J.K. TO THE RESCUE

by: Mia Kim

December 19, 2011

As a child, Joshua Katcher was fascinated by the fearless superheroes found in the pages of comic books such as Spiderman and X-Men. The likes of Peter Parker and Wolverine not only proved their extra strength and agility in flashy fashion, but they possessed knowledge, values and cause as well, which is why Katcher found them so admirable. As an adult, Katcher is a modern day hero in the making. Sporting faux leather boots and two armfuls of tattoos (paying homage to extinct species of birds), he makes his way through New York City on his bicycle, campaigning for a more conscious world, particularly that within the fashion industry.

sustainable fashion boots

Katcher studied video art and ceramics at Syracuse University, where he tapped into his artistic side, creating short films and sculptures. He also took on environmental studies at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, exploring his propensity for doing some good. It was during his time in school that he started his fight for animal rights and environmental preservation. After graduating he used his filmmaking prowess to direct television programs for MTV and PBS, though the activist in him still sought another outlet.

In 2008, Katcher launched TheDiscerningBrute.com, a blog dedicated to “fashion, food, and etiquette for the ethically handsome man.” He had believed that “masculinity was a roadblock to sustainability,” and wanted to let men know that it’s actually just fine to make informed decisions about what they’re wearing, among other lifestyle choices. His stance on the dark side of fashion however, reaches beyond gender and is an outlook that should be universally considered. There are far too many ugly truths in the industry, the majority of them concealed from the public. The effects of clothing and accessory production are taking a toll on the environment as well as the human and animal populations. Katcher raises these issues, among others, on his website, which has garnered a steady stream of readers that continues to grow with each eye-opening post.

Concerning the environment, he notes that, “aspects of the carbon footprint of the fashion world are concentrated in areas like leather and wool production. Livestock have proven to be one of the hugest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.” It might be hard to imagine a world free of leather and wool, but Katcher is quick to back up these concerns with alternative options along with ways people can make a difference, starting simply with the knowledge that changes need to and can happen.

It’s not just the planet that is suffering at the hands of the industry: “I think that labor issues associated with garment production are equally important as and inseparable from other ethical issues. Whether it’s workers in Bangladesh tanneries being exposed to heavy metals and killed from cancer, or the toll of pesticides on the cotton pickers of Uzbekistan, or female sweatshop workers being forced to take pregnancy tests and live in horrid factory housing, or children being exploited, or anyone being underpaid and overworked, unchecked factory conditions are a huge problem.”

Katcher is an advocate and supporter of designers and labels who practice fair labor, often featuring them on The Discerning Brute. In order to increase accessibility as well as visibility, an online shop opened by Katcher named Brave GentleMan, offers ethical, sustainable and vegan products for the conscientious male consumer. The e-commerce venture is just another way for Katcher to expand his audience as well as their minds. “Not only would most people be appalled at the conditions workers are exposed to, they would be appalled at what a garment costs to produce versus how much it sells for in retail. This is a huge problem for ethical manufacturers. Costs are high to pay people fairly, use sustainable mate- rials and certify that people, ecosystems and animals are not harmed.” Price tags may be higher, but so is the moral value in knowing exactly where clothing comes from and how it was made. The products Katcher carries in his store fall under at least one of, or sometimes all, four categories: fair labor, recycled, sustainable textiles, and vegan.

Katcher makes no secret of his love for all creatures great and small. In addition to leather and wool, fur is nowhere to be found in his closet. Earlier this year, he made an internet video proving that a sweater had real fur trim despite the fact that Urban Outfitters was labeling and selling it as fake. The retail giant issued an apology and once again pledged their commitment to being fur-free, a humble victory for activists and animals alike.

At the moment, Katcher is in the midst of printing the third volume of Pinnacle: Reinvent The Icon, an anti-fur magazine he self-publishes and will distribute during New York Fashion Week. The message is clear and upfront, though it hardly feels preachy. Thought-provoking editorials prove that fashion is just as glamorous without fur, and those involved from the designers to the models to the photographers all agree. Through Pinnacle, he is hoping to make a connection with the same people who may actually be caught dead in dead animals. He encourages knowledge and responsibility, rather than red painted castigation.

Katcher firmly believes that the fur industry could eventually see its end, though it may not happen overnight. “The idea of luxury is changing. Old luxury is struggling to survive in a context that makes it have no sense at all. It won’t die a quiet death though, as there is far too much money and power at stake. You know how in horror films, just when you think the evildoer is dead, they make one last, startling and vigorous attempt to accomplish their dark deeds before being swiftly and mercilessly brought down by the hero? I feel like that is an analogy to what’s happening with old ideas of luxury, such as fur. The fur industry is trying so hard to keep people interested despite all the evidence which points to how terrible they are. But no doubt, ethical fashion as luxury will replace soulless vanity.”

Mindfully standing up for and living his beliefs while simultaneously educating today’s consumers could be considered Katcher’s own superhero-like power. He continues his crusade against the evil deeds of the fashion industry, confident that the power to change is within our hands. “Caring (or even knowing) about these issues and acting to stop them by not investing in them is the most powerful thing we can do as individuals. At this point, most of fashion is a front; it’s a faker. It wants to be the cool kid and it certainly knows what the cool kid looks like, but what’s missing are the associated actions and values. The most epic thing we can do is share this information and not invest our money in ideas that need to be retired to the fashion history books alongside the millinery’s bird genocide. This is the real rebellion.”

Joshua Katcher sustainable designer Photos by Michael Beauplet

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