the discerning brute / Brave gentleman founder
Photo by Hanna Pavlova
Oftentimes, when an idea is formed to take place of or acts as an alternative to one that already exists (whether it be for the sake of better sustainability or ethical means,) it leaves much to be desired. With BraveGentleman – a premium fashion line founded by Joshua Katcher – nothing is compromised. With fair-labor considered and only sourcing premium materials superior to that of animals, Joshua has successfully crafted an ethically manufactured clothing line without falling short on classic design aesthetics. We chat about the pressing problems he plans to solve in the fashion industry, confidently standing for your beliefs, and how he’s become a natural at taking on new ventures.
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Can you share a little bit about your background and your journey leading up to what you’re doing now? I never imagined that I’d be in fashion. I grew up seeing Fashion (with a capital “F”) as something both inaccessible and superficial. From my teenage point of view, the catwalks, glossy ads and expensive name brands were simply vehicles for status to be offered to the few who could afford them and paraded around. It stunk of fatuousness. I didn’t yet know who he was, but I was tapping into what economist Thorstein Veblen famously named conspicuous consumption many decades earlier. I got very involved in the hardcore music and alternative rock scenes, in which many participants would place a lot of emphasis on rejecting the status quo for various environmental, ethical and social justice reasons.
Fashion seemed to be this major controller of youth, enforcing rigid beauty standards and specific forms of aspiration under the guise of self-expression and individuality, and rewarding those who complied with power. As I would sprawl on my bedroom floor paging through comic books, zines and Spin Magazine and slamming power chords on my Fender, I began to feel passionately opposed to the current power-structure and its consequences, and therefore passionately anti-fashion. I would shop for clothes at the Salvation Army. Wear band tee-shirts. Dumpster dive. I went vegan, studied art and environmental studies, and fought against sweatshops, environmental racism and animal cruelty on my college campus. It seemed that fashion was pompous, worthless and nothing good could come of it.
Years later, in 2008, I started a blog called The Discerning Brute,which focused on lifestyle content for men. Up until that point, most ethical or vegan lifestyle content was geared toward women. We live in a patriarchal culture where compassion, empathy, and caring are relegated to the realm of the feminine – and femininity is seen as weak if not contemptible. So most mainstream men identify with things that define mainstream masculinity: meat-eating, physical strength, sports, stoicism etc.
As an activist, I wanted to appeal to their sensibilities. I wanted TheDiscerningBrute.com to be kind of like GQ but to fly in under the radar and showcase ethical menswear, vegan athletes, cruelty-free grooming products, and incredible food that could not be brushed off as hippy-dippy. In my search for content, I realized there was a huge void in the market for high-quality, well-made vegan menswear. And the more I researched and wrote about fashion, the more I became fascinated with the influence and power that fashion has had, both as a reflection of our values (in the way we physically produce things) and as a tool to create identity, desire, and aspiration around superior materials and value chains.
In 2010, I released my first collection of footwear in response to simply not being able to find shoes that were vegan, sustainable, made fairly, and reflected a high standard of classic menswear characteristics. I began lecturing on the topic of Fashion & Animals. How ironic is it that I am now an adjunct fashion professor at Parsons the News School, and not only do I participate in fashion, but I see fashion as one of the most important and essential tools to reshape identity, reshape systems, and inspire change from within while directly impacting what’s outside.
“I became fascinated with the influence and power that fashion has had, both as a reflection of our values (in the way we physically produce things) and as a tool to create identity
Truly an inspiring journey you’ve been on, Joshua. What’s your advice for aspiring change-makers wanting to challenge the status quo? I’m sure it takes a certain amount of courage, self-trust, etc. I’d just say that if you’re passionate about making change, you can’t rely on passion alone. You’ve got to collaborate, think strategically, and instead of pursuing perfection, pursue effectiveness (often not the same thing). Being the most correct is not the same as being the most effective.
I’d love to chat further about your vision for The Discerning Brute. Stated on your about page, you’re wanting to create discourse with creative-influencers who want to redesign the world and redefine success. What areas of the world are you hoping to make impactful changes in, and what’s your definition of success? The Discerning Brute has become a place where I can curate and celebrate innovation and visionary thinking in an aesthetically pleasing format geared toward men, male-identifying, and masculine-presenting people. I really want to bridge a gap between the design communities and the activism communities. I believe that if we worked together, we would be unstoppable. Regarding success, it’s something that is in transition. I think we’re finally entering a time where the most exciting thinkers, entrepreneurs, and innovators are connecting their missions and business models to a pursuit of making the world a better place and solving pressing problems (as opposed to just trying to make as much money as possible at any cost, throwing a symbolic percentage of earnings at charities and patting themselves on the back). Success has more to do with well being, justice, and environmental problem solving than ever before. Other ways of redefining success could have to do with what it means to be a successful athlete. So many high-performance vegan athletes are redefining success in their fields, as are vegan designers, chefs, and so many others.
As an adjunct professor, what’s the one lesson you hope to instill into your students? I want my students to know that ethical fashion can be breathtaking, thought-provoking, and exquisite. There is not need to take materials from animals or use the same problematic production processes as the fashion establishment.
“You’ve got to collaborate, think strategically, and instead of pursuing perfection, pursue effectiveness (often not the same thing).
Tell us about the leap from fashion blogging to founding your own clothing line. Where and how did you begin with the process of filling the gap you saw in the fashion industry? I truly believe that ethical fashion has nothing to do with aesthetics. For example, “eco” fashion does not need to look “eco”. Hood by Air, Kenzo, or even Ann Demeulemeester could make everything in their collections eco, vegan and fair-labor without changing their design direction. That was sort of my approach to Brave GentleMan. I wanted to make a brand that captured classic menswear aesthetics, but met a set of criteria regarding the materiality and production process. At first glance, our footwear or blazers do not look like anything revolutionary, and that’s precisely the point. The gap in the market was not about the way things looked. It was about how they are being manufactured. We have a long way to go because many designers see sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, and vegan fashion as inherently uglier and poorer-quality than conventional fashion, and most have no idea how to access emerging technologies and materials that are ethical.
You seem like a natural at taking on new projects. Have you always been entrepreneurial spirited? I was raised to believe in myself and really go for what I want to try. In addition, I learned that I had to actually follow through with quality and consistency. Motivation and inspiration are only part of the equation. The other part is persistently working through many failures until it’s no longer a failure.
“Motivation and inspiration are only part of the equation. The other part is persistently working through many failures until it’s no longer a failure.
Despite the recognition a vegan lifestyle has received over these past years, I think topics regarding veganism still remain unpopular in certain spaces of the fashion industry. What are some challenges you’ve faced while disrupting the market of fashion with your beliefs? There are a lot of challenges, and one that bugs me a lot is the assumption that vegan materials are poor quality. Many people associate vegan shoes with cheap PVC that is unbreathable, rigid, and toxic. I spend a lot of time educating potential clients about the materials we use and how they just as expensive and superior to animal-based materials. The vegan leather we use is a high-tech, Italian-milled microfiber that is stronger than a lot of leather, more weather resistant, it breathes, breaks-in, ages handsomely, lasts a long time and is supple and has far less of an environmental impact than animal skins. But powerful livestock industries have invested a lot of resources in owning terms like “real” “authentic” “genuine” “natural” and their relationships with the most established fashion houses sometimes go back centuries. Another source of frustration is the perception that fashion is inconsequential. Most people don’t take fashion seriously, yet the fashion industrial complex has enormous global impacts on millions of workers, billions of animals and ecosystems everywhere.
Do you often feel frustrated? If so, what are some milestones and accomplishments you (or your brands) have hit that make all these challenges worthwhile? Yes, frustration and despair are there, but I try not to let them linger. It’s a waste of time to wallow, and it’s also healthy to acknowledge those feeling and know that it’s OK to feel awful sometimes. Taking risks is scary and entrepreneurs face some serious stakes. There are so many milestones and rewards from simply collaborating with incredible people to getting to do something that I am so passionate about. I do have to admit that when Paper Magazine recently featured me, it was very validating because they are a publication that I think reaches a lot of people and is considered cool- it has a lot of influence. I’ve recently taken on investors and that was something that felt incredibly elusive at times. So we are growing!
“It’s a waste of time to wallow, and it’s also healthy to acknowledge those feelings and know that it’s OK to feel awful sometimes.