but no more. I’d say no to the huge wholesale orders that come in around the holidays when we’re already so pinched. I’d decline orders even from the celebrities! I’d go home at 7 when we close the shop every night and put up my feet and pet my cats and…well, it’s such a foreign concept to me I don’t even know what I’d do with my feet up. I’d regret it, probably, regret not playing the game a little more, seeing what I could do if I pushed myself more.
So, I’m thankful that I decided not to say no. Last fall we made a decision to expand the business a bit, and it feels good to have made the choice. One big reason I wanted to go for it, to take opportunities we’ve always seen on the horizon, was because of the people working at the shop.
We pay everyone hourly, and it just seems stupid. We’re selling a luxury product, and we talk such a big talk about paying the farmers who grow our cacao and whatnot a fair wage, and I’d like to be paying salaries to the women (and sweet Brendan!) who actually make our confections. We pay much better than most food businesses, particularly in this town, but why can’t we afford to have salaried workers, who have paid vacations and health care?
And this is how the goalposts shift on you: you just want a business that fulfills you, and you work ten years to get it. Then you want a business that’s sustainable for the people who work with you, too. And that will be the focus of our next five or ten years: expanding the business enough to allow for salaried employees.
With this in mind, I’m in the mode of saying yes to things. It’s not hard: it’s nice to say yes. I like the big jobs, even when they’re tiring.
With all this swirling around me, I opened my email this afternoon to this:
Hi! I hope this email finds you well. I work for Free People, a women’s retailer based in Philadelphia and part of Urbn Inc. We had a lot of success selling vegan sweets on our website over the past Valentine’s day and Christmas holidays and I was looking for a way to develop a small concept for our website & a few stores for Easter. I love your chocolate bunny and would be super interested in buying them wholesale and/or private label. Hope to discuss this opportunity with you! Thanks so much, xxxx
And I just can’t say yes to this.
Free People is owned by Urban Outfitters, which is a store I don’t shop at for about a million reasons (#1 being that I am slowly converting my wardrobe to consisting solely of vintage 1940s denim coveralls, but still.).
The argument could be made that one should sell one’s ethically-produced goods in unsavory stores because people in those stores will then at least purchase one thing made in a responsible manner. This argument smacks of using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, which is to say: it gives me a stomachache to think about our lil floppy-eared bun-buns sitting next to, say Navajo Hipster Panties. Which is to say: a new world isn’t built of bricks made in sweatshops bought at the mall.
On the other hand: on their website and in some stores? That’s some money right there, son. Money is nice! Money advances goals! Vintage coveralls are not cheap, people!
So I wrote this:
Thank you so much for thinking of our products. I’m honored, but we can’t bear to work with a company owned by Urban Outfitters.
All of our chocolates are organic, fair-trade, and handmade, and we pride ourselves on our high ethical standards. I don’t personally shop at any stores owned by Urban Outfitters (though I have a great Free People dress I got at a thrift store I adore, sigh), so it wouldn’t feel right to have my chocolates sold there.
I’d love more information about the conditions under which the workers making your clothes work, because the consensus on the internet seems to be that they’re pretty much your typical sweatshop-made clothes.
Even more saddening is that so many of the clothes sold at Urban Outfitters further a troubling and problematic vision: from seeming to advance eating disorders and insensitive stereotypes to cultural appropriation (“Hipster Navajo Panties” etc.) to making clothing that only fits one type of body, it’s not a chain we want to align ourselves with.
Not to mention that over and over you have been shown to copy designs from smaller independent artisans, and that your founder has given large donations to right-wing politicians like Rick Santorum, whose politics we’re not fans of.
I’d love to work with you on a bunny project, but sadly I just don’t think I could sleep at night.
All the best,
Saying yes—except when we need to say no. That’s where we’re at today.
In the words of John Stewart, “BoOm!”
Nicely crafted piece. Thank you.
Thanks for reading!
Lagusta, whether you want to admit it or not you are a capitalist. You own your own business. You make decisions based on your free will and what you think benefits you and the company. You even expanded your business. If you weren’t capitalist you would either run it yourself as a hobby and maybe give them away or you would pay everyone equally in all the money and make decisions communally.
If you feel bad about your employees not being salaried or paid enough, you could just so it. But sadly the company may fail since there wouldn’t be enough money to run it. So you are making free market decisions.
I am guessing from your statements you are pretty liberal but you want the right that you can refuse wholesaling your product to whomever you choose, based upon your beliefs. I might guess, purely a guess, that you think it is wrong for businesses to withhold their baking or photography services for say gay marriages. Even though they may be less opposed to the couple than you are the business you rejected. They might not mind that they get married but just don’t want to take part in it. So, I am guessing that there are all kinds of justifications of why they are different. Personally, I think that anyone should be able to make that decision for themselves, like you did. Being a capitalist and it is costing you business and money that is for you to decide.
I commend you on doing a great job with your business. I commend you on putting people to work and expanding your business. Just realize even though you are a capitalist you still get to decide how big your business grows. It doesn’t have to expand more than your wishes or desires.
Keep up the good work!
Oh, I never meant to say that I wasn’t a capitalist. I fully recognize that I’m working in the system, I’m just trying to do it in my own way, with my own anarchist heart.
I do frown on businesses that refuse service to same sex weddings, etc, because I’m crazy liberal, but I recognize their right to be disgusting, just as it’s my right to turn down UO. : )
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Also, I think there’s a big difference here between Lagusta refusing to align her business with a business she disapproves of and refusing wedding cakes to gay couples.
Anyone can walk into Lagusta’s store to purchase chocolates at her listed price. The CEO of Urban Outfitters could theoretically walk in her door and purchase whatever she had for sale, because it’s on sale to the general public. I’m assuming Urban Outfitters could place a catering order for one of their employee events, if they felt so inclined. They are paying customers. It has nothing to do with resale.
But Lagusta, for any reason whatsoever, can absolutely refuse to enter into a business arrangement–such as offering wholesale pricing, or allowing her product to be sold in stores that are counter to her business culture.
The kinds of people who actively seek to purchase products like hers that are organic, fair-trade, and generally aimed at improving the lives of all hands involved with their production–those kinds of people would not appreciate that her product is being sold in a store whose products are created in sweatshops. Those kinds of people might think twice about purchasing her gorgeous, delicious chocolates in the future. That would be an entirely valid business concern, as it could feasibly cause a loss of revenue.
tl;dr: You aren’t allowed to refuse a product you sell to the general public to a select group of people by merit of what they look like or who they are attracted to; that is discrimination. You’re entirely allowed to choose how your product is bought and sold, in what context, where, and by whom. Because you have a brand to protect.
Just my two cents. Love your chocolates, Lagusta!
Lagusta….. Your article warms my heart and leads me to believe there are still redeemable people and independent businesses that aren’t propelled by corporations and greed. For a predominate amount of my life, I’ve worked for family owned companies. I had to make a tough decision in 2003 to take a position with Anthropologie (an Urban inc brand) to afford health insurance. I was with them for 3 years and the people were atrocious. They treat their employees horribly with very high turn over. In my district, we had 6 stores….. In the course of 3 years every store manager and visual manager had either left cause of the working conditions or had been fired. The sweat shop mentality isn’t just in the production of the products but also in the hiring of their people. End Rant. I’ve been to New Paltz and use to live in NJ in a town called Montclair. I believe in the support of small businesses and I hope you thrive and meet your goals of paying your lovely ladies and Brendon a salary with benefits. I wish you all the best.
Thanks for the perspective, Rebecca. I’ve been to Montclair, it’s so beautiful!
I’ll keep it short and simple. You are my hero of the day. I know that the capitalism side of the offer certainly pulls most of us a certain way, but your gut and heart and beliefs won out. Well done. I hope I’m as strong if ever faced with a similar circumstance. PS- I didn’t think you tried to make it sound like you weren’t a capitalist. PSS- Since you lost money by saying no, I bought some of your chocolate to show you my support in some way. rock on. I found you on instagram by chance on day fyi.
You’re the sweetest!! Your order went out yesterday, too. : )
OK OK OK
here’s the thing.
I enjoy your products. Immensely so, in fact! I even agree with your decision not to sell to companies you don’t like.
But, where I feel like you’ve maybe gone too far is to send a response like that to a buyer. I’m sure that in the course of their employment at the company they’ve probably even felt some of what you mention themselves. But is it really accomplishing anything by grandstanding to a buyer and taking a pedantic tone with them? That hardly seems like its getting anything productive done.
We all try to fight the good fight our own ways. You have a niche product which has been made hip for a very specific reason: people like you (and myself too) who are vegan and care about these things do a great job at making it look cool. And lets also be 100% honest with ourselves- somewhere along our journey into veganism and trying to support local and sustainable business, there was someone we thought was ‘cool’ who made us want to do it as well. Its a brand- say the word vegan, and what was once an image of an out-of-date “hippie” type has been replaced with an image of someone who loves vintage, lives diy, strives to have the lowest carbon print possible, rides a bike, and ironically uses a macbook . And thats fine! They’re stereotypes, not all of them true, but we can handle it.
but let’s just tell it like it is, ok?
we sell that image in our own ways. I mean, this blog in and of itself sells the image of a diy arnachafeminist making their own way through a world of capitalism and also making sacrifices in a journey to live a good life. And i’m guessing that the ultimate goal would not only be to tell/sell your story, but also to inspire some people, right?
For as much as there are great things about being vegan, locavore, supporting local business, et cetera, there’s also an undeniable negative stigma surrounding veganism: mainly that we’re preachy not in touch with reality. So couldn’t it be possible then that perpetuating the negative ‘preachy’ parts of veganism aren’t helping us?
the worst joke i’m always told is this: “how do you know when someone is vegan? Don’t worry they’ll tell you”
I’m all for taking down the large corporations. but going after people who haven’t done us any wrong does nothing but make that joke true. Maybe they that buyer was even vegan themselves, and now feels a little let down by their community? I say lets lead with love and less preach.
does that company do bad things? i’m sure of it.
does the person who wrote you? maybe.
but are we all perfect and 100% without flaw? definitely not.
i think what you do is great. and hopefully more people will too, but let’s not contribute to our own demise by standing on soapboxes and judging people we don’t know when we also hate it when people do the same to us, yeah?
Given the business proposal from the – intern? – at Free People addressed Lagusta as “Hi!” like a chain restaurant host/ess and concluded with a smattering of kisses “xxxx”, I doubt this – potential – vegan was hurt by Lagusta’s authentic reply to an inauthentic or at the very least vapid proposal – “super”? Gahhhh…
Lagusta, in kind, showed him/her how to craft a well researched letter to a company. She addressed XXXX by their name, cited she was familiar with their standards and practices and concluded why their companies did not align.
Sweat shop clothing in a store called “Free People”? Navajo Panties! Santorum supporters?!
“F*ck ’em if they can’t take a joke”.
Well…not everything has to be about selling an image. I’m just being who I am. My ultimate goal is most definitely not to “sell my story” (?) but to just live a nice life. And I don’t see what any of this has to do with veganism, really…I’ve been vegan 21 years (it’s sure true that vegans always always tell ya…), but these are separate issues of human rights, respect, feminism, many more. Very little to do with veganism, except that I happen to make vegan chocolates.
Sorry if it seemed like a soapbox to you. To me it was just explaining. We’re actually the least preachy vegan business that has ever existed (at least about veganism…I’m a bit more mouthy about issues of child slavery and such). We don’t tag our photos as vegan or ever advertise that we’re vegan. We do this in order to attract nonvegans, because I feel that’s better activism. Sorry if this one instance of this one email was too preachy for you, but it’s an issue I care about (many issues) and it was too important to me to be quiet about.
One thing, though, if it helps: all the links to articles about UO I added just for this blog post, they weren’t in the email. That would just be weird.
I am so impressed by your ethics and professionalism in your response to UO. It made my day to read your blog. Next, I am placing my order to get your delicious chocolates! Thank you for being who you are and staying aligned with your values. Such an inspiration!!
You’re on your own journey (on that’s happily involving a lot of us who consume your tasty chocolate), one with benefits and drawbacks and plenty of places to try new things and forge new territory. The important thing is that you trust your instincts and stay true to what you feel is right, without having to apologize and explain away your “little set of beliefs” – they are what they are, and they’re your guiding principles!
“A woman of power becomes a genius in desperate situations; she is an improvisational artist. Rather than bypassing or shrinking from situations where her consciousness is needed, she speaks and acts, relying on something inside herself. All improvisational artists know that you must trust yourself. To improvise you must value your own knowing.”
– Sue Monk Kidd “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” (I just finished it, great book)
Loved this. Beautifully & artfully written. Superbly honest.
Integrity always rules the day at Lagusta, Inc.
Lavender Lemonade’s SuperFan
This is wonderful. I just want to echo that you absolutely deserve props for having a spine and for taking the time to write such a mature and well-reasoned response to Free People. As a lowly food blogger I tend to wrestle with how to respond to the occasional solicitations I receive from marketers for companies whose practices I could never support. Do I ignore them? Publicly mock them? Give them a simple “no”? Tell them to fuck off? Lately I’ve been more interested in writing those difficult, measured e-mails that explain exactly why I’m not interested in working with them. Though I’m certain e-mails like that typically have about the same effect as a rain drop in the ocean, I think it makes me sleep a little better at night knowing that, at very least, these companies can’t say no one ever told them (directly) that they’re screwing up.
P.S. I picked up some chocolates from you at last weekend’s Vegan Shop-Up, and your caramels slay. Thanks for doing what you do!
If you lay people off–or reduce hours of full-time workers–they can collect unemployment. Some seasonal businesses do this, workers know they’ll be laid off & can plan accordingly.
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