Joshua Katcher is a fashion instructor at Parsons School of Design at The New School and is currently writing his first book, FASHION ANIMALS. Katcher started the first men’s ethical lifestyle website, The Discerning Brute in 2008 and launched the Brave GentleMan label and eCommerce platform in 2010, spearheading the first vegan, ethically-made menswear fashion brand that utilizes organic, recycled and hi-tech materials. In October of 2015 Brave GentleMan opened its first store in Brooklyn, and recently opened a new store in Williamsburg. Katcher’s work has appeared on the cover of GQ, he was awarded Most Influential Designer of 2015 by PETA, was named 2014 Man Of The Year by COCO ECO magazine, a “modern day hero in the making” by The Wild magazine, and both an “ethical style icon” and one of the top 10 male bloggers by Veg News magazine. You can learn more at TheDiscerningBrute.com and BraveGentleMan.com.
STAND spoke with Katcher about his interest in veganism and ethical fashion, and he lets us know if we can anticipate an ethical fashion version of Project Runway!
How did you become interested in fashion and design?
I did not take fashion seriously, in the sense of seeing it as anything more than decoration, for a large portion of my life. And I think this feeling echoed how a lot of people felt; that fashion was inconsequential, frivolous and vain. Subconsciously, as a teen, I saw the direct social impacts that fashion choices could have. I was involved in the hardcore music scene and I toyed with punk-rock, goth, grunge and skater aesthetics—but as I made fashion choices aimed at provoking, challenging decorum and creating spectacle (I wore a spiked dog collar to prom), I also enjoyed contradicting the assumptions that would be made. I was no slacker or delinquent. In fact I was often an over-achiever and got a kick out of eliciting judgment from people only to disprove their preconceptions. Fashion resurfaced as an issue of concern during college when I participated in anti-sweatshop and anti-fur activism. I began to see the sinister side of the fashion industry—the slave labor, the fur farms, the racism, the misogyny. I chose to shop second-hand to avoid supporting this industry that I saw as collectively harming people and animals for profit. At this time I was quite anti-fashion in general. I was also studying art and the environment, and began to understand how aesthetics have macro-societal and ecological effects. But fashion was an enemy that decorated the foolish and distinguished the powerful from the powerless. Fashion was ruthless and the industry had an insatiable appetite for animals’ bodies and cheap labor.
Then, in 2008 I started writing the blog The Discerning Brute, and it changed my life. It was the first vegan fashion and lifestyle website geared toward men. In my search for menswear that met a set of stringent criteria, I began to realize there was a real void in the market for well-made, cool, sustainable, vegan menswear. My views began to shift as I contemplated becoming a fashion designer myself. Instead of viewing fashion as an inherent transgression, I began to see it as a powerful tool for creating aspiration, articulating identity, and an opportunity to invest in systems that we want to see flourish—systems that directly impact millions of workers, billions of animals and ecosystems everywhere. In retrospect, the fashion system was so embedded that it was nearly invisible and easy to generalize and invalidate—but like all systems created by human beings, it has the potential to be used for good. I began speaking on the topic, participating in panel discussions on ethical fashion and researching a lot. When I started Brave GentleMan—the first vegan menswear label—in 2010, my mission was to disrupt the fashion industry. To use the aesthetics of aspiration to create desire around ethical production methodologies. Soon after I was offered a teaching position at Parsons The New School.
What does style mean to you?
Style is a way of doing something. In regards to clothing and accessories, style is about how one wears things, or how one lives in things. Fashion is a system—and presently it’s a power structure that reflects our other power structures. Anyone can have great style—and one need not participate in fashion per se to have style.
I chose to shop second-hand to avoid supporting this industry that I saw as collectively harming people and animals for profit.
How would you suggest a man go about finding his own personal style?
A good starting point is asking oneself “who am I, what do I care about, how do I want others to perceive me, and in what garments, symbols, and materials do I feel good?” A next step is finding a brand or company with whom you identify for reasons beyond aesthetics. Who do you want to support financially, and whose clothing and production processes can you proudly stand behind, making it part of your own identity?
What is the one item in your closet that you can’t live without?
My Brave GentleMan tweed moto jacket! I live in it. Sometimes I have to force myself to wear another jacket just to switch things up, but it feels like home, and I am proud of it! Also a good pair of black boots. Currently they’re the Brave GentleMan Paradigm Boot.
Was there a key moment in your life that made you choose the vegan lifestyle and why is veganism so important to you?
I don’t know if it was a key moment so much as it was a process of asking questions and making choices based on the answers. One of the first questions I remember asking around the time I was fourteen or fifteen was “why are there cattle grazing in clear-cut rainforests just so people can have a cheap hamburger?” At this point I’ve been vegan for about two decades, and it happened because it just made sense and addressed some of the most pressing ethical and environmental issues. Once I found out about how much animals go through in order to produce these unnecessary products, it just became easy to find superior foods and materials to work with.
How has your personal style changed since focusing on ethical fashion?
It’s gotten far better, I’d say. I am more precise and edited in what I’ll wear and far more in control of how I want to be perceived—plus a lot of my clothing provides an opportunity to have a conversation about things I care about, from sustainability to labor and animal rights.
For the man who is already into fashion, how would you recommend starting out on a path to a more ethical wardrobe?
Research! Don’t just go to a store and wander … take fashion seriously, because it has serious impacts and outcomes. Research brands that make clothing in a way you’d be proud to represent, because when you financially support them, you are investing in the way they do business. Read brand’s “about” pages and don’t be afraid to send an email or make a call and ask questions.
Are there other ethical menswear brands that inspire you and that you’d recommend?
Rombaut, Fanmail, HoodLamb, Bleed Clothing, Glass House, and Umasan are all doing really cool things! I wrote a lot about them on TheDiscerningBrute.com so check it out! I am always reviewing and discussing high-quality and emerging brands that meet a stringent set of aesthetic and ethical criteria.
One final question: when will we see you and Heidi Klum debut “Project Ethical Runway”?
I can’t say too much, but keep an eye out! It may be closer than you think 😉