At an online fashion magazine overwhelmingly run by females, it’s no surprise that the majority of our content features the goings-on within the industry as it relates to women’s vegan fashion. Lest we forget, there are plenty of men out there who, like their female counterparts, wish to buy ethically and sustainably produced clothing that is at once stylish, socially responsible, and free from animal products.
With an ever-mounting interest in menswear globally, coupled with a growing appeal in androgynous style as well as women buying menswear, it would appear as though there is a lot of opportunity and developments within this emerging market.
In recent years purposefully vegan fashion designers have become more prevalent and other brands have started offering vegan-friendly options; however, despite the growing market, it seems like there’s still a general imbalance in terms of what is available for women vs. men. But, maybe we’re just not looking hard enough.
With that said, there are some really cool menswear designers in the market these days who set themselves apart for not only being vegan (or who include vegan offerings) and socially and environmentally responsible, but also appeal aesthetically to someone who might not necessarily consider ethics when shopping for clothing and accessories.
Some of our favorites: For some really classic, sharp, and timeless menswear we love Brave GentleMan. Every piece from Knowledge Cotton Apparel is made from all organic and sustainable materials, and motorcycle jackets from James Payne are potential wardrobe classics. Every well-appointed wardrobe includes the essential soft and timeless basic t-shirt, and Jungmaven delivers with their environmentally friendly hemp shirts.
Behold, your casual summer uniform:
Hat: Brixton, Baxter Hat
Chinos: Knowledge Cotton Apparel
Briefcase: Matt and Nat
Jacket: James Payne, Motorcycle Jacket
For special occasion occasions, we love neckwear and pocket squares from General Knot & Co. Although they do produce leather goods, their bow ties, neckties, and pocket squares are produced from recycled vintage fabrics. Most are vegan, with the exception of some silk pieces.
Bow Ties: General Knot & Co
Shirts and Shoes : Brave GentleMan
To get the skinny on vegan menswear, we figured it would make sense to go to one of the most notable movers and shakers in the market and Joshua Katcher of The Discerning Brute and Brave GentleMan graciously obliged. He provided some insight with respect to the state of men’s fashion, in addition to thought provoking point of views in terms of important strides ethical brands must make to capture the mainstream consumer, and also the notion that we all must do our part to stay away from terminology that diminishes the value of ethical products (ex. Faux-leather connotes fake or less valuable).
VILDA: One could argue that this simply mirrors mainstream fashion and its tendency to cater to women’s needs or is it part of a bigger picture: Is there as much demand and potential market share for vegan menswear and accessories?
JK: Overall, the demand for menswear is increasing dramatically and it’s projected to continue outpacing growth for more traditionally defined “male-oriented” things like electronics, beer and even food, according to industry analysts. The variety, quantity and interest from fans of menswear is on the rise globally. There is also a rise of androgynous style, women buying menswear, and a spectrum of those whose gender identities exist outside of the binary, many of whom enjoy classic menswear aesthetics. Now, as a business owner of an ethical menswear label, this is both good and bad news. The good news is the increased interest. The bad news is that overall, the mainstream fashion industrial complex is so problematic and impactful concerning the environment, worker exploitation and animal exploitation that the rise in any mainstream fashion consumption is going to have significant global ramifications because, unlike Brave GentleMan, the majority of menswear labels do not seek out ethical production practices – they simply want to maximise profits, minimise costs and many don’t even realize the true cost of cheap fashion.
VILDA: Even with the popularity of fast fashion, it does seem like consumers are “waking up” and becoming more conscious of what they’re buying: they want to feel like they’re making choices that are both better for the environment and good for the people making their clothes and accessories. How do you think vegan brands can capitalize on this – all while knowing non-vegans don’t always consider the ethics of using animals as products or resources?
JK: I agree with your assessment only so far as food and some home products are concerned. But regarding fashion, I think only a small minority of people’s purchasing decisions are dictated by ethical concerns. This is an aesthetic industry, and often the irrationality of aesthetics dominates purchasing decisions. If something is pretty or handsome or yummy, many people see that as a “good”. If something is ugly, it’s a “bad”. Only rarely do the production processes factor in to purchasers assessment of good and bad. Therefore, it’s imperative that ethical brands make products of superior quality and aesthetics. This will reinforce the idea that the beauty of an object should be matched to the beauty of how it was made. It’s unfortunate that we live in a culture where ethical correctness rarely overcomes the perceived correctness of beauty.
Another important aspect is changing the language we use to describe materials, processes and products to be more aspirational. Words like “faux”, “fake” and “imitation” are submissive words that immediately connote poor quality and lack of originality. I use words like “future-leather”, “Superior-leather” when describing my materials because they are superior to the animal derived versions in many ways. Many of these new sustainable and vegan materials outperform their obsolete counterparts, but the marketing from these powerful industries still dominates the conversation. The leather industry for example, is almost unquestionably associated with words like “authentic”, “real”, “genuine”. Meanwhile, there is nothing inauthentic about vegan fashion… we’re just playing right into the hands of those dominating the conversation.
Lastly, I’d argue that sustainability and veganism are not aesthetics. They are production methodologies that may have little bearing on the look of the final object. A dangerous pitfall that many vegan businesses make is designing things to look recognizably vegan or sustainable. There is an association with ethical aesthetics as being boring, wholesome, do-goodery, hippie-dippy. Think of a logo with a green leaf or a blade of grass or planet on it, or too-prominently featuring the V word in your logo or name. It’s not a matter of being ashamed to be vegan – it’s a matter of being effective in attracting non-vegan customers and creating change from both a systems standpoint, and from an aspirational standpoint. Believe me, if you have a vegan brand, the vegans will find you. Focus on attracting everyone else.
VILDA: Your average non-vegan consumer might scoff at the idea of vegan materials, like vegan leathers, and erroneously consider them to be of lesser quality to animal based materials.
Can you describe some of the materials you use for your brand, Brave Gentleman, and how /why they’re as good as, or even superior to, animal based materials?
JK: The most exciting innovation in textiles are happening in the realms of high-tech synthetics, biosynthetics, plant-based organics and recycled fibers and things like bioplastics and wearable tech. These are not animal-based materials. The future-leather I use for my shoes outperforms animal skin in many ways, from weather and abrasion resistance to longevity and comfort, but most of all, it outperforms animal leather in its impacts on the environment. We’ve been reminded for the last ten years that the livestock industries are the leading contributors to the worst environmental problems. That includes leather, wool and fur. The sheer scale of the leather and wool industries is staggering. And now, we’re entering an age where innovation is leading us to not only design materials that are superior to hairs or skins that have to be “harvested” from living animals, but we are now able to grow identical materials in the laboratory without the animal attached – and thereby cut out a majority of the ecological impacts and ethical implications.
VILDA: What are some of your favorite materials to work with?
JK: The materials I’m most excited about that I’m actually using in production right now is the tweed future-wool made from upcycled cotton and poly waste that would have otherwise ended up in landfill. It’s gorgeous, it’s warm, it has a wool handfeel and a handsome, classic menswear appeal. I’ve also been working with a wonderful future-wool felt that’s made in the USA from recycled bottles. The felt can be recycled again and it can be molded to make classic felt hat styles. I’m very excited to start working with lab-grown materials as well, like those that Modern Meadow and Bioloom are growing.
VILDA: What’s driving your business – footwear, small accessories, suiting, all of the above?
JK: It’s a combination. Brave GentleMan is a full lifestyle brand and we plan to continue expanding into new areas. Our shoes and boots are definitely some of the more popular items, and that’s because there’s a demand for quality footwear and it’s what we started out with.
VILDA: What are your personal favorite pieces from your line?
JK: I love our suits.
VILDA: Is your customer someone who is actively seeking out ethically produced clothing and accessories, or is it a bit of a mixed demographic?
JK: It’s totally mixed. We get people who are specifically looking for vegan products, but we also have customers who simply like high-quality, good-looking menswear.
VILDA: Menswear trends you’re seeing for spring and summer?
JK: I try not to pay attention to trends. I prefer classic looks that don’t go out of style.
VILDA: Favorite vegan designers (men’s clothing and accessories)?
JK: Rombaut, Fanmail, Vaute and Brave GentleMan, of course.
VILDA: Favorite grooming products?
JK: Le Labo fragrance, Pangea eye cream, John Masters moisturizer, Imperial hair pomade, Alba Botanicals sunblock, Thrive shave oil, Every Man Jack deodorant, Get Jack Black face cleanser, Ursa Major travel kit.
VILDA: What advice would you give to a guy who wants to start making more ethical choices in his wardrobe, but isn’t sure where to start?
JK: Start with finding a brand that you want to support. Consider yourself a citizen investor and not just a passive “consumer”. Try to save up for one or two items (ethical fashion is more expensive because workers are paid fairly, sustainable materials are invested in, etc) and try to do the rest of your clothing shopping at second-hand and vintage stores like Crossroads or Buffalo exchange.
VILDA: Finally – you’re quite the busy bee – juggling your website, brand Brave Gentleman, teaching, and countless other speaking engagements which help to educate others and spread awareness about making ethical choices in fashion: Was this something you had always wanted to pursue, or was it a natural progression of your interest in living a vegan lifestyle and its connection to what we’re wearing?
JK: No, I did not set out to do this. It sort of just evolved naturally which is just as surprising to me as anyone else. I started off in the TV/Film industry and someone ended up a fashion professor and designer because that’s what I realized, as an activist, could bring about the effective change I had wanted to create.
VILDA: What do you envision for the future of ethical/cruelty free fashion (for guys and gals)?
JK: Biosynthetics. Biofabrication. Growing clothing. Wearing our technologies. Reactive and programmable polymers. Upcycling trash into luxury materials. Aesthetic transparency. Workers rights. The end of animal-based materials.
Momentum is certainly building within this industry and the ever developing advancements in technology will enable designers to create cruelty-free products from materials we would never have imagined. With trailblazers like Joshua Katcher in the mix, there is sure to be a boom in ethical menswear. Watch this space.
Header photo via Pixabay