Producing with Purpose - Episode 12: Featuring Joshua Katcher of Brave Gentleman
Joshua Katcher (Guest) Instagram: @thediscerningbrute
Brave Gentleman Instagram: @brave_gentleman
Tony Corrales (Host) Instagram: @tony__corrales
Nōskin Instagram: @noskin.co
On this episode of Producing with Purpose, Presented by Noskin - I catch up with Joshua Katcher. Joshua is a man of many businesses, skills and achievements. He is the founder of the iconic vegan footwear brand, Brave Gentleman, the author of the beautiful book, Fashion Animals, and the co-founder of Rind Vegan Cheese.
This episode was a personal milestone for me, as having Joshua be a guest on the show was one of my goals when starting this podcast. So once again, let this reinforce the fact that pro-actively expanding your network, and asking people to be a part of your project or venture, can often lead to great outcomes. And this episode really is a great outcome. With so many words of wisdom and great insights into Joshua's journey as an ethical entrepreneur, this is one you'll want to save and go back to.
Finding a way to make an impact
Joshua kicks off the interview by taking us through his background in the television industry, where he had a vision to reach a point where he could get into a position of influence and create content that spoke to his values, such as animal rights, social justice issues and environmental issues.
Finding that these ideas and views were often conflicting with the intent of advertisers, he found that opportunities to spread these messages was limited.
Starting his blog, The Discerning Brute in 2008, Joshua set out to communicate the vegan movement to a more masculine, mainstream audience.
Identifying that the more ethical content and viewpoint was targeted to a more female audience, Joshua wanted to create something that invited mainstream men into the conscious dialogue.
"What I realised was that, fashion is really about identity. It's about how we see ourselves, how we want to be seen. The visual interpretation of who we are. And in that, is something very, very powerful"
The temptation to expand
"There's a lot of temptation when you have a small brand to expand horizontally"
When starting a new company and defining your audience, it's important to find a niche. However, this often generates the feeling that you're limiting your reach which can be a daunting prospect. As Brave Gentleman operate as a primarily menswear brand, I was interested to hear Joshua's take on not being tempted to expand further into womenswear. This results in some great advice regarding not being too tempted to expand horizontally, and thinning your offering when launching as a new brand.
"I've been in business for over 10 years, and there's a reason I haven't gone out of business. I haven't been swayed too much by the temptation to do too many things"
The power of transparency
In recent years there has been an increasing consumer demand for brand transparency. Joshua and I discuss how this transparency spans further than talking about supply chains and working conditions, but for independent brands especially, involves showing the people behind the company and their goals. (Much as this podcast does.)
This was reinforced when Joshua had to make a decision whether to be transparent about the struggles Brave Gentleman was facing in 2020, when he launched a 'stay in business' sale, to encourage the community to support his company, so he could continue to operate through a tough year, following 10 years of building his vision to change the fashion industry.
"I got into the fashion industry to change the fashion industry"
The moment it gets real
At the time I had this conversation with Joshua, we had recently received our first bulk shipment of product for Nōskin. With the brand not yet launched, and after spending nearly a year building the foundations for the business, this was the moment that suddenly we went from facing the challenges of preparing, to the pressures of needing to sell.
For what was supposed to be an exciting milestone for the business, I personally found this to be one of the most overwhelming moments where you begin to feel an element of doubt, so I wanted to speak to Joshua about how he felt at this point of his business starting, and his strategy to start getting product sold.
Joshua takes us through the early stages of the business where he used his income from freelancing to fund his business.
"I don't come from money. I don't have a trust fund and I'm not a millionaire. But when you look at the fashion landscape and you see who your competition is - you suddenly realise that you are up against people who do have those things. And even they don't succeed sometimes."
Reflecting on how he would look at brands who he wanted to be sold alongside, but then realising the extent of funding, connections and backing they had, Joshua claims this as a point in the journey where the doubt set it.
However, when creating something with a purpose, you have to keep coming back to this and narrow your focus to remind yourself why you are embarking on this venture.
Materials that are not only comparable, but superior.
One thing I really wanted to speak with Joshua about is the pros and cons that he's encountered when selling product through the online store, a physical store and also through wholesale distribution.
With Brave Gentleman having a New York physical location, Joshua takes us through the opportunity this presented to have people come and discuss the product, without knowing it was vegan, allowing them to shop and love the items with no preconceived opinions on vegan footwear to make them dismissive of the product.
This leads us to speaking about the evolution of vegan leather, and the often misguided view that animal leather is a more durable and more sustainable material, when many sources of data prove otherwise.
"We've got a lot of work to do in the marketing department for [vegan] fashion"
Joshua introduces us to one of his projects, Circumfauna, which is under the Collective Fashion Justice umbrella. (Note, since this episode I have met with Emma of Collective Fashion Justice, and highly recommend you check out both links above!)
As part of Circumfauna, Joshua is reviewing data of reputable sources to combat the opinion that leather and wool are avoiding fossil fuel inputs and are more environmentally friendly.
For a while now I've had a copy of Joshua's book, Fashion Animals, on my bookshelf.
I was excited to receive this book, but when I did, I was absolutely blown away by the quality that came through in every aspect. From the writing to the research and the imagery throughout, this was clearly a labour of love, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to Joshua about it, and I would implore anyone who enjoyed this episode to go and pick up a copy.
Joshua talks through the extensive journey to getting this book to market and the incredible amount of time and effort that was put into this project.
Teaching at Parsons (Parsons school of design), Joshua had access to a fashion library and fashion archives providing a depth of information that allowed him to bring this book to life.
This episode is definitely a personal favourite to date, and I feel that there is so much people can take from this conversation with Joshua. We covered so much more than is mentioned above, so I encourage everyone to click the video or audio at the top of this page and listen to the full episode.
Joshua closes out the episode telling us about what the upcoming 12 months has in store for him, and Brave Gentleman.
Head over to Brave Gentleman for the latest footwear collections and be sure to follow them on Instagram
Rind Vegan Cheese are releasing new products throughout the year and getting increased distribution around the US.
Follow Collective Fashion Justice on Instagram for the work that Joshua is doing with Emma Hakkanson.
And check out Circumfauna on Instagram for more information about sustainable materials in the fashion industry.
"If we can connect the way that things are made, with how we identify, that is a recipe for radical transparency and radical accountability"