Designing for the Ethically Handsome Man with Brave GentleMan’s Joshua Katcher

May 31, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have live from Brooklyn on with us today Joshua Katcher. Joshua is a unique and visionary entrepreneur who has two amazing websites, and is making change in so many ways. Welcome to Green is Good, Joshua Katcher. JOSHUA KATCHER: Thank you, John. I’m very excited to be here. Thanks for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We are so happy to have you on today. You’re doing so many unique things. I got to just tell my audience right now, you’ve had more wonderful things said about you than almost all of my guests put together over the last four years. I’m just going to give a couple examples, because we want to get to the meat and potatoes of everything we’re doing here. Oprah.com, they call you vegan superstar, Joshua Katcher. Veg News magazine, ethical style icon. Now, I’m a vegan, Joshua. I’m a full-on vegan, and so is my family. So, to have a vegan superstar on Green is Good, this is an exciting day for me. This is good stuff. JOSHUA KATCHER: Well, I’m glad. Vegan superstar, I think, within the context of the mainstream, some people might be saying, “Huh? What’s that?” It’s a nice compliment. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s a great compliment, and I just want to lead off with your two great websites. I’m on one of them right now. I’ve been on both of them many, many times, and I want our listeners to go out there and check them out and use your great websites. One is called TheDiscerningBrute.com, and the other one is BraveGentleMan.com. Let’s get into this now a little bit, Joshua. Talk about your journey. Before we even get into the Q & A, talk about how you got here. You’re a young guy. How do you get to have two very successful ventures going on, covering all sorts of fashion and food at the same time? Talk a little bit about how you got here. JOSHUA KATCHER: Sure. Well, I went to college for environmental studies and video art, and for many years I was working in the television industry as an editor and a producer. I worked at MTV. I worked on a lot of reality television shows that probably a lot of your listeners have seen. I don’t know if I’m allowed to mention which ones, but then I always really cared about animals and the environment, and a lot of activism during college, and I was trying to figure out how can I combine what I really care about with what I’m good at? And I tried for a long time to make it work in the television world, to create a show about these ideas, and that just didn’t seem to be doing work. It conflicted with a lot of what advertisers were willing to advertise their products during, so I decided to get into fashion because fashion is such a powerful form of visual communication, and it’s so relevant. We all participate in the fashion system, whether or not we think we do. We all buy clothes, and it’s a global, huge, impactful industry, and it affects millions of people all over the world. In fact, for ecosystems and animals, it is a true global industry, and if we identify so powerfully with how we present ourselves and how we dress, I think that can really be a place of leverage, where change can be made. So, I wanted to start talking about fashion from that perspective, and present it as something that’s not just frivolous, but it’s actually very powerful. So that’s why I started The Discerning Brute, and it became sort of an alternative to GQ or to Details or to Esquire, where it’s geared towards guys, because we’re often told that caring about stuff is something that women do; it’s feminine. But I think that men can feel very empowered when we take action and we care about things and we can become a defender, a protector, and there’s nothing masculine about not caring about stuff. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. I’m on your site now, The Discerning Brute. Again, for our listeners out there, TheDiscerningBrute.com. It is so well done, and there’s so much great information here. So, explain, then, what do you mean by the terms that I just read it on your websites and the literature about you. What do you mean by ethical fashion? JOSHUA KATCHER: Ethical fashion means that the way things are made are done in an ethical way. If you take any garment, let’s take a suit jacket for example. We want to know what is it made out of? Who made it? Where was it made? Was it made under fair labor conditions? Was it made in a sweatshop? Is it made with materials that were milled in a closed-loop factory with recycled or organic fibers, or is it toxic materials that are spilling out into some small community in a developing country that we don’t have to look at? And who is affected? Who are the people that are working on it? Were there animals put into the equation? Are we raising entire herds of livestock to create wool, and that has – for example, wool is crazy. A lot of people don’t think about wool from a critical standpoint. It’s New Zealand and Australia’s – one of their top environmental problems is sheep because there are so many. Greenhouse gas emissions, erosion, water consumption, resource consumption, so these are all things that play into the idea of ethical fashion; the production model. The traditional production model is a linear model, and we know that that’s a problem because it doesn’t answer the question of where did it come from and where is it going after it’s gone. We have to close that loop, and make it a closed-loop system. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, let’s jump ahead, then. So, I’m a vegan, you’re a vegan. What’s a vegan suit though? I’ve never heard of this. JOSHUA KATCHER: Well, as I was touching on before, a lot of animal products end up in our clothing, and we don’t really think too critically about that. You know, we’ve been told by advertising and marketing that leather and wool and fur and silk and all these things are luxurious and the definition of what quality is. But, if we really look critically at what are these fibers and where are they coming from and how they’re made, we’ll realize it’s just a marketing campaign, and the real exciting, innovative future technologies are in synthetics and in organic plant-based materials. We can make so many exciting textiles that people aren’t really tapping into that don’t have to involve animals, and both from an environmental standpoint and from an ethical standpoint, not using animals really solves so many problems. For example, leather, the leather industry. There is just a huge exposé report that was released about the human rights crisis that goes on with leather production in Bangladesh and in India. All these illegal tanneries that are something millions gallons of toxic chemicals into their waterways, and children are in liming baths with that protective clothing, making the leather. And then on top of that, think about the amount of resources it takes to raise cattle, and that becomes leather. So, if we have products like a microfiber or a future leather, that is superior and it performs better and it feels better, why not use that? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Listen. You’re talking about something that is so important, and unfortunately we have never even covered on this show before. This is just fascinating. I want to understand. When you talk about fashion and animals, you bring up the word semiotics. I’ve never heard of that. Explain how that all plays together, and what this really means and why it’s important. JOSHUA KATCHER: Sure. I mean, semiotics is something that is overlooked frequently in our culture, especially within the business world. Unless you’re in advertising or marketing, you’re not really going to pay attention to semiotics too much. But semiotics is just about symbology and what things mean, what aesthetic objects can mean, and it can define class and it can define value, and whether something is desirable. I think that when we look at fashion and fashion semiotics, a lot of things that are sub-conscious, such as take a fur coat, that has come to define class and class status and wealth and being sexy and being powerful. We don’t really question that; that just becomes natural. Oh, that’s what a fur coat means. It means these things. So, that’s really what semiotics is about, is about deconstructing that symbology, understanding it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. So, talk a little bit about ethical fashion. When did you launch The Discerning Brute and The Brave Gentle Man? JOSHUA KATCHER: I started The Discerning Brute in 2008, and then a few years later, The Brave Gentle Man emerged from The Discerning Brute as a fashion line and an online store e-commerce platform. In doing my research on The Discerning Brute, I was always looking for things to write about for guys. So, I was looking for suit and looking for shoes and looking for all different things that guys wanted, but there maybe wasn’t an ethical version of. And over time, I realized that a lot of these things didn’t exist, and why wasn’t I creating them? So, I went into a partnership with Novacas shoes, which is an existing vegan shoe brand based in New York. They’re made in Portugal. And I designed a line of shoes for them. And then that really took off, and people were so excited with them. I was just doing classic men’s shoes, and now we’re going into our third or fourth season with the shoes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m interrupting, I know, is ethical fashion, that you’re going down this route of, are you seeing a lot more interest in it and a lot more adoption of it by the client base that you serve? JOSHUA KATCHER: Absolutely. There is an increasing awareness of global issues. There is an increasing demand for products that are made ethically, and I think what’s happening is as people are finding out more information and transparency becoming such a priority in business, people are realizing that, in a way, you can have your cake and eat it if you have ethical fashion because if a company has to hide their production process, that should be a red flag. I think that companies should be proud of their production process. It should be a selling point. It should be something that is marketed, and there is a level of enjoyment that you get out of knowing what you’re indulging in has been created ethically. I think if you’re indulging in something, and you don’t know how it’s made and it has a questionable history, there’s always that little voice in the back of your head that’s like, “This is probably not the best decision, or I know that this is bad, but I’m wearing it anyway.” But when you invest in something that’s made ethically, that’s not there, and you’re able to enjoy it even more. I think people are realizing that, and the rewards of investing in ethically-crafted – whether it’s a suit or whether it’s food, whatever it is – you enjoy it so much more, and I think that that really is catching on. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, let’s talk about that. How was high-tech innovation, organic plant-based materials, and your production model been integrated? What is happening? Has technology now helped you with you the production and the velocity in ethical fashion and the sales of both suits and clothing and shoes in this whole new arena? JOSHUA KATCHER: Absolutely. And the most exciting thing about it is we’re taking these heritage traditional methodologies, you know, a tailor, a small family factory in Italy that I use, and then pairing it with high-tech textile innovation. When I say high-tech textile innovation, I’m talking really luxurious fabrics made from recycled soda bottles and water bottles. And something like that, where in the past, that would be unheard of. The technology didn’t exist, and now the technology is just growing exponentially, and we’re figuring out ways that we can deal with both our waste in an innovative way and ways that we can create new products in a way that’s harmless in a closed-loop system or in a way that’s really integrated into local ecosystems so it doesn’t affect them negatively. So, I’m just so excited with all the innovations that are happening, and the places that it’s really taking off are in Europe and in Japan. Some places in China have some really good factories that are producing sustainable textiles, but the amount of textiles that are produced, it’s just shocking. Again, I think people tend to think clothes are a frivolous thing, and when you look at the numbers of how much is produced, how much is thrown away, it’s staggering. It’s shocking. It is such an impactful industry. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, why is the fashion industry so slow to respond? I mean, McDonald’s even started making salads and other fast food chains and other traditional legacy brands have sort of adopted healthy food and healthy drink to their menus. How come the fashion industry has been so slow to respond and not producing their own lines of ethical fashion and leaving niches like this for you to totally take and create and scale? JOSHUA KATCHER: It is a huge problem, and it’s a little bit of a mystery because the fashion industry really presents itself as this very progressive industry. And we have these changing seasons, where there’s a spring season and then the fall season and then the spring season, and there’s this idea of momentum, of moving forward, working towards something. But it really isn’t. It’s almost change for the sake of change. It’s all about transience, and there is no defined goal. There’s no telos. There’s no final purpose of fashion. It’s change for the sake of change, and I think that a lot of people who are working within the fashion industry don’t go into fashion because they want to change the world. They go into fashion because they love clothes or they love design or they want to work with their hands, they want to create. And that’s valid, but I think that that also underestimates the impact that they’re having. So, it’s been a marketing problem too, because in the late ’90s and in the early 2000s, there was an effort by a bunch of designers to do sustainable fashion, but instead of it just being a methodology, it was presented as an aesthetic in itself. So, that’s where the stereotype of the crunchy hippie, I mean, that eco-fashion is a hemp sack or that it’s uncomfortable or that it’s ugly. That’s where that stereotype came from, and now we know that you can make anything. It can be the most wild, bizarre piece of clothing that you can think of, or it can be the most conservative, proper, preppy thing you can think of. It’s about production, and it’s about the materials. It’s not about the aesthetics. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, we’ve got a couple minutes left, unfortunately, but I want to ask you, recently, on April 4, at Vogue’s headquarters, there was this sustainable fashion – and you were just talking about sustainable fashion – there was a sustainable fashion panel. Did you watch it, and what do you think? Where are we now in 2013 with regards to sustainable fashion and the bigger brands? JOSHUA KATCHER: You know, there was this talk that H & M sat down with a few ethical fashion experts, and they did a live cast from Vogue headquarters, and I think it was a good effort. But what they did was, it really ended up being thrown back at the consumer, where they say the majority of the impact of clothing has to do with care, it has to do with how you wash your clothes and how you dry your clothes. And I think it was a real disappointment because they didn’t talk about the advancements in technology and production and materials. A company like H & M is huge. They’re a global brand, and they have the power to really make a change on a large level, whether it’s change for their workers, the people in their factories, which they didn’t talk about at all on the program because it’s very controversial. H & M doesn’t want to admit that people die in factory fires, being paid slave labor wages. But they have a collection that’s called the Conscious Collection, which is a really good effort, where they’re using recycled polyesters and organic cottons and stuff like that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, in short, they’re making an effort, but there’s a lot more to do. JOSHUA KATCHER: They’re making an effort. There’s a lot more to do, yes, and animals never enter the equation into these discussions within the mainstream ethical fashion conversation, and it is the single greatest cause of the worst environmental problems. No matter what industry you’re talking about, the animal agricultural industry results in the worst environmental problems. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Alright, well, Joshua, we covered a lot today, and we’re going to have you back. I want our listeners to go and look at and enjoy the great products you’re creating and enjoy the amazing websites that I’ve been enjoying prior to the show, TheDiscerningBrute.com and BraveGentleMan.com talks all about these issues and also has a lot of great products, ethical fashion products, that everyone can enjoy. Joshua Katcher, you are a visionary entrepreneurial ethical fashion superstar, and truly living proof that green is good.