** Post Update: On June 15, after this blog was posted, I received an email from a representative at Purely Great saying they had found this post and confirmed that yes, even though they are a small company, they have a great return policy, great customer service and each store has their own return policy. They weren’t sure why my email to them had bounced back and they offered to send me a complimentary unscented deodorant.
June 15, 2014.
Last year a friend of mine introduced me to a fantastic product called (for real) Purely Great. I’d been looking for a deodorant brand for a while that didn’t test on animals and used all natural ingredients. I’d tried a few that were on the market but unfortunately, none of them lasted me the whole day and by 5:00 o’clock, I’d end up with a case of the Shay-Lean Woodley stink pits. Purely Great was the first deodorant that I didn’t have to worry about that and I’ve been using it ever since.
I don’t know what comes first, the label or the stereotype but there is a certain image that comes with being vegan. You know, that we’re all hippies who grow our armpit hair and sit around on hemp blankets eating granola. Since becoming vegan, I get that. As you start to see the world on a much larger scale, some things just become unimportant like wearing make-up or shaving. Certain things become trivial and no longer align with your new worldview; they can actually seem kind of pointless.
That said, I also believe that as a vegan, I am an ambassador for a lifestyle that I truly think can make a difference to people’s lives and our world. That’s why it’s still important to eat healthy and not just live off of chips and hummus. It’s still important to be in good health and to exercise and to spend time on personal grooming. I may not look any different from anyone else in my office but by being well put-together, it reflects that is still possible to use natural products, eat natural things and still be taken seriously. My point is, if I came into work with greasy hair, body odour and a seaweed sandwich for lunch, it’s not going to do much to garner interest from a non-vegan. You still have to fit in even when you don’t.
So when I come across businesses that seem to only cater to vegans or not take their business seriously, I get pissed. As I mention in the “About” page, when I first got the idea for this blog, it was while waiting in line for 10 minutes one day at food court for a veggie sandwich. This wasn’t a one-off either; this place always took forever to make a sandwich while the place beside it served burgers in half the time. The food at the Urban Herbivore is delicious but if I’m going to invite a meat-eating friend to join me there for lunch, the teeth-pulling it will take to get them there for a no-meat lunch is only going to be compounded if they discover they also have to wait twice as long for it.
In addition to the long wait for a sandwich, the staff there kind of do nothing to change the stereotype. The face piercings and dreadlocks are fine but they all move at a snail’s pace, as if there were no hurry in the world and there weren’t a lineup of people who expect fast food to be just that. This is when I am disappointed and basically want to scream, “PICK IT UP, PEOPLE!” It may not be right and it may not be fair but if vegan businesses want to appeal to markets other than their own niche, they have to be better than this.
So you can imagine my delight when I went to exchange a jar of the Purely Great deodorant at the Grassroots retailer I bought it from and was told that I couldn’t exchange it because Purely Great is a small company and “they don’t have the same flexibility as big businesses” to exchange products.
In the words of Liz Lemon, “What-the-what now?”
I had gone into Grassroots the week prior to replenish my deodorant. They did not have any of the unscented that I usually get so I decided to try a scented one even though it wasn’t my first choice. The one thing I was careful to avoid was the patchouli-scented one because I really can’t stand the smell of patchouli; I’d rather spray a can of rancid sauerkraut under my arms. I also thought I’d buy one of the men’s deodorant for my husband to try. I settled on the Citrus Cream Deodorant, one from the women’s line and one from the men’s. I checked the ingredients on both and nope, no patchouli listed.
As soon as my husband and I went to apply our respective deodorants the next day, the unmistakable smell of patchouli filled the air. What…?!? I checked the ingredients again and Julian, my husband, noticed that each of them were the same with one exception – the men’s deodorant had one extra ingredient than the women’s called “pogostemon cablin” and when he Googled it, it turns out that’s another name for the patchouli plant (or “Lucifer’s Cologne” as I now call it).
No worries, I thought, I’ll just exchange it for a different scent not for a second thinking there would be a problem. I went back to Grassroots the following week, grabbed a different scent from the shelf, went to the cash and explained what had happened. It was then that the sales person checked the jar I was returning and said that because it had been opened, they could not exchange it.
I was taken aback and re-explained that I didn’t know that “pogostemon cablin” was also patchouli and that I was not asking for a refund but an exchange. That’s when they gave me the “small business” bullshit as to why they couldn’t do it. I pointed out that were this a cosmetics counter in a department store, there would “no questions asked” if I discovered the product I had purchased a week before contained a scent I did not wish to wear. It was then that another sales person standing there said to me, “Well, we can’t take a product back just because you didn’t understand the ingredients list.”
Nice customer service, Grassroots. So, I can’t exchange a product because I don’t know all the names for a certain plant? This deodorant is also $12.99 for 45 grams so it’s not exactly Shoppers Drug Mart prices. Sure, it lasts as long as regular deodorant and I’m prepared to pay more since it’s is natural and cruelty-free, but there’s no reason that should exclude me from ever having a problem with the product. Grassroots also has more than one store and Purely Great is sold at several different retailers around the city so the small business angle is pretty weak; it’s not like they’re hawking this shit out the back of a van or something.
I was pretty shocked at their response but managed to keep my composure. They then suggested that I contact Purely Great directly and it was just on the tip of my tongue to say, “Why can’t you contact them on my behalf since you’re the retailer?” but after that last comment, I figured it would be pointless since they clearly weren’t interested in making a customer happy. So, I bought another $12.99 deodorant, left the store and before the door even hit my ass on the way out, I knew I’d never be back to shop at that location again.
To be fair, this may not be Purely Great’s policy. Grassroots is entitled to their own store policy and maybe they’re just saying Purely Great won’t do it because they can’t be bothered. I decided to write to Purely Great to see if I could at least get a store credit for the opened, patchouli-scented deodorant. I emailed them, explaining what had happened and asked if there was anything they could do.
The email bounced back with a message that the domain wasn’t found and the email address was invalid, even though I got it right off their website. Oh for the love of….fuck it. I gave the deodorant to a friend who doesn’t mind Patchouli and ironically, was also the person who first recommended the product to me.
Suppose I wanted to recommend this product to someone for no other reason than it’s a good product? Suppose they try it and change their mind about it in a few days and get this kind of runaround just to exchange it? Suppose ethical ingredients or manufacturing practices aren’t an issue for someone – why would they switch to a product that they have to go to a specialty store to buy, pay twice as much for and get lousy customer service to boot? There wouldn’t be a reason for them to switch and I wouldn’t blame them for going back to their usual harmful-but-convenient brand. Just like waiting 10 minutes for a veggie sandwich, we have to do it better than this if we want to give great ethical products a real chance to compete with big business.