“Let them be wild and free.” “Go vegan!” “Choose compassion.” “Inquisitive. Playful. Intelligent. Compassionate. Social. Emotional. Curious. Not food.” These are some messages Marita Tanninen, a Finnish vegan artivist, has chosen for empathy-building for the animals.
Marita, how do you define yourself?
I define myself mainly as a vegan. I think veganism is the most important part of my life which defines my values, choices and decisions.
I also see myself as an artist and an artisan. Arts and crafts have been a huge part of my life as long as I can remember. I enjoy creating things with my own hands. I think it`s very useful to use this passion nowadays for doing good and improving position of the weaker and oppressed.
At the moment I like to think myself as an artivist, because my aim is to make a difference through my art. I like to draw animals as individuals, so people could really see them as individuals and not ingredients. I aim also to combine the beauty of all life to the sad reality where mankind is disconnected from the nature and is brutally taking advantage of other species.
When and why did you go vegan?
I have been a vegetarian for almost all my life, thanks to the influence of my friends. I became a vegan about seven years ago. I knew all along that using animal products is wrong, but for some reason I just didn`t want to see it back then. When I finally understood the reality of the animal agriculture, it really hit me. This happened mainly because our cat got seriously ill and passed away. I remember how sad it felt to see him suffer. I realised then that there are billons of animals suffering every day.
Veganism has changed my whole life. I started to consider things from a different point of view than I was used to. I felt my conscious was finally clean and I was doing the right thing. I also got new friends and some of my old friends went vegan too! So, veganism changed my life, but especially it changed many other lives at the same time.
What does animal rights mean to you?
This is a quite hard and very large question… I think every living and feeling being should have rights. Rights to live free, rights to make own decisions, right to have a special life. There are lot of people who don`t much think about animal rights, because that is how our society works. We have been taught for many generations that animals are here for us to use, so our own views and opinions are often conflicted with this.
What non-human persons can teach us?
I believe spending time with non-human persons can teach us many things, for most importantly empathy. Non-human persons have multiple skills, which are often unfamiliar to us humans, so it might be hard to empathise to totally different behaviour or life. By associating non-human persons we are able to understand other species and the whole environment we are living in.
You are the founder of the Vegan Vortex. What does Vegan Vortex do?
Vegan Vortex is a Finnish vegan clothing brand, the main goal is to advance veganism and promote animal rights. Vegan Vortex provides vegan apparel to people who are interested in well-being of all animals.
Veganism is going mainstream in near future. Or if not mainstream, there are still more vegans now than ever; also, a vegan lifestyle fascinates many people who aren`t vegan yet. I think this is excellent time to give veganism a little extra push. Vegan lifestyle and values needs to be visible right now.
With Vegan Vortex brand I also want to support organisations with their work for animals and animal rights. At the moment Vegan Vortex donates 20% from all our profits to Finnish organisations.
Most difficult regarding running the brand is probably fitting it to my calendar (at the moment). Working with the brand is very rewarding for me, but unfortunately I am not able to run it full-time, not yet. The most empowering is to get to do something that goes fully in line with my values and which can really make a difference. I am glad when I can change some conservative ideas and attitudes about animals or the use of animal products. It is also nice to meet new people who are interested in the same issues.
What is the most important design you have made for the Vegan Vortex, and why?
I have a different bound to every design I make, it`s so hard to pick just one. But if I really have to, I would say – my new design “Not just a number”. I had a good flow while I was drawing it and I think the message is simple, but essential. I also like it visually, for me it represents the freedom that lives inside of all of us, no matter what species you are or what culture you identify with.
What are the main ways designers can contribute to social impact?
Well, first of all, I think you can send a message to people through a design, it doesn`t matter what the design physically is (a T-shirt, drawing, painting, postcard, etc). If the message is clear and brought up in a way that most people are willing to accept it, your design has done its job.
Meeting people and having conversations is also a big deal when you are aiming to make an impact. When your design is ideological, communication comes naturally.
I hope people are feeling happy, strong and proud of themselves when they are wearing a tee designed by me. I hope vegans and other animal lovers feel they can express their thoughts through my designs. When non-vegans see a T-shirt design by me, hopefully they feel an urge to update their perception of animals and animal agriculture.
Animal activists are vulnerable to stress effects. Can you share some self-care tips?
Vegans are probably more sensitive than many other people and if you follow constantly animal right issues, it might be occasionally exhausting. Watching animals suffering feels overwhelming, I know. I think there are millions of positive things in veganism, and sometimes it does good to focus only on them. It is not a selfish act to concentrate mainly on yourself every now and then. Think how much you have accomplished just by being a vegan!
Recently I read an article by Whitney Bauck entitled “Do we really need any more sustainable fashion brands?” [06.06.2019]. If to skip “fashion”, is there any reason to keep starting a new sustainable brand in 2019?
This is actually a very good question. The reason I started a new brand was veganism, not sustainability. I mean if I have two options, and the other one is sustainable, that woul definitely be my choice, but that is not the main issue about Vegan Vortex.
I think you cannot save the world with sustainable fashion, but you can aim to save the world by impacting consuming habits of people. Fast fashion is a large-scale problem, which is something we try to avoid. We are a small brand and our production is also small. For us, creating tools for activism is more important than making a lot of money with sustainable goods. There is not more efficient way than streetwear.
What vegans, creative activists, animal activists, etc would you say have influenced you the most, and why?
My true heroes come from literature, because I have been reading a lot of books. The biggest and earliest influence came from Peter Singer (surprise!). I remember reading “Animal Liberation” (1975), reading it from cover to cover took ages, because I cried a lot.
Lately I have been reading books by Yuval Noah Harari. I don´t know if he is a vegan [Harari is a vegan, and says this resulted from his research, including his view that the foundation of the dairy industry is breaking the bond between mother cow and calf. D.], but he writes a lot about mistreat of animals. Reading his “Homo Sapiens” was really eye-opener about habits of our own species.
What’s next up for you?
Vegan Vortex just launched a couple new T-shirt designs, so there will be a lot of printing and mailing in the summer. There are already couple new illustrations in my mind; hopefully they will see the daylight in the autumn.