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?