In celebration of World Vegan Month, we're talking to some amazing vegan creatives and leaders, starting with Ursula Lake – founder & fashion director of Make Magazine and vegan chef at @veganlockdownlarder.
Ursula held the post of Fashion Editor on the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella Magazine for seven years, and has contributed to Vogue, The Sunday Time Style, GQ, InStyle, Wallpaper, Stylist Magazine and many more. In 2010, Ursula launched a successful swimwear label called Violet Lake, which she then sold in 2018. She now runs the luxury fashion/beauty and art magazine Make Magazine which she launched in 2017 with photographer Chloe Mallet; and most recently she has started up the @veganlockdownlarder blog and cookbook, whose recipes we are devouring!
We caught up with Ursula to find out she's been coping over this crazy year, her favourite ethical & sustainable fashion labels, her favourite vegan recipes from her cookbook, and more.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about how you’ve been managing through the last few crazy months – and do you have any tools or tips you can share to staying physically and mentally healthy and happy?
At the start of lock-down, I admit to being reasonably concerned about how I would cope. I had no ‘official’ work to do, and as someone who thrives on being productive, it scared me! So, I wrote down a list of goals and a general strategy for the next few months which I more or less stuck to. Of course, there were a couple of grand plans that didn’t quite happen but I kept to the important things which, to be honest, was an attempt to maintain my normal daily routines. But it was a helpful reminder for days when it felt harder to get out of bed and feel positive. I like to think that I am generally pretty level-headed but at the start of the lockdown I found that I was often irrationally sad and was far more emotional than normal so it was helpful for me to have a few guidelines to try to stick to.
My rules involved eating a plant-based diet and always cooking from scratch. Then I made a commitment to exercise every day (even if it was just to walk a few laps of my local park). Thirdly, I have been practising Vedic meditation for over two years so it was key for me to make sure that I kept this up, and meditated for 20 minutes, twice a day, every day. Lastly, although I am not strictly teetotal, I decided not to drink alcohol during lockdown which was really beneficial for my sanity. Having to deal with the lockdown and a hangover just wasn’t an option for me!
I realise, as I now write this down, that that probably sounds very pious and very boring, but these ‘rules’ really worked for me and continue to help me be productive and happy.
You’re the co-founder of Make Magazine, a digital fashion-focused magazine with a strong and stunning aesthetic. Tell us a bit more about it – what’s the principle behind it, what content do you choose to focus on and why?
Make was launched in 2017 as a platform for people from all fields of the creative world to produce work without any of the restrictions that are often set by the constraints of advertisers on more conventional magazines. The reality of the digital magazine platform ensures that the magazine is democratic; available to all, as well as being a more environmentally sound way to share our content. For each issue we pick a loose theme and ask our contributors to come up with their interpretation of it. We try to celebrate many different areas of the creative world from fashion and beauty, theatre and cinema, travel, fine art, poetry and everything in between. We are always so amazed by the generosity of our contributors who respond to the themes in such inventive and beautiful ways. Overall, our aim with Make is to inform, delight and inspire.
What’s your favourite feature been so far and why?
Just one?! That’s hard! After 14 issues, there are so many features that I am really proud of. The artwork that now brightens up my house as a result of the issues is lovely! The artist David Bray made a pencil drawing to illustrate an article about Gucci for our first issue. I loved it so much, I bought the original from him and it has ended up on my kitchen wall.
Certainly, a recent stand out moment for the magazine has been the quite staggering response we had to our current issue and its interview and photographic shoot with the actor Rose Leslie. She and her husband Kit Harrington, very kindly chose to use our magazine to announce that they are expecting a baby which was very big news for any Game of Thrones fans and our Instagram and website were besieged by well-wishers. It was a crazy few days when that issue first went live.
What plans do you have for Make going forwards?
Hopefully, more of the same! Right now, times have really never been tougher in so many creative fields, so we would like to be able to continue to support these industries through this platform so that their beautiful and innovative work can be seen by as many people as possible.
You’re a Fashion Director and have spent many years in the fashion industry, including working as a Fashion Editor at Stella Magazine for seven years. You’ve also successfully launched, ran and sold a swimwear brand, Violet Lake. As a fashion ‘insider’ what changes do you see taking place in mainstream fashion?
The major recent change is the move towards sustainability in fashion. When I started my career twenty odd years ago there were really only two main fashion seasons a year. The way the industry has ballooned to have multiple ‘seasons’ a year and the pervasive, perpetual drive towards ‘newness’ has been a real problem. So, it’s good that there seems to be an attempt to reverse that. As fashion is the second worst globally polluting industry, there is so much more that needs to be done but it is encouraging to see these major companies realise that they have to be accountable and ethical.
It was my fervent hope that in 2020, given the restrictions we have all experienced, that it would give people a well needed break from the urge to consume ‘fast fashion’ and that lockdown wardrobe clear-outs would encourage people to rediscover the long-lost gems in their cupboards. I don’t think we should stop shopping; I just would love people to shop ‘better’.
Is change happening fast enough? What else do you think needs to happen?
So much work needs to be done in fashion to overcome the really horrific environmental and ethical practices that have been so prevalent and regarded as normal, for so long. But I am hopeful and confident that we will get there. We are seeing generations of teenagers and young adults caring much more about the ethics behind their clothes. I hope that the more enlightened shopping habits of this and future populations, will force the hand of the fashion brands to completely alter their business models. I think it’s possible to influence change through the power of our spending; how and on what we choose to spend money.
Fundamentally, in fashion, I think we need less choice and fewer collections to be produced. I would like to see more recycled and sustainable fabrics being used, particularly on the high street, and, essentially, to encourage consumers to really value their purchases and stop regarding clothes as being ‘throw away’.
What do you think of the ethical and sustainable fashion options that exist for consumers right now? And which are your favourite brands?
There are so many great brands now and at a variety of price points. It’s really no longer a compromise between style and ethics. Issue 10 of Make Magazine theme was sustainability and I was pleasantly surprised by the plethora of great, ethical brands available.
I love Lara Intimates which is a brilliant underwear company that makes both thoughtfully and beautifully designed lingerie out of recycled and surplus fabric, with every conceivable body size being catered for. Happy Haus is another example of sustainable fashion at it’s very best, the owner is very particular about the fabrics and dyes she uses and her designs are flattering and timeless.
Nanushka does amazing vegan ‘leather’, softer than the real thing and I also love the Reformation; I wore a couple of their recycled summer floral dresses this year (while we were in the grips of our heatwave) which were easy and cool to wear. I also really like a Danish jewellery brand called Kinraden that uses recycled gold and silver, my favourite in the collection is a ring called Flare which is perfect in its simplicity. Frida Rome is a new, British brand that is currently crowd funding a really great vegan handbag. The design of the bag is clever, functional and cool and it even has a sexy poem hidden and written in the lining of the bag!
What are your favourite things at Immaculate right now?
Here is a list of the things that I love from the site (so hard to choose, so much to love!)
As well as running Make Magazine, you also run an Instagram vegan food blog called @veganlockdownlarder – which you started in lockdown. What was the inspiration behind this?
After I sold swimwear brand Violet Lake in 2018, I thought, what next? I had always been interested in nutrition having been a vegetarian since the age 16 and a vegan for the last six years. The connection between what you eat and your mood and energy levels has always been very apparent and interesting to me, so I decided to re-train as a vegan naturopathic chef at the London College of Naturopathic Medicine and see where it took me.
Initially, I had hoped to cater retreats and other events, but that hasn’t been possible in 2020, so, creating this was the next best thing. For me, food is another creative outlet. It’s also a huge expression of love, particularly so if you are creating food which is consciously healthy, nutrient dense and hopefully makes the people you share it with, feel good.
To add to your accomplishments, you’ve recently published a digital vegan cookery book ‘The Vegan Lockdown Larder’. Why did you want to create a cookery book, and what can we expect to see here.
I was really worried that I might go a little mad without any work at the start of lockdown! But then I realised it was a great chance; I would finally have the time to compile some of my favourite recipes, tweaking them to make them lockdown and store-cupboard friendly and, importantly, it was a great solution to keep me busy and therefore sane! My aim with the book, is to share some simple plant-based recipes that will keep both vegans and carnivores alike, happy and well fed. The book is a downloadable e-book and contains forty really simple recipes with some nutritional guidance and some background information about why I like to cook them
It was also an attempt to dispel some myths about how hard it is to cook interesting and tasty vegan food.
A portion of proceeds from the sale of the Vegan Lockdown Larder will go to The Trussell Trust. Can you tell us a bit about the work they do and why this was important for you to support them?
The Trussell Trust is a really important charity, particularly now. It supports over 1200 food banks in the UK. A record 1.9 million food parcels were given over the past year and with increasing hardship caused by the pandemic this figure is set to rise hugely. Put simply, I believe that good nutrition equals good health and so it’s never really been more important to try and help people in this very simple way.
What’s your favourite recipe from the book, and can you share it with us?
I live on my own and though I could (in theory) throw a vegan banquet every day, I generally (and boringly) just eat a lot of steamed vegetables. That is where having good ‘food accessories’ already prepared in your fridge pays dividends. So, I probably use my recipe for Almond, Cashew and Garlic sauce most commonly (see recipe at the bottom of this article). If I had to choose once recipe that I could probably eat every day, it would be the Cold Soba noodle salad with miso sesame tofu. I always feel like eating noodles!
What are your go-to vegan meals and snacks for every day?
Often, if I’m too tired or rushed for time to cook I’ll just blend a banana-based smoothie. I can have that any time of the day and it’s a quick way to take on a lot of vitamins and minerals. So, I pretty much always try to have bananas (frozen and chopped) in the freezer for the smoothie but I also often just eat a chunk of frozen banana (maybe slathered with some almond butter) straight out of the freezer. I swear it tastes like ice-cream! I’ve also been known to travel with a jar of cinnamon in my bag. It transforms a simple slice of raw apple into something quite magical, I promise!
You’re clearly into living an ethical and sustainable lifestyle more generally. Can you share with us what products you’ve been enjoying over the last few months? Anything you can’t live without?
I use a great skincare brand called Oskia. It’s vegan and sustainable, made in the UK and uses really great quality ingredients that work really well on my skin. I’m obsessed with gut health so I am never without a good probiotic in the fridge and also drink gallons of kombucha! As a vegan, I do supplement and use Better You spray vitamins to make sure I get enough vitamin B12 and iron.
I’ve had a few muscular injuries in the past year and so I’ve recently been using a supplement called Natruflex from The Naked Pharmacy to help with my various aches and pains and I have really noticed a difference. Lastly, I’m a am sometimes not very good at sleeping, but I find the This Works deep sleep pillow spray really helps when my brain won’t stop whirring.
Tell us something about you that people might find surprising?
I’ve never (not in my whole life) done a cartwheel! I guess now I’m in my forties I probably never will! Thankfully, it not one of the things that keeps me awake at night!
What’s next for you?
I’ve been creating some of my recipes from the cookery book (like my granola and energy balls) for a weekly Farmers market in Barnes. It’s been really successful and so they are now also available to purchase online. Issue 15 of Make will be out in March 2021 and I’m working on a few secret projects too. So, all of that should keep me out of trouble.
Ursula's recipe for Almond, Cashew & Garlic Dressing
During lockdown my housemate, Twanine, has come to love this recipe. I have to admit, there isn’t much that a dollop of this doesn’t improve.
It’s essential to soak the nuts, ideally overnight in cold filtered water, for two reasons. The first is a practical one, you are softening the nuts and therefore your food processor will be able to blend them easily to create the mayo. The second reason is that nuts, whilst being very rich in vitamins, proteins, minerals and fats, in their raw state also contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid. This natural chemical is designed to protect the nut while it is on the tree and stop them from sprouting until it has the conditions it needs to grow, but it also affects the body’s ability to absorb the essential nutrients in the nut. Many people believe that the soaking process helps to remove this acid which means you will be taking on more of the nut’s natural nutrients and some people also report that soaking makes the nut easier on their digestion.
I eat it with the chickpea tofu bites, the Cajun tofu and the aubergine quinoa salad, all in my recipe book. On lazy days, when I can’t be bothered to cook, I steam a load of green vegetables and smother it with this sauce for its protein and ‘good’ fats but mostly because it’s delicious!
- 125g blanched almonds, soaked for 4 hrs or even better, overnight 50g cashew nuts, soaked for 4 hrs or even better, overnight
- 50g virgin olive oil
- 15-20g sherry vinegar
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 250g cold filtered water 1⁄2 to 1 tsp sea salt
- Drain the nuts and discard the soaking water (or use it to water your plants)
- Put all the ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend to a fine silky cream consistency
- Adjust the seasoning by adding a little extra sherry vinegar and or sea salt.
- Transfer to an airtight container. This will keep in the fridge for about twoweeks.
Tip. This dressing can easily be adjusted to let other flavours shine through. Try adding the juice and zest of one lime and an inch of finely chopped fresh ginger to the blender. Remove a clove of garlic and add lemon zest and juice and some fresh dill. Either option is a really good foil for spicy food.
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