Joshua Katcher is one of those people that exudes positive energy and creativity. Even before we officially met, the window of his store in Williamsburg had already caught my attention. At first glance, it struck me as something more than just another store with the same predictable men’s garments. Instead I was impressed by clean cut masculine silhouettes that embodied a kind of timeless elegance. My meeting with Joshua Katcher, was a lesson in fashion, which had me rethinking and analyzing every piece of clothing in my closet.
Speaking with him made me realize that the fashion world is moving beyond the typical debates about the next new trend or big name in the industry, to more nuanced conversations about ethics, activism, and the political climate in the United States. Katcher not only acknowledges the drastic new movements that are gaining traction with a new generation of fashion designers, he is an instrumental part of this change. As voices decrying the exploitation of animals in the fashion industry have gotten louder and louder in recent years, Katcher has heard their message and taken it to heart in his designs. During our conversation, he put it simply, "The fashion that we know today is not going to be the same.
In order for fashion to be truly good, the handsomeness of an object must be matched by the handsomeness of how it was made. There is a poetic grace and heightened pleasure in fashions of conscientious construction."Part of the new wave of designers who are practicing and preaching ethically acceptable methods of designing and producing clothes, Katcher, in addition to designing clothes is an adjunct professor of fashion at The New School. More about his fashion point of view we will be able to read in his first book Fashion Animals which brings history and studies about why animals are used in fashion.
Why did you decide to name your fashion brand "Brave Gentleman?" What do you mean by, “Brave”?
JK: The name is really to call out this stereotype of masculinity. When we hear the word gentleman, we are not thinking about breaking it into its root words which is gentle and man, and often man, and often masculinity is not associated with gentleness. Masculinity is most of the time associated with brutality, in some form being physically strong or brutal.
Our brand stands for sustainability and an ethic point of view. I think it requires bravery to be gentle today. I also believe that there is a particular strength in being gentle. In other words, Brave Gentlemen it is an idea that you can be a man and masculine while still caring for animals, the environment, your workers, and at the same time you are not compromising your masculinity to be a gentle man.
I hope that "Brave Gentleman" is showing people that their preconceptions about what veganism is, have very little to do with aesthetics, but have everything to do with how we make something.
We will keep the conversation around your label of course, but I would like to discuss one thing; when you decided to go into the fashion industry, you discovered one fun fact about your great-grandparents. They were also in the fashion business?
JK: Yes, that is true. Interestingly I had great-grandparents who were glove makers. But more recently I did a little research and found out that in the early 1900s, there was fashion blood in my family. It is quite ironic because I was struggling early on to find a good glove maker. (laughing)
Fashion is a significant part of your life, but it is also interesting for our readers to know that initially, this wasn't your first choice. You spent several years in video and television production, and then you decided to build your brand. Did you go into the fashion industry, or did it come to you?
JK: I came to fashion because I started writing about it in 2008 when I launched my blog, ''The Discerning Brute'' which was the first men's lifestyle blog dedicated to the vegan lifestyle. At that time in 2008, veganism was seen as something for women, at least from a mainstream perspective.
I know in subcultures like the hardcore music scene, or straight edge scene veganism was accepted amongst men, but most of the time being vegetarian or vegan, or expressing care for animals was seen as something for women to do, or in other words, something that would jeopardize your masculinity. So I started to write this blog trying to create a space to talk about masculine pursuits through the lens of veganism, and after awhile it hit a nerve with some people, and it struck a chord with other people. In other words, it was a little controversial, but people reacted. Through writing, I came to fashion. Trying to find out where you can get vegan shoes or suits gave me the idea to try to make something that would be high quality and long lasting. Mostly I wanted to give an elevated perception of what vegan fashion could be. My first endeavor was creating high-end footwear. I paired up with the New York based company, Novacas, and together we came up with a footwear line. We started with just a few designs and they sold out and then we kept growing. Eventually, we expanded into other product categories and now here we are.
In other words, Joshua, Brave Gentlemen showed the elegant and sophisticated side of vegan fashion and the vegan lifestyle?
JK: The important thing to point out is that vegan fashion and ethical fashion are not aesthetics, they are methodologies. It is the way you are producing something. You can have a vegan style that looks like anything, for example like some stereotypes which would be the hippie-bohemian, but that also doesn't mean that I can't make the most fabulous couture collection. In the end, it is all about the materials that you are choosing and how you are putting them together; in a way that is ethical. I think a lot of people associate veganism with specific characteristics, which are crunchy granola, hippie, dull, wholesome; certainly not, sexy, aspirational or elegant, but it can be those things. We learned that with food, and it took a while, and in other industries it will take time. I hope that "Brave Gentleman" is showing people that their preconceptions about what veganism is, have very little to do with aesthetics, but have everything to do with how we make something.
I see "Brave Gentleman" as a technology brand that's using fashion as a platform.
Do you still feel like you need to explain, educate and in most cases defend or justify the vegan choice?
JK: I am continually justifying and explaining what veganism is, because we don't live in a vegan world. We live in a world where it is acceptable to exploit animals. To be exact, it is preferable; it is a natural order. To push back against that, challenges people on a deep level. So something as simple as a pair of shoes can put someone on the defensive mood, just by saying: "Animals shouldn't be textiles," that tends to be a hugely controversial idea.
That controversial idea is becoming more and more acceptable. We have big fashion houses like Versace and Gucci publicly denouncing fur. In your opinion, why do you think this is happening now?
JK: What I think is happening with these fashion houses is not that they have suddenly had an awakening, it is the fact that they see economic sense in it. They understand that younger generations are aware of what it takes to produce a fur garment. It is also happening thanks to campaigners and organizations who have consistently met with these designers for decades, and have tried to establish a dialog between the fashion industry and animal rights activists. On top of that, there are so many innovative materials that you cannot see the difference between, such as fur or faux fur. Soon we will be able to grow those materials in laboratories, and you will be able to have something that is biologically identical to real fur or leather.
I believe that the future of materials is bio-fabrication.
And you are definitely on that path? Brave Gentleman is a fusion of future-textiles with centuries-old production methodology. Utilizing “future suede,” “future leather,” and “future wool,” which are superior to problematic animal-fibers, you were able to create a high-end, sustainable and ethically-made Men’s Collection.
JK: That is true. What I would like to point out is that most of our clothing is made in New York City's historic garment district using things like Brazilian future-wool tweeds and twills made from recycled cotton and recycled polyester, or velvety Turkish future-silk made from recycled water bottles. Our footwear and accessories are constructed in Italian future-leather - a durable, supple, weather resistant, hi-tech microfiber that is EU-Ecolabel Certified. Shirts are made with organic cotton. Buttons are made from corozo (tagua nut), and dyes are low-impact.
From an ecological point of view, has the utilization of these types of fabrics had a positive impact on the environment?
JK: There is no doubt about it. Everything that we do at this point impacts the ecosystem. The vital information is that all of these materials from the environmental standpoint, outperform animal materials by a long shot. All of the current data on the sustainability of fashion materials shows that specifically, leather is the single worst material for the environment, and honestly, there is no excuse to use it anymore.
When it comes to the future of your brand, there are some plans for expansion. The cities on your bucket list include Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo.
Why these locations?
JK: I see Brave Gentleman as a technology brand that's using fashion as a platform. It is all about the materials. I think places like L.A., Paris, and Tokyo are where people would be excited about that concept. I am not trying to reinvent the cut of the blazer; what I am excited about is how that blazer was made and what it's made out of.
But we can't ignore the fact that you are pushing forward men’s fashion with bold prints and innovative cuts, and you're giving us clothes that are elegant and comfortable.
JK: Thank you. My primary focus is that any good design today has to perform well. It has to look and feel good, but most importantly it needs to do good. I wouldn't consider something that was made unethically a good design.
We know that there is a lot to come from you and your brand, but I have heard that you may also have some political aspirations? Does that mean you want to change the fashion style of our current president?
JK: (laughing) Yes, I am interested in politics and that is in the air for me because I would like to work more on legislation. This is really important to me especially around fashion. Fashion is not taken seriously from the legislative point of view. There are a few laws on the books that are about ethical fashion, but I want to work on legislation that will provide better protection for animals in the fashion industry; and protect the environment, and the people who work in the fashion industry too. What will my path look like on the political scene? I still need to figure it out, but for sure the readers of In the Air magazine will know in time.
Photo | Marko Sovilj
Interview | Josip Majer
Styling | Joshua Katcher & Brave Gentlman