Sustainable and ethical fashion is not new but many of your favorite retailers have been slow to the eco-friendly wardrobe party. In a world where fast fashion is dominating, we must make room for those designers and retailers who want to introduce you to the other side of fashion. We caught up with Joshua Katcher, founder of Brave GentleMan, a classic menswear brand with an ethical approach to fashion. Check out our interview where he talks to us about everything from how the business started to how you can Star making ethical fashion choices.
How was Brave GentleMan conceived and why did you give it that name?
Brave GentleMan emerged in 2010 after writing my blog, TheDiscerningBrute for a couple of years. I launched my blog because there was a glaring void when it came to addressing men about sustainability and an ethical lifestyle. I wanted to understand why caring about the environment, caring about animals or being able to proudly embrace compassion were seen as weak qualities.
The name Brave GentleMan is simply calling attention to the fact that being gentle can still be brave and masculine. Being gentle requires strength. Gentleness does not have to be synonymous with weakness, though that is a popular interpretation. Typically, we associate brutality with masculinity, but being cruel is easy. As the contemporary philosopher Lars Svendsen famously said, ” it’s always easier to do evil than to do good; easier to hurt another human being in ways that will haunt them for the rest of their lives than to do a comparative amount of good; easier to inflict an enormous amount of suffering on a whole people than to bring about a comparative state of prosperity.” When we look at the word Gentleman in this context, gentleness can be very empowering.
Why is it important to leave animals out of the fashion production process?
I’ve written a whole book on this question, so a quick answer won’t be easy. But I’ll start with an ethical baseline: there is no way to humanely or ethically confine, trap, process or kill animals when we actually consider the animal’s perspective. There are efforts in some small cases to cause less harm than what is considered business-as-usual, but in the majority of scenarios, the number of animals required to meet the scale of industry demands is mind-boggling. 100 million animals are killed each year for fur. A billion for leather. A billion sheep are alive today bred for wool. The amount of resources required to raise these animals, confine and kill them, and process their body parts into fashion objects is enormous. In order to make a profit, many producers of fur, wool, leather and other animal materials prioritize what is fast and cheap, as opposed to what is best for the animal. That’s why so many investigations from ostrich and alligator leather farms to fur, wool, and feather have revealed unimaginable cruelties, languishing and violent deaths. Most people would be absolutely shocked to see how animals are treated in the fashion industry, so there’s a reason they keep these facilities well-hidden from view and their practices well-hidden behind glamorous marketing campaigns. From sheep being thrown, stomped and punched on “humane” wool farms to foxes dying from untreated infections on European fur farms, to alligators having their spinal cords destroyed with a metal rod while conscious to animals being literally skinned alive in order to keep up the pace of the kill-line, there is simply no justification for it. On top of that, recent research coming from inside the fashion industry (Kering’s E P&L, and The Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report) have concluded that animal materials are the worst materials for the environment, especially leather. In short, no sentient being should be treated like a tool or a raw material in an industrial system because the inevitable result, especially with scale, is cruelty.
You mention that masculinity is sometimes viewed as being brutal can you explain that as it relates to the use of animals in fashion?
What it means to be a man is very tied up in notions of brutality. Aspiring toward masculine power also crosses over into women’s fashion with something like a fur coat or exotic skin heels. For example, the rarer an animal or the crueler a process, the more valuable a material is perceived to be because having it is a demonstration of access, of economic power and of a willingness to be ruthless. This can be traced back to European royalty of the middle ages and their ermine capes, for example, that required hundreds of animals who lived in far-off places and who were difficult to hunt to be turned into a singular garment. It’s all about power and being perceived as powerful and potentially dangerous. Ethical fashion, often marketed as a “do-gooder” symbol is going to be a tough sell in the context of our current culture to those who might otherwise aspire toward a sports car with leather seats, snorting rhino horn powder, owning a crocodile watch band or a vicuna sweater.
After viewing your products online the first words that come to mind are posh and sleek but how would you describe your brand’s aesthetic?
Thank you! I certainly hope we’re posh and sleek! For me, Brave GentleMan is simply classic menswear aesthetics with modern updates and a focus on superior, innovative materials. I am not trying to reinvent the cut of a suit, but I am trying to reinvent our relationship to how things are made and of whom!
Your Footwear and accessories are made using Italian “Future-leather”? Can you explain what that means for readers who are not familiar with that term?
Future-leather is a category of materials that are made to look and perform better than leather, without being derived from or harming animals. Typically these are hi-tech microfibers, but soon they will also be lab-grown materials like bio-fabricated leather.
What is ethical fashion? Is it just about sustainability and the use of non-animal products?
This is an ongoing conversation and negotiation. There is no singular ethical fashion authority, but typically ethical fashion is coming from companies that address three main areas: sustainability, labor and animal cruelty. Some brands focus on one or two, but ideally, it’s all three. What something like vegan fashion does is it unveils systems. Both industrial systems (how things are made, where, of whom, by whom, in what contexts) and ideological systems (what do certain clothes represent, why is it acceptable for some animals to be turned into “fabric” and not for others?)
What advice or tips can you give our readers who want to be more conscious of the ethics surrounding fashion?
I think the first step is to take fashion seriously. The fashion industry is very complex and remains a bit opaque and I suspect this has to do with the fact that fashion is not taken seriously in general but especially in academia and politics. People tend to think fashion is silly, frivolous and a symbol of vanity. But when we look closer, the fashion industrial complex is something affecting a billion workers, billions of animals and ecosystems everywhere. Meaningful legislation around fashion is not produced because even our lawmakers scoff at the idea that fashion is anything more than aesthetics. This means we need to take matters into our own hands, for now. The second bit of advice is to find brands that have made it a mission to be ethical and find ways to support them. Lastly, you’ve got to read articles and books and watch documentaries on the topic. I’ve written a book called FASHION ANIMALS that will be out soon, so pick up a copy. Watch The True Cost. Sign up for Google news alerts for phrases like “ethical fashion” “sustainable fashion” “vegan fashion”. These are a good place to start.
Your clothes and products are fashion forward without compromising your methodology, is this intentional and what inspires your creative process considering you have a lot to be mindful of?
I am inspired by material innovation and classic menswear. When setting out to make anything from a wallet to a jacket, my goal is to make something superior. Otherwise, what’s the point? Just to create more clutter? I want to make animal materials in fashion obsolete, and that means I have to lead with design and performance. Sourcing has been an uphill battle, but things are getting better each season and now there’s a lot to choose from, but still not ideal. I am hoping to get into material production myself to create a vegan Vicuna thread.
It’s clear that your business is online but will you be sold in any big or small retailers in the near future?
Yes! Soon to be on Net-A-Porter/YOOX.
Your menswear fashion business has a message and an informative component to it. How important is it for you to convey your message to your buyers or society in general?
I hope that the designs can stand alone and speak for themselves. After that, the fact that it’s ethical and vegan is just icing on the cake! We try not to overdo the ethical fashion marketing because I suspect that many shoppers who aren’t looking for that will feel like it’s not for them, and place a sense of burden on them. Since shopping is such an emotional act, I want to make sure to provide space that customers can feel it’s still a fun and enjoyable thing. I think this is a pitfall that many ethical brands face; just how overt should we be with advertising our values and principles?
To date what has been your greatest moment in fashion in terms of being heard and seen by so many in the press from W magazine to Oprah?
Getting our suit on Benedict Cumberbatch for the cover story of British GQ (Nov 2016) was a huge moment! It felt really validating like it wasn’t just people looking for ethical fashion who liked my stuff!
What exciting or new things are next for Brave Gentleman?
We are hoping to open more locations, release a line of more conservative suits for our Wall Street / Lawyer / Business customers, and I also plan to get into material innovation and athletic-wear.
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