As the founder of the ethical men’s lifestyle blog, The Discerning Brute and online men’s fashion shop The Brave Gentleman, which offers stylish sustainable and vegan products, Joshua Katcher is an accomplished and inspiring champion for the rights of animals, a bold voice at the forefront of the rapidly changing and innovative ethical fashion and food scenes.
It’s no mistake that all this sounds rather heroic. The beloved hero archetype is an idea Katcher explores a lot on his blog along with the themes of male identity in relationship to a more sustainable consumer approach. “As far as menswear is concerned, guys want to feel like they are protectors and defenders and heroes, and this is such the perfect opportunity for that,” says Katcher.
As yet another film version of the Superman story opened at box offices this week, its clear that America is a country that wants to be saved. Katcher himself prefers another superhero savior with slightly more sartorial flair for the job: “When you invest in menswear that is made ethically, you are becoming a James Bond because you’re gonna look great and you’re gonna save the world. What guy wouldn’t want to be James Bond?”
It’s an idea he hopes will win over the mainstream and make inroads towards an altogether more modern male consumer and men’s fashion. We caught up with Joshua recently to learn more, here’s what he had to say:
Rowena Ritchie: Why did you start The Discerning Brute?
Joshua Katcher: I started the blog in 2008 because I saw there was a really big void in the market. There wasn’t really anyone talking about ethics and sustainability in relation to lifestyle for men. Everything was geared towards women. I saw that as a problem, because caring about other people, about animals and the environment gets overlooked by a lot of mainstream men because they think it’s feminine or weak – which is a very sexist idea. I wanted to make it more appealing for guys to feel proud for considering these issues.
Image: The Brave GentleMan
RR: Tell us about your journey as a vegan?
JK: I grew up eating the typical American diet. We ate steak and chicken, going to McDonald’s and Burger King once in a while. Eating just like every middle class family did, I never really questioned where my food came from. And when I did start to, I was appalled at what happened to the animals.
I was always an animal lover – I think most people are. They would be shocked if they really knew what goes on in the fashion and food industries. Most people would be surprised to know that trying out a vegan lifestyle is in line with principles they already have, that they’re just not acting upon.
RR: So many of us know instinctively when we’re children that eating meat is out of sync with our deepest beliefs. What do you think it is that happens to us culturally so that we grow up going along with the meat industry?
JK: This is one of the issues that we deal with a lot on The Discerning Brute – mainstream masculinity and what that means when it comes to both sustainability and ethics. Often the way that most men express themselves to be considered masculine is to shut down and cut off all those characteristics that would be considered weak, like compassion, empathy and emotion. It’s advocated for men to be very rational and not consider others’ feelings, and that’s just not what human animals are. We’re not robots, we’re not a computer program, we’re emotional animals where feelings are indeed facts.
The fact that we don’t have to prevent our young children from eating the pets in the house should be a sign we’re not natural carnivores. Most carnivores would go after and kill their prey if left alone in a room with them. We are taught to do that, and that’s a very different thing.
RR: From everything I’ve read there isn’t a biological imperative to eat meat at all, and yet this is where the discussion tends to get stuck a lot.
JK: The funny thing is there are so many masculine athletes that are vegan now. Mixed martial artists, boxers and weight trainers, cross fitters, ultra runners and marathoners — all these guys are really strong and powerful and are eating a diet that is the opposite of what we’re taught — that you have to eat muscle to become muscle. It’s such a strange idea… I mean you don’t eat brains to become smarter. And you don’t need to eat another animal’s flesh to become stronger. But so many guys believe that they have to eat meat if they want to be strong.
It ties into the idea as prehistoric man as the hunter and this is where our male identity comes from. A lot of recent anthropological evidence shows that prehistoric humans ate a lot more plant foods than they did meat, unless they we’re in an arctic climate. Survival is a different context that civilization and that’s what’s amazing about being a human animal is that we can make that choice. And if we find out that our sources, our status quo are harmful, dangerous, cruel and unnecessary then why shouldn’t we try to do things differently and try to solve those problems?
Image: The Brave GentleMan
RR: It’s a political position. When you start to get people to reexamine what they know to be true, then you’ve got this source of power and potential to make a real difference in a world where there’s this incredible apathy about being able to do that.
JK: It’s no coincidence that the most exciting innovations in textiles and cuisine are happening in the vegan realm. Plant-based, organic foods and high tech recycled synthetics are our future, and the necessary future. We know the systems we have in place right now are inefficient – our whole civilization is run on animals – and we don’t have enough resources to make it last. It’s inevitable that this is going to happen.
The best and most exciting cuisine in the world right now is vegan. The fashion industry that is based on the leather, fur and wool industries is stuck. There’s not really anything they can do to change so much. But what is changing is technology. We are developing plant-based biodegradable polyesters and we’re turning recycled soda bottles into beautiful fabrics that are being woven in heritage mills. We have 3D printing and bioprinting; we have scientists growing cellulose-based leather on kombucha cultures. There are so many exciting developments happening, but traditional brands aren’t really getting it. They’re stuck in a rut and slow to change to keep up, and that’s going to be their downfall.
RR: You’ve witnessed some exciting changes in the space in just the past few years, is there still a sticking point in your opinion?
JK: It’s a marketing battle really. The people that decide what defines quality in fashion have millions of dollars invested in fur, leather and wool and it’s difficult to fight that when you’re a small startup company. Only through your reputation and your products can you prove that these products are not only replaceable but also in fact better. People assume that the shoes in my shoe collection, Brave Gentleman x Novacas, are going to fall apart quicker or they’re going to be crappy. The material I use I call Future Leather because I don’t like connotations that fake or faux leather is inferior to real leather. They’re better, they last longer, they break in, they breathe and the amount of resources they take to make is shockingly less than regular leather shoes.
There have been some really big victories like Puma, a huge international company, who announced that they’re phasing out leather use in many of their shoes. They realize it’s not sustainable and recognize the toll it’s taking on the animals and the environment and the people working in the tanneries. At this point we know too much and even big global conglomerates realize its inexcusable not to do anything about it.
RR: It’s really an exciting time for innovative entrepreneurs, isn’t it?
JK: The vegan and sustainable designers have to prove ourselves now more than ever, we have to make fashion that is not just as beautiful but better than what already exists. People are realizing they’ll enjoy their clothes even more, when they know exactly where everything comes from. You should be proud of your manufacturing process, not hiding it behind your marketing campaign.
RR: Transparency is the new luxury!
JK: Absolutely. I’m proud of what I do. I want people to know where every thing in my line from my shoulder pads to my thread comes from. This is the future and it’s exciting to be among a new order of ethical brands and manufacturers.
Top Image: Melissa Schwartz