The condensed version
Harmless Store was founded by Tami Jarvis in April 2018. Her vision was to create an ‘outreach shop’ where she could talk to the local community about the benefits of switching to a vegan lifestyle as well as reducing plastic and other forms of waste. At the same time she wanted to provide the tools to sustain these ideals by offering quality everyday products, sourced from suppliers who met her ethical and environmental standards.
The shop was immediately successful and quickly outgrew the tiny Yellow Shed at the Blue House Yard. Exactly a year later she launched a Crowdfunder campaign to raise the capital required for the move, and succeeded.
It took the rest of 2019 to secure the location, refurbish and transport everything to our present location along Tottenham Lane. We proudly reopened at the beginning of 2020 with more space, more products and more to offer!
The extended version
The turning point
I loved watching videos of cats and dogs – don’t we all? It’s easy to relax and unwind looking at them do silly and adorable things. It’s easy to empathise when they show the same emotions we experience, for example, happiness, devotion or jealousy. So, when, back in 2016 my watch history led me to some far less cute videos of animals I felt horror, disgust, grief, guilt. I watched videos from the Yulin Festival, an annual Chinese festival of dog meat. I watched Dairy is Scary. I vowed never to eat an animal or any of its products again.
Unfortunately I failed. I was not prepared for the sudden change. I did not know which products were vegan and which were not and couldn’t cope with the stress of reading every single list of ingredients. I managed to cut down significantly on meat and removed milk completely from my diet but otherwise continued to eat the way I was used to. My outlook, however, had changed permanently.
Around this time, I was working my dream job. I drove around the country selling hair products (made by a reputable company) to salons. While I was doing this, I continued my research on the exploitation of animals. I continued to watch cute animal videos and came across a heart-warming clip of a pig realising it has been rescued from the abattoir—rescued from me! It was time to give veganism another go.
A second try
It took me less than 4 weeks to cut animal products completely from my diet. Each week I removed something else until, by the end, I felt confident that I could maintain my principles. I will say that it was a very difficult and unpopular decision among my friends and family. Many times I was told that veganism was unsafe. I was living with my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) with whom I cooked and ate together every day. He comes from a family of keen meat-eaters and found it hard to accept my decision to become vegan.
At the same time, I began learning more about plastic, the waste and environmental pollution. I started questioning the company I was working for. I drove a Diesel car and sold beauty products contained in single use plastic bottles. I requested a meeting with the company directors to ask if they were selling to China and therefore testing on animals ( this was in 2017). Their response was not as supportive as I’d hoped for and I was left feeling alone and ‘out of order’ for questioning their authority. I had also requested an electric car which they refused with an excuse about aesthetics. I realised my dream job was everything I was now trying to avoid.
The heatwave of summer 2017 reached record temperatures which had not been witnessed in the UK since 1976. I was experiencing anxiety to the extent of having difficulty walking. It was becoming impossible for me to continue selling a product that I not only didn’t believe in, but morally disagreed with. My partner and I were arguing a lot about our shared diet and lifestyle, and our plans to be married the following October. We had originally discussed having a hog-roast at the wedding and now I wanted a vegan meal.
My anxiety became so debilitating that I made an appointment to see a GP about it. They immediately blamed my diet and recommended that I introduce more meat and dairy into my cooking. When I received my health test results back from the doctor, they showed that, physically, my body was perfectly healthy. My vegan diet was not the problem here. The physical toll my mental health was taking on my body shocked me into action.
Time to act
I quit my job in September 2017 and my partner and I were married the following month. My husband relented, I prevailed and I got my vegan wedding. We persisted through the arguments, the constant back and forth of research and opposing research, until finally the facts convinced him to change his own food choices. As a result of our discussions, I was able to gain some serious vegan knowledge and use this to back up my vegan stance against any future challenges.
While I was trying to figure out what I was good at, what skills I could use, what I could do to restore the planet rather than damage it, I was doing outreach work, applying for jobs, thinking and thinking. I made visits to organisations to speak about the benefits of a more plant-based diet, and share information about the climate crisis. I had many impactful conversations yet I wanted to reach more people. I was good at talking, good at selling, good at keeping conversations fun and educational but also straight to the point.
I worried about the local homeless community and tried to open our house one Christmas to provide showers and a nice hot meal. The idea of Christmas now repulsed me. My husband convinced me to work at Crisis on Christmas Day instead. But I couldn’t shake this new hatred. I felt helpless and alone in my thoughts. I couldn’t have fun while others were suffering around us—animals getting killed and spread all over the table and, of course, all the needless present buying that contributes to more waste, more stress and more money worries during an already miserable time of year (January).
I suddenly realised how determined I was and decided I absolutely had to do whatever I could to fight as many issues as possible: I had the idea to open my own vegan shop. A friend told me that it sounded like I wanted to harm less in everything I did, and help everything and everyone. So there was the name! Harmless.
At the time, the Haringey area had nothing like it, also my attempts to shop plastic-free were a constant pain-point so I thought I’d throw that in there too. With my own shop, I would be able to talk to all kinds of people every day about making sustainable lifestyle choices, sell products and enjoy grocery shopping. It was the perfect solution! There was just one problem—I needed about £30K to open a shop. However, it was decided; I was set on this idea and I was not giving up. I would get the money and it would work.
It’s going to work
In February 2018, I attempted to crowdfund my idea to open a shop. It failed. I was beginning to feel desperate when I happened across a Facebook post about the Blue House Yard in Wood Green: shop premises for £500/ month. I saw the Yellow Shed—it was absolutely tiny and I loved it and it would be mine. My wonderful husband loaned me £5K to get started. I pitched my business plan—’it’s going to work’—AND GOT THE SHED. Harmless Store opened 2 months later, April 2018.
Since I had already been posting in local Facebook groups about my plans to open the shop, I was lucky to have an immediate customer base. I was completely overwhelmed when 200 people showed up to the opening party! But would they come back? I worried that no one would return to shop the next day. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about, in fact the Yellow Shed was quickly outgrown.
My Outreach Shop
Because it was such a small space, I was forced to serve one customer at a time inside the shop. This created an intimate moment with each of my customers during which I was able to have countless amazing conversations. I call it my Outreach Shop. It was these conversations that kept me going, they uplift me when I’m feeling exhausted, angry or demotivated. It was like riding an emotional rollercoaster.
I began planning to move to larger premises. In April 2019 I started a Crowdfunder campaign to help fund the move. This time we successfully raised £19.5K. It then took over 6 months (of hard work and stress) to obtain a good location in Hornsey, and 2 more months (of hard work and stress) to set it up. It was an extremely challenging task but with the help of family, friends and locals, we opened the new shop at the beginning of the following year, 2020!
I am so proud and happy to have come this far, to have the support of the local community and to be doing the work I believe in.
Our plans for 2020 involve building the team so that we can stay open 7 days a week and fulfil all our crowdfund promises.