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3 FOR LIFE #2.

JOSHUA KATCHER IS THE NEW YORK BASED EDITOR OF 'THE DISCERNING BRUTE', A PASSIONATE ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF THE MENS LINE 'BRAVE GENTLEMAN'. DISCOVER THE MAN BEHIND THE DESIGNER IN THIS VERY PERSONAL AND HONEST INTERVIEW.

By Bruno Pieters

 

BP: YOU PRESENTED YOUR 'BRAVE GENTLEMAN' COLLECTION FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS SEASON DURING NEW YORK FASHION WEEK, WAS THAT A DREAM COME TRUE FOR YOU?
JK: Presenting my collection during New York Fashion Week seemed unreal at first! There's something very legitimizing and empowering about showing in New York City, probably because it's not an easy place to live or to sustain a business. Yet, for every bit that it is exhausting, expensive and difficult, it is also the most inspiring place I've been. It's brimming with driven, talented, creative, relentless and passionate people. Being in that environment is both amazing and terrifying. I feel as though if I can show in New York, I can show anywhere - so in that sense, many possibilities seem practical and achievable now. Getting everything ready for fashion week was such a whirlwind that it wasn't until after the event that I really got to absorb the magnitude of what was accomplished. It was a Group effort, friends and colleagues all came together to help me.

BP: WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT FASHION?
JK: What I love most about fashion is the complexity of meanings and behaviors that can emerge from a garment or outfit. The potential to leverage the power of fashion to change society is real, and has happened again and again throughout history, especially through the use of uniforms and the spectacle of luxury. Oscar Wilde said "A history of dress would be a history of minds; for dress expresses a moral idea; it symbolizes the intellect and disposition of a nation." From a revolutionary perspective, this is very exciting. Fashion is also inescapable - anyone who wears clothing and interacts with others participates in fashion discourse. Even an anti-fashion, or fashion-apathy position still utilizes the mechanisms of fashion. I love analyzing the psychology, history and sociology of fashion and its relationship to power, sex, and death. And an equivalency to that fascination is my interest in the real-world impacts of garment production on people, animals and ecosystems. In our current, global culture, fashion is one of the premiere ways we express our identities, yet what I see happening is a vast discrepancy or disconnect between the identities many hope to express in comparison to the reality of production. For example, can garments from a fast-fashion label maintain a rebellious or carefree image associated with their clothes when we know the conditions for garment-workers are anything but revolutionary or carefree? Can leather in a menswear context continue to symbolize durability, authenticity and quality when we know that most leather is made by children with no protective gear in illegal tanneries in the slums of Bangladesh, or sourced from clear-cut rain forest cattle on violently stolen indigenous land, and in every case unimaginable animal cruelty is standard industry practice? Can a fur coat maintain its status as a symbol of luxury and libidinal and economic power when we know the horrifying reality of trapping and fur farming? Transparency, truth and access to information have all but completely eroded the glossy layer of marketing that separates the meaning of the fashion object from the meaning of the sourcing and production processes.

BP: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE FASHION INDUSTRY TODAY?
JK: The fashion industry today seems to be schizophrenic and in upheaval. It's ironic that the 'identity manufacturers' are having their own identity crises. There are several layers to this analysis. One major factor is the inability for big brands to address ethical and ecological issues in a meaningful way outside of marketing or simply shifting responsibility to the consumer. This is a real problem for fashion brands because when workers are paid fairly, when sustainable textiles and technologies are invested in, and when animal are removed from the production model in favor of organic plant-based or high-tech sustainable textiles, the retail-cost of garments skyrockets. Citizens have been conditioned to think that fashion should be cheap - but when someone buys a $20 tee shirt and thinks they've "saved money", its only cheap because people, animals and ecosystems are paying the real price. In addition to this paralyzation of making change, there is an insane acceleration of changing seasons with no real purpose. We are led to believe that with each new season we are working toward something better, yet no brand has articulated any form of achievable utopia.
Instead, fashion comes across as a perpetual and accelerating regurgitation (change for the sake of change) - and we know that when you do the same thing over and over and hope to see different results, that is the definition of insanity. Another major inclination I see in fashion today is the desire to commune with nature and animals by wearing furs and skins and appropriating indigenous aesthetics. While this desire for proximity to nature and fellow earthlings is evolutionarily healthy and natural, the context and production methodology is often ignored, which results in only further misunderstanding and separation from nature. The yearning for unity is frequently sought through the surrogate of fashion, but few, if any fashions can achieve that unity. To further complicate things, the trajectory of our fashion aspirations are historically guided by imperialistic and colonialist modes of expressing power. In other words, "good taste" and the desire to acquire objects that represent both taste and status fall in line with those who have had power before us. And we know that most power is achieved through oppression, violence and exploitation. On the other hand, there is a burgeoning community of sustainable and ethical fashion designers who are resisting the mainstream, linear fashion production models. New York City is one of those places with a very active ethical fashion community. It's exciting to see the visionary innovation and pride in transparency that these new brands, publications and taste-makers effuse.

BP: DO YOU THINK THE PUBLIC IS BECOMING MORE CONSCIOUS?
JK: Regarding consciousness, I see a parallel between the widening economic disparity amongst the rich and the poor (the 1% and 99%) with the widening disparity between the aware and those willingly or unwillingly asleep-at-the-wheel. Many people are not exposed to education or information, nor are they encouraged to use critical thinking when it comes to challenging ideas about the larger institutions that dominate our lives. It's also so easy to be apathetic and say to ourselves, "If things were really that bad, someone would do something about it". But rarely do people consider themselves to be an agent of change - to be the person who does something about it. They see themselves as unqualified for the job, and just along for the ride. To add fuel to the fire, we live in a culture that encourages a very infantile way of determining whether something is "good" or "bad". Aesthetics are often seen as existing outside the realm of ethical implications - where the beauty of an object becomes the lone justification for it. A fur coat is seen as a "good" simply because it's soft and pretty. I do believe this is slowly changing, though. The production processes must also be beautiful, and when companies want to hide or skew their production processes, this should be a red flag and inform the perceived beauty or ugliness of the product. The people who are becoming more conscious are certainly becoming more effective, and what I see is a group of people with increasing leverage who believe they can change the world and are doing everything they can to remain empowered, optimistic, collaborative and accomplish that goal.

BP: WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION IN YOUR OPINION?
JK: Sustainable fashion is simply various sourcing, production and manufacturing methodologies that could run on in perpetuity without compromising the Earth's natural means of repairing and replenishing its ability to maintain thriving ecosystems with biodiversity. Sustainable fashion, however, is not necessarily 'ethical fashion'. Exploitation of other people and animals can still take place within a sustainable fashion production model. For this reason, it's important for me to factor ethics into the sustainable fashion methodology, which present a more ideal scenario for all involved.

BP: HOW GREEN ARE YOU?
JK: Most of my clothing is second-hand or from a sustainable brand. I don't have a car and I'm vegan which eliminates the single-greatest factor one can have on their ecological impact: livestock. I would like to point out, however, that when it comes to impacts on things like climate, it is often a ruse for huge industries to shift the responsibility to the consumer. Even if every single person took cold showers, recycled, etc... the overwhelming majority of impacts would still happen on an industrial scale that never reaches citizens. This is why it's important to be effective, not perfect or puritanical. Until we can change or stop corporations' global impacts, significant changes simply will not happen.

BP: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN VEGAN?
JK: About 15 years.

BP. WHY/WHAT MADE YOU BECOME VEGAN?
JK: It started when I was 15 and I found out about rain forest clear-cutting to graze cattle, and more slash-and-burning of forests to grow soy to feed cattle. Without thriving forests, we all die. When most people think of soy, they think of veg food, but 90% of the world's soy is used to make meat and dairy. After that, I started researching about the food I was eating. I was shocked about the cruelties inherent in meat and dairy production, and blown-away by the mythologies I had been conditioned to think concerning animal sentience. So I just stopped consuming it. It's pretty liberating to reject the meat and dairy industries, and as someone who always loved the taste of meat and cheese, I'm shocked on a daily basis how delicious, indulgent and varied a vegan lifestyle can be. Most of the visionary innovations in cuisine and textiles are happening in the vegan realm. It's very cutting-edge.

BP: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE RECENT VEGAN DISCOVERY? (COULD BE A DISH, A WEBSITE, ANYTHING..)
JK: Chef Myoko Schinner's cheese! She is a vegan chef who cultures her own nut and soy-based cheeses utilizing traditional cheese-making methodologies, molds, fermentations, etc. She has a cookbook 'Artisan Vegan Cheese' that is spectacular. I got to try a truffled brie, a hard parmesan, and a smoked gouda while in San Francisco recently and it is game changing! Also Beyond Eggs "Just Mayo" and Modern Meadows exploration into bio-printing are very exciting developments.

BP: WHAT DO YOU THINK IS MOST MISUNDERSTOOD ABOUT VEGANS?
JK: I think there are so many misconceptions about vegans from being weak and malnourished to being in a cult, but the one that offends me the most is the perception that we lead a bland, anemic existence avoiding any pleasurable indulgences. Only when I put a piece of Danielle Konya's Vegan Treats cake in someone's mouth and they realize that the vegan version of their favorite foods (like cake) can not only be as good, but better than what they're used to, do they finally "get it". Veganism is not a limitation. It's not simply the removal of ingredients. It's the replacement of things with different, and often superior other things, and in most cases the addition of more variety. Veganism can be as indulgent, sensual, delicious and fun and anything else.

BP: DO YOU WANT TO INSPIRE PEOPLE TO BECOME VEGAN?
JK: Absolutely! It's the most empowering and enjoyable decision I've made in my life.

BP: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON LEATHER AND FUR? IS LEATHER MORE ETHICAL THAN FUR?
JK: I don't think animals should be viewed as sources of materials, period. Any time you put a living being into a production model with the main goal being profit, exploitation and cruelty is unavoidable. There's a reason that we've tried to eliminate child-labor from production models here in America (this doesn't stop corporations from using child labor in other parts of the world, or illegally using child labor behind closed doors, however). Because children cannot represent themselves or organize to protect themselves from exploitation, as a society we've decided that children do not belong in factories or as laborers, even though this was once the norm. We've stopped legitimizing child-labor not because an ideal scenario can't be met for certain children – but because children are so vulnerable that we know they will be taken advantage of. Therefore, child labor is not an ideal scenario to scale up in an moralistic society. Have there ever been isolated situations where child labor has not negatively affected certain children? Of course. However, we know that when you scale up practices like this it is likely that children will be taken advantage of, exploited and harmed. In this sense children are very much like animals when they are factored into any sort of production model. Because animals' perspectives are systematically invalidated, they cannot represent themselves, cannot organize, and the risk that their vulnerability is taken advantage of is enormous. We must also see that they too do not belong as units of production, and that we'll be fine, if not better off, without taking them for mere units of production. Again, are there scenarios where humans have utilized an animal in a way that has not harmed or negatively affected the animal? Of course. However, what we know to be true is that whenever animals are used and scaled up in production models, it is inevitable that they will be exploited, taken advantage of and oppressed. There is a big movement and emphasis by many small and often sustainable-identified designers who use animals on a small scale, but what we must remember is that all animal-based production models started small scale and they grew into things like factory farms. So simply going back to square one doesn't solve a problem, it just sets us up to repeat the same mistakes and maintains the perception that animals' bodies are acceptable sources of textiles.

Regarding the question of leather compared ethically to fur, these are both the skin of an animal. One has hair follicles left intact and the other typically goes through a liming bath to remove the hairs. From the perspective of what they are biologically, they are very similar. However, there are very important differences when it comes to both the production of leather and the production of fur, as well as vastly different meanings, symbolically, that fur and leather represent. This further illustrates my earlier point that most consumers of fashion are so far removed from sourcing, manufacturing and production that they are able to believe that fur and leather are essentially the same thing.

The ecological, human and animal cruelty impacts of leather can be felt in far greater volume than fur. Because leather is practically ubiquitous (shoes, accessories, cars, bags, furniture etc) it becomes almost invisible. It is seen as "neutral" by most people. In addition, the look of leather is less reminiscent of the animal it came from, so the visual disconnect is greater. Many times, leather is not meant to be seen as "leather" per se. It is meant to be seen only as the object it becomes.

Fur, on the other hand, is meant to be seen. It is a visually loud object with the intention of announcing that it's bearer is of a certain level of power, class status, and sexual desire. This idea started in the Middle Ages with Edward III's sumptuary laws in England that dictated certain furs can only be worn by persons of high-ranking social hierarchies. These laws extended well into the 17th century, and the social after-shocks of these laws can be felt today, especially within pop-culture.

I don't think I can say which is more unethical. It depends upon how you quantify ethical implications. By sheer volume of individuals experiencing exploitation? By the types of cruelties inflicted? I'm not sure it's important to say which is worse, but I am sure that things like wool and cashmere should be included in this equation as well, and they are all something we should be moving away from.

This does't mean there aren't exceptions. For example, I would never tell an indigenous person living in arctic climates to forgo fur – but that is about survival, not scaling fashion production for profit. I think when survival is factored in, most of our values and ethics are subject to a changed context. But 99% of us do not need animal-sourced textiles to survive.

BP: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO EAT IN BROOKLYN AND MANHATTAN?
JK: There are too many to choose from! In Brooklyn, one of my favorite places is Champs, which is an amazing mid-century themed diner. The food is off the charts - best brunch in the city! The crowd is very Brooklyn, but if you go for brunch be prepared to wait 45 minutes because the line is out the door. For dessert I love Dun-Well Doughnuts. These guys won Food Network's Doughnut Wars and won the Daily News' Best Doughnuts in New York - and they're vegan! In Manhattan, you have to hunt down the Cinnamon Snail food truck. Holy Moly, probably the best lunch I've had in New York, in addition to kick-ass pastries. I'm obsessed with dim sum at Buddha Bodai, the seitan piccata at Candle 79, cake-batter-flavored soft-serve at the vegan ice cream shop formerly-known-as Lula's Sweet Apothecary, the aged nut cheese platter at Pure Food and Wine, the tiramisu at Peace Food Cafe, the Butterfinger shake and bacon cheeseburger at Blossom, pho at Lan Cafe, the panini and cupcakes at S'nice and the chick'n bacon ranch at Terri. Can you tell I like to eat?

BP: DO YOU BELIEVE ONE PERSON CAN CHANGE THE WORLD?
JK: I believe the influence of one person can definitely change the world.

BP: ARE YOU THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD?
JK: Yes, but it's an ongoing process. I don't believe in perfection or puritanism, but I believe in being effective and staying committed to my core values, while always challenging those values and remaining critical and skeptical.

BP: WHAT DRIVES YOU?
JK: A few things: Pleasure. Creativity. Community. Knowing that behind every single thing that I want to change in the world are individual people who can be spoken to, challenged, or stopped.

BP: WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOURSELF?
JK: I have pretty good critical thinking and problem solving skills, I'm a good cook, and I have a good sense of humor!

BP: WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU LIKE IN OTHERS?
JK: A balanced sense of self-worth, the ability to be hilarious even in the face of the darkest things, and the patience and passion to change the world.

BP: WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY TODAY?
JK: I believe in encouraging people to realistically start articulating a future worth working towards.

BP: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE?
JK: When it comes to fashion, I am inspired daily by the quotes provided by Steve Oklyn on http://NotVogue.com
For example: "When we speak of fashion we name the mechanisms of power that preventatively stifle any revolutionary potential in a situation."

BP: THANK YOU FOR THIS INTERVIEW.
JK: You're welcome. 
 

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT:

BRAVEGENTLEMAN

THEDISCERNINGBRUTE

CHAMPSDINER

DUNWELLDOUGHNUTS

CINNAMONSNAIL

BUDDHABODAI

CANDLE79

LULASSWEETAPOTHECARY

PUREFOODANDWINE

PEACEFOODCAFE

BLOSSOMNYC

LANCAFENYC

SNICECAFE

TERRINYC

NOTVOGUE