In February this year - yes, just prior to the world shutting down + medical teams going into overdrive taking care of both suspected + confirmed cases of COVID-19 - I visited LA, Guadalajara + NYC. Whilst in New York, I had the pleasure of meeting + chatting with Joshua Katcher - designer, author, teacher + founder of Brave GentleMan, an elevated + ethical vegan menswear brand focused on sharp tailoring + accessories.
If Joshua wasn't already busy enough with running his label - he also published a book in 2019, called Fashion Animals) + recently co-founded Rind Cheese. We met at Terms of Endearment in Brooklyn + ate our way through 2 courses of brunch, whilst talking all things veganism, ethics, style, animal activism + small business life.
SB: Where did you grow up Joshua?
JK: I grew up in Poughkeepsie, which is about two hours north of New York City. I grew up visiting my grandparents at a housing project in Brooklyn - and I always knew I’d live in NYC one day. My parents were public school teachers, their parents were taxi drivers and pharmacists. My great-grandparents fled antisemitism in Europe and came to New York State, where two of them became glove-makers in Gloversville.
SB: When did animal activism become important to you?
JK: The first time I ever really considered what was happening to animals, beyond just claiming I “liked” them, was in the 90s in high-school. I found out that the rainforest was being illegally burned and cleared for cattle-grazing. I remember being just baffled at the idea that these invaluable, ancient forests were being destroyed to make cheap burgers. That sent me down a rabbit hole. I wanted to know what else was being intentionally hidden in our food system. I was lucky that my high-school library had a copy of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. I read it and it profoundly affected me. It unveiled the systemic exploitation and abuse of animals as ideological. There were images and information I couldn’t unlearn or un-see. A broader idea of a more compassionate and just world just made sense to me as something to fight for and work towards, with whatever skills we have. Another thing that compelled me, was having been bullied, and being open and empathetic to the suffering of others. Animals want to live. They fight to live. We continue to underestimate their capacities to have complex inner lives and social lives, and we underestimate their ability to suffer.
Joshua Katcher, photographed by Eric Mirbach
New 2020 collection suiting, Brave GentleMan
SB: Can you give us a brief rundown of your career thus far?
JK: My career has been really varied. I've been a producer at major networks like MTV, an editor at top advertising agencies, an EMT, a waiter, an adjunct professor, an author, a vegan cheesemaker, and of course, the founder of menswear brand Brave GentleMan. I think my diverse experience really does empower me as an entrepreneur, because I have a lot of skills to draw from.
SB: Tell us about Brave GentleMan + how the concept came to life for you?
JK: I started writing about fashion in 2008 when I launched my website The Discerning Brute. At the time, it was the first and only men’s vegan lifestyle website. In writing about vegan menswear, I realized that there were things I wanted, that didn’t exist or meet the high standards I had, so I decided to try to make them. My first collection was a collaborative shoe line with Novacas (the in-house brand at MooShoes). Eventually I launched other categories like belts, wallets, suits, and outerwear. I see vegan fashion as a means by which to create and express a visual identity that aligns the beauty of a fashion object with the beauty of how it was made. Fashion is a wonderful place for transformation, whether personal or cultural, to take place.
SB: You've been a pioneer in the vegan fashion space Joshua, yet have done so with humility, grace + generosity of knowledge sharing - versus needing to be someone who 'owns' the space. I admire this, as it talks to a spirit of abundance -and we need more of that in the world. What is your view on the vegan fashion space now versus when you started?
Joshua Katcher, Founder Brave GentleMan
JK: I think the biggest barrier is cost. Ethical and vegan fashion (if made well) can be more expensive than most conventional fashion - especially if the brands are prioritizing workers rights, innovative and sustainable materials, and high-quality production. People are still trained to think that fashion should be inexpensive. There’s a real disconnect between fashion shoppers and supply chains and we need to do a better job educating people about why it’s impossible for responsible brands to sell things at low prices, unless they’re doing enormous volumes of goods. Most of the exciting new materials have high minimums and high prices, so it limits which companies are able to use them - usually the brands that are already powerful. Scaling requires investment as well. Fashion really is an industry that favours wealthy and powerful brands over small-scale entrepreneurs.
New 2020 collection footwear, Brave GentleMan
SB: For a small business, you've covered several categories - tailored suits, bags, wallets, belts, shoes etc. From my perspective, I get tempted to launch a new category + then have to tell myself to take it SLOW - based on cost, resources, mental bandwidth, but the temptation never leaves me! Expanded category mix is not an easy task - what learnings can you share about trying new categories?
JK: My enthusiastic advice is to stay focused on just one or two categories that you can do really well. I stretched myself too thin too quickly. If I could start over I would have kept a more narrow focus. It’s fun to expand horizontally, and it’s easy to get bored with what’s familiar, but unless there are staff and lots of funds to support new categories, it can be a big risk.
JK: Typically, what’s most viable, is what is most scalable. I think mycelium (fungus) and algae are going to be the most scalable and affordable sources of sustainable and vegan biomaterials in the near future.
JK: There is no typical day! I am constantly juggling a million things from customer service and designing to lecturing, vegan cheese-making and meetings. It's all over the place. I do try to regularly work out and I do love cooking.
JK: I love traveling through Europe. There’s just so much vegan food culture to enjoy as well as art, history and friends.
Terms of Endearment, Brooklyn
QUICK FIRE Q'S:
Night Owl or Earlybird
Tea or Coffee...or matcha.
It's 1985. New Order or Wham.
Wine or Spirits.
Wine + Whisky.
Yoga or Pilates.
Crossfit! Ha ...
Books or Podcasts.
Cinema or Netflix.
Walk or Cycle.
Reality Shows or Documentaries.
Slow Dance or Disco.
Final note on the restaurant + cafe recommendations - as we all know, SO many hospitality small businesses have had to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic; hopefully the list mentioned will be saved for a future visit...or even better, if they offer takeway options, please support small businesses by ordering your next meal, coffee or sweet treat from them if you happen to live in NYC!
Please be sure to look up @Brave_Gentleman + @thediscerningbrute - both very inspiring IG accounts + we salute Joshua for staying on this path ....not an easy path, given he is self funded + works tirelessly alongside his creative (and commercial) endeavours, to raise awareness for the plight of animals on the planet.