I had the immense pleasure of meeting Cultivate founder Maria Maisto at event in late February. I was immediately struck by her gentle nature, but also (and perhaps even more so) that she had managed to found an entire brand and company around her cruelty-free vegan values, and that she was using her umbrella company to support and unite brands aligned with these ideals. By founding Cultivate, Maria created a trustworthy go-to space where vegans, animal lovers, and really anyone can purchase health & beauty products, home goods, gifts, fashion accessories, and even snacks that align with the core values of sustainable and cruelty-free consumption.

Maria Maisto,  Cultivate  founder at ' Afternoon Delight '.

Maria Maisto, Cultivate founder at 'Afternoon Delight'.

Always one to want to support a female entrepreneur who is striving to make a positive difference in the world, I was dying to interview Maria to learn more about her, and came to find that not only is she such a bad ass babe entrepreneur doing good in the world, but she is also a fellow cat mama! You can read our interview below!

In your own words, what is Cultivate exactly?

Cultivate is a vegan general store stocked with products that are body-, earth-, and animal-friendly; in addition, we donate 10% of sales to animal causes.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Flemington, NJ (I doubt many people have heard of it) in an Italian family. When I was around 14, I asked a doctor about vegetarianism, I’m not even sure why. He gave me a VHS tape with a documentary on it. I have no clue what it was called, but (not to date myself too much) in the late 80’s, early 90’s there weren’t a lot of them on the subject like there are now. I remember watching it and then declaring I was a vegetarian. 

I always felt like a bit of a black sheep growing up and being a new vegetarian in an Italian family didn’t help much. I moved to Los Angeles at 17 to go to school at USC (studied Kinesiology), and when I landed here I knew I was where I was meant to be. It finally hit me that the discomfort I felt growing up was because I never really fit in, but there’s a level of comfort I feel here…It’s my home.

Maria and her fur baby Mina.

Maria and her fur baby Mina.

What influenced you to start living this type of lifestyle?

I’d say when I was in my teens it was because of health reasons. Eating meat just seemed so bad for you and I was very into working out (I had a rowing machine in high school that was my stress reliever and saving grace). When I got to my 20’s, it became more about the environment and I started to eat vegan at home and vegetarian when I went out. In my 30’s I adopted the most amazing cat that changed everything. I’d never had a cat before and, I’m now embarrassed to say, I thought cats were kind of lame; yet, I got Mina and she changed me forever (oh the irony). Okay, this is where I go on about my cat for a bit, please bear with me…Mina, besides being gorgeous, is ridiculously smart and super communicative. She’s a bengal and I learned pretty quickly how much they like to talk. I started to feel like I had a roommate more than a pet. She has a really powerful presence, and it was that presence that made me question why I was trying not to inconvenience others when I was out, rather than holding strong to my beliefs.

Maria with Maria the goat! And the KSKYE the Label -  CYLLENE Ring .

Maria with Maria the goat! And the KSKYE the Label - CYLLENE Ring.

And then what inspired you to start Cultivate?

Well, once I went full vegan (again, thanks to Mina) it seemed hypocritical to buy products like leather, wool, silk, etc. And I’m sure most vegans will tell you, being vegan is a slippery slope - once the veil is lifted, you can’t go back. 

Shopping, which should be fun, became annoying and frustrating. Reading every label on clothes, skincare products, even candles would make me angry. I stopped shopping and instead would have to research individual items online, which was laborious and also not fun. 

I was in search of the vegan Amazon, but couldn’t find one, so I decided to create it myself.

How do you find your brands and products?

I started out by walking around different Farmers’ Markets and checking out the small businesses. Of course, they had to be vegan. Also, researching local small businesses, and then people that knew what I was trying to build connected me with other like-minded individuals, which is great. I’ve been so lucky to work with a community of small businesses all trying to achieve a similar goal: make great products that are good for humans, the environment and don’t harm animals in the process.

Maria and Vincenzo the chicken.

Maria and Vincenzo the chicken.

How would you like Cultivate to evolve moving forward into the future?

I would love to represent more brands, preferably small businesses, and have a greater variety of products on the site. 

What are the biggest challenges that you are facing at the moment if any?

I’d say just getting the word out. I’d love for more people to check out the site and, hopefully, like what they see.

The  Canopy Verde Bergen Tote , just one of the many  vegan accessories  available on the  Cultivate  site.

The Canopy Verde Bergen Tote, just one of the many vegan accessories available on the Cultivate site.

What are the top products that you cannot live without?

Oh man, I can’t live without the No Tox Life Lip Butter, I always have a COCO coconut candle or HOI incense burning, the Sustain condoms are fantastic, and the Fizz Bath Co. essential oil-filled bath bombs saved my skin from our dry winter.

I'd love to know about your daily life / routine as a wellness entrepreneur and vegan. How do you start and end your day, what do you eat in an ideal day, and some of your practices?

I’m a big meditator, so I love to start my day with a 10-20 minute meditation. I also  love to walk, and thankfully, live close to Griffith Park, so I take advantage of it as much as I can. And as much as I hate to admit it, I have a big sweet tooth, and am addicted to Magpies soft serve. Their Corn Almond is crazy good. I’ve had to calm down a bit on my consumption, but man, it’s good. And don’t get me started on the Vegan Fried Pie…