So just where is the future of sustainable menswear headed? And who’s writing about it?
When Joshua Katcher started The Discerning Brute, a vegan menswear blog, back in 2008, he found there were not many menswear brands to write about. “I realised there was a big void in the market,” he says. “There were standards I wanted that didn’t exist.”
Two years later, he decided to fill that gap by launching the Brave GentleMan – one of fashion’s first vegan and ethical menswear labels.
The brand has been featured in Vogue, and worn by Benedict Cumberbatch on the cover of GQ. This month, Brave GentleMan launches a range of bamboo suits to coincide with New York Fashion Week. The suits, which are already available to pre-order, come in navy, grey, black and subtle checks.
Veganism – and with it, vegan fashion – is drastically growing in popularity. But in both the UK and the US, the number of female vegans outstrips the number of male vegans two to one. And out of the 168,000 people who signed up to Veganuary in 2018, 84% were female.
“Thankfully, the perception of veganism among men has changed a lot since I started writing in 2008,” says Katcher, who wants his brand to appeal to all genders. “But we’re far from solving this problem.”
He believes the biggest problem is not men’s attitude towards veganism, but the stigma associated with vegan fabrics that are still considered to compromise on quality and performance.
For years, ethical menswear designers have waited for technology to catch up with their vision. They needed animal free materials that could compete with traditional fabrics. “I always knew that nice suits would be the pinnacle of the brand,” says Katcher. “But until now, the materials didn’t exist to replace wool.”
That wool alternative has now arrived in the form of bamboo fabric. Touted as a stronger and softer version of merino wool, it is also completely biodegradable.
Brave Gentleman’s bamboo suits are not the only sign of change. Vegan fabric innovations also made an appearance on the catwalk last month when Armani debuted its AW19 menswear collection centred around faux fur and synthetic knits. Fashion expert Luke Leitch said the show “offered technically inspired clothing in materials that looked organic”, adding “the overall effect was vegan caveman with a high taste level”.
Industry progress is trickling down to smaller brands too. Jade Rozenbroek, founder of another vegan menswear brand, Rozenbroek, says: “With all of the new developments in technology and fabric, there seem to be a lot of new smaller brands coming through and taking the limelight. Now I seem to find a new brand on Instagram almost on a weekly basis that are doing amazing things and using sustainable practices.”
Like many vegan brands, Rozenbroek’s sustainable practices extend beyond using animal-free fabrics. All of their products are made-to-order in its Yorkshire factory, run by solar power. “We do this so that we don’t have excess stock lying around that then goes to landfill like most companies. Also, the majority of our products (all but the underpants) come with a 10-year guarantee. If any damage happens, we will repair them for you, to elongate their lifespan.”
Rozenbroek sees the sustainable market as mostly directed towards women, but believes there is big scope for getting men involved too. They just need to be accessed in a different way. “Personally, I find that men need products put in front of them and then they will become customers for life,” she says. “They do not shop online like women. It is more of tangible experience for them.”
But this tangible experience emphasises how important it is for sustainable fabrics to be competitive in both their touch and appearance. For Rozenbroek, once that’s achieved, finding repeat male custom is easy. She says: “In my experience, even the toughest meat-eating man has come back time and time again because the underpants he bought were just so soft!”