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September 2000
Toward a Kinder Planet

The Satya Interview with Shari Kalina


Shari Kalina is the founder of Pangea, a Washington, DC-based store and mail order company that provides a variety of vegan products, ranging from shoes to belts, and toiletries to junk food. Here, Kalina discusses with Catherine Clyne how Pangea was founded and what the future holds.

When and why was Pangea founded?
Pangea was founded in January 1995 after many months of research and planning. I’d been a vegan for a few years and had experienced the same difficulties all vegans face trying to find suitable alternatives to all the mainstream products I’d been accustomed to using. I had always half-jokingly discussed with a vegan friend of mine how great it would be to find a vegan "mall." We loved the idea of one place that had all the same kinds of products as a regular mall—a shoe store, a cafe, a body care store, etc.—but where everything was completely cruelty-free. Eventually it dawned on me that while it wasn’t feasible yet to have a whole mall of vegan stuff, I still believed there was a need for something like that on a smaller scale. I came to realize that, rather than just joking about it, I’d be doing something a lot more useful if I tried to make it happen myself.

What does the name Pangea mean?
"Pangea" is a Greek word meaning "all earth." It’s also the name given to the single land mass that existed ages ago on the earth, before the individual continents split apart and drifted. I liked the idea of this name because it reflects unity—in this case, among all beings.

What kind of "market" does Pangea serve? Have you seen it change over the years?
The vast majority of our customers are strict vegans, although we have a number of lacto-ovo-vegetarians as well, who are mostly interested in our leather alternatives. Though we initially seemed to appeal mostly to the hardcore activists, we’re happy to say that we’ve now managed to reach a pretty wide spectrum of customers—from young students to business people to older folks. It’s relatively easy to get your name heard among the activists because they do a lot more networking. It’s a struggle, though, to get the non-activist part of the population to learn about you; we’ve worked very hard to try to reach these people.

What are the company’s criteria for selecting merchandise?
Our number one concern is that everything we carry is strictly vegan—this means no honey, carmine, lanolin, casein, bone-char-processed sugar, etc., as well as the more obvious non-vegan ingredients. We also ensure that we never purchase from companies that conduct animal testing. In addition, we carry only products made under non-oppressive labor conditions. Researching all these issues for every product is certainly one of the most time-consuming aspects of our business, particularly since the companies themselves are often unaware of these issues until we bring it up with them. For instance, many times we have come across products labeled by the manufacturer as containing no animal ingredients, but when we dig deeper to find out the derivations of certain ingredients, we learn that this is not the case. Generally speaking, the manufacturer is not intentionally mislabeling the product; it’s just that they aren’t totally familiar with the intricacies of how ingredients are derived.

Can you tell me more about your non-oppressive labor criteria?
This issue has come into play prominently since we’ve introduced our own "No Bull" line of leather alternatives. It’s not very difficult to find shoes that happen to be non-leather, but typically these shoes are made under highly oppressive labor conditions in China and other non-democratic countries. In addition, these shoes are generally made with low-quality, non-breathable materials that do not hold up well over time. We’ve made a decision to manufacture all our No Bull products in Europe and the U.S., despite the fact that doing so is significantly more expensive for us. We’re concerned, though, because so many European and U.S. shoe factories are having very serious trouble competing with these "sweatshop" factories. Several of the factories we initially used have already had to shut down, and we’re worried that eventually it may become virtually impossible to have shoes manufactured in democratic countries.

How do the concerns and needs of your customers shape the selection of your products?
We often receive suggestions from customers concerning the types of products they have been unable to find elsewhere. If we receive several requests for the same type of item, we do everything we can to fill the need. For instance, we’ve had a number of requests over the last year for an entirely non-leather baseball glove that is not made in a "sweatshop" country. It’s taken a great deal of time and effort for us to find an alternative, but we finally have U.S.-made non-leather baseball gloves in production right now that are due out this fall.

What kinds of products has Pangea felt the need to develop independently?
Generally speaking, if we can’t find someone else who makes a certain product, we end up having to make it ourselves. Additionally, we originally carried a number of items manufactured by other companies, but we found that we didn’t have enough control to be able to meet our own quality standards and to offer the kinds of styles our customers wanted. As a result, we now offer our own shoes, belts, jackets, and wallets, as well as a number of food items and our new strictly vegan multivitamin. We also have some new products on the horizon, including our own vegan fruit jel and non-leather briefcase.

What are the most popular items?
Our belts and "junk food" are probably the best-selling items we offer! We’ve had a lot of positive feedback on our belts since we took over the manufacturing ourselves. Our new "No Bull" Sedona hiking boots have also been very popular this summer, and of course the vegan Dr. Martens always do well for us.

Any plans for "brick and mortar" stores?
We actually do have one walk-in store, located just outside Washington, DC, in Rockville, Maryland. In fact, Pangea was originally a walk-in store only. We hoped that being located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area—which is a big hub for vegans because of all the animal rights organizations located here—would bring us enough local customers to keep us in business. Unfortunately, we found out that the vegan market just isn’t big enough yet to sustain a store that caters only to local people, even in a very veg-friendly town.

Visit Pangea at, or contact (301) 816-9300 or


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