MEN’S FOOTWEAR TOOK A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION during Fashion Week, thanks to the outstanding footwear collection from Brave GentleMan. Worn by the models during VAUTE’s Autumn/Winter ‘13 Presentation, the shoes were immediately eye-catching, tying each look together crisply. There was an impressive range of boots, oxfords and saddle shoes in sophisticated hues, each offering a new take on classic silhouettes. Demonstrating a high degree of craftsmanship, design and versatility, the line of footwear also gave men of style something to feel good about: the collection was entirely vegan, sustainable and made under fair labor conditions. If shoes make the man, these undoubtedly would make you an even better one. “Ecologically, they are far superior to traditional leather in that they were not tanned in a chemical bath, they are naturally water-resistant, and they are not products of the livestock industry which has a staggering effect on water resources, topsoil erosion, GHG emissions, and grain and petrol consumption,” Joshua Katcher, the designer behind the line, explained to us when we visited him in his studio last week.

Brave GentleMan during the VAUTE NYFW presentation

The line is a collaboration with another vegan brand of footwear, Novacas, and is constructed in Portugal from Italian textiles. One of our favorite styles from Fashion Week was the Defender (seen above)— a twelve-eyelet bulcher-style boot. The bulcher were introduced by the Prussian General von Blücher, Joshua explained to us, and are “known for having side pieces that lap over the front and vamp,” he added. The upper is a biodegradable PU microfiber. It is remarkably indistinguishable from leather in look and feel. And this is where the Italian craftsmanship element comes into play. The material is made up of “millions of tiny fibers that, like an animal’s skin, feel supple and can handle wear and tear very well,” Joshua told us. This level of detail results in shoes that are breathable, that break-in naturally, that don’t crack, and are resilient. Seeing the gorgeous line within the context of a vegan fashion show was undoubtedly one of the week’s highlights for us.

Joshua makes some final adjustments on set (left); the Covert in Navy (right)

A man with great taste in shoes obviously needs a great suit. Recognizing the need, Joshua recently created his very first line of Brave GentleMan custom men’s suits and tuxedos. We got to take a look at the impeccably-constructed line at Joshua’s studio during Fashion Week and discovered fabrics that are truly pushing the boundaries of innovation, and are evocative of the thrilling developments happening in veganism today. The Covert, for example- the line’s most popular style- is a three-piece, notch lapel, single button suit. “This means that there is a waistcoat with an adjustable button belt, a single button jacket with a single rear vent, functional and flat-front slacks, that the lapel features a notch,” Joshua explained to us. Designed in New York City, they are made in Italy by a small family-owned factory. To source sustainable textiles, Joshua partnered with the Italian organization CLASS. “I use their own collaborative line of textiles made from recycled-PET, mostly from post-consumer water and soda bottles. These materials are used by many high-end European mills to create very luxe and sustainable, recycled materials,” he told us. Impressing us further, he told us that the buttons are Tagua Nut (or “Corozo”), which fall from trees, and are gathered. They are known as “vegetable ivory” because of their luxurious feel, color and strength. The collar backing, shoulder pads, lining, full-canvass sew-in interfacing and sleeve headers are all made from recycled poly from Japan in closed-loop factories. As Joshua explained, “The factory does not allow any emissions or contaminants to leave the facility-they are cycled back in to the production process or they are treated and neutralized.”

Joshua— a long-time vegan— has been utilizing fashion as a vital extension of his work as an activist for a number of years. “The fashion industrial complex not only affects millions of people’s livelihoods globally and is tied to some of the worst environmental problems like livestock (sheep, cows, pigs), but it is one of the most powerful forms of creating values and meaning based on aesthetics and expressing personal identity,” he told us. “Fashion is so culturally relevant and has global implications on issues of humans rights, animal rights, and the environment,” he added. With wool production being just one example of an environmentally detrimental practice, not to mention cruel— companies like Brave GentleMan are leading the way towards making these practices obsolete. Joshua is currently designing his Fall ‘13 and Spring ‘14 collections, and we have a hopeful hunch that a Fashion Week presentation is in his very near future.

photo by Joel Barhamand for Laika

We also got to check out Charlotte Ronson’s Autumn/Winter 2013 Collection. Showing 60’s Mod influences, the collection boldly integrated spring-time floral patterns into a fall wardrobe. There were flirty halter dresses and A-line minis in lively emerald greens, punctuated by blacks; touches of peek-a-boo mesh panels; eclectic color-blocking and unexpected cutouts.

While we must make clear that Charlotte’s collection is not all vegan, we are reporting on it here because she has publicly asserted herself as a fur-free designer. During a time when some designers have taken to accepting bribes veiled as sponsorships from a fur industry desperate for market share, Charlotte has remained steadfast in rejecting the usage of fur in any of her garments. Indeed, even just by virtue of excluding fur, she is setting a heart-felt example for her peers. “It’s something I can do, and it’s something that could make a difference,” she told us, when we spoke to her after the show.

Charlotte during and after the show. Photos by Joel Barhamand

She recalled being invited to the offices of the Humane Society a few years ago, where during a meeting she saw videos about the harsh realities of the fur trade. She was deeply affected. “You just can’t go back,” she said. She further explained that fur as a fabric simply doesn’t appeal to her, and is not only “not my style,” as she put it— but that she doesn’t wear it or use it in her collections for compassionate reasons. “I’m against any kind of animal cruelty, and I love my little dog,” she told us.

photos by Joel Barhamand

Another highlight during Fashion Week was seeing cruelty-free and vegan cosmetics being used. Simcha Whitehill, aka Miss Pop (a nail artist with a cruelty-free kit, and a contributor at Laika), created several stunning nail designs for the runways, partnering exclusively with the outspokenly cruelty-free and vegan Color Club nail lacquer. For Charlotte Ronson, she created the “Picture Frame” look (seen above). “To match all the hues in the collection we did five permutations of the look: lipstick red and eggplant, hunter green and a bright purple, two shades of grey, sand and a deep ocean blue, and black and white,” Simcha told us. The look above can be easily recreated at home, using Color Club’s Where’s the Soiree and French Tip shades. Start by applying one coat of the darker shade of polish, and then imagine your nail is just a teensy bit smaller and polish your nail using the lighter color. “This should leave a thin U shape of the darker color framing your nail,” Simcha explained. Brush on a thin French tip with the lighter shade to complete the nail frame.

photo by Joel Barhamand

Another design from Simcha was this nature-inspired look, which used a custom color she created with Color Club called Raw Amber. The look integrated the natural nail peeking through as part of the design. And the purpose of the geometric shape was to evoke “an element of mystery- the openness of the natural nail shrouded in amber and black,” Simcha explained.

 

photo by Julie Gueraseva

That week, we also made a trip to mid-town Manhattan to check out the footwear industry’s version of Fashion Week— the New York Shoe Expo, a major trade show from the Fashion Footwear Association of New York (FFaNY). There, we discovered an exciting new vegan collection from Krže Studio. The collection was in large part inspired by founder and designer Leila Kerze’s home base of Los Angeles. “There is a play between art and industry, motorcycle culture and the canyons and beaches it races through. Though the collection exudes an aggressive and rugged strength, it finishes in elegance,” Leila explained to us. Many of the designs have aerodynamic silhouettes, with lacing and chain detailing. The collection shown in NYC is expected to hit retail outlets in July or August of 2013.

photo by Julie Gueraseva

While compassion was Leila’s primary motivation for starting Krže Studio (“I do not believe it is possible to create something truly beautiful if its origins are from suffering, cruelty, and victimization,” she told us), she quickly discovered that many of the vegan materials on the market not only rivaled the look of leather, but were actually superior in performance and function. The lining of her shoes, for example, utilizes a breathable, anti-bacterial and porous material that is approved by the American Podiatry Association. “This means that both a tall winter boot and a strappy spring sandal can be worn without becoming uncomfortable because of bacteria,” Leila explained. With many vegan leathers being plastic-based and recyclable, designers now have an opportunity “to adhere to a cradle to cradle philosophy and make a renewable and sustainable luxury product,” she added.

Indeed, what we saw during Fashion Week is that not only is it possible to create cohesive and imaginative clothing and footwear without the use of animal fibers— but one can create a collection that in fact surpasses conventional materials in style and function. So perhaps today’s designers should ask themselves the question, Am I moving forward with the currents of change and progress, or swimming against them, regressing further into stagnant practices? If fashion is about innovation and rebellion, it seems evident that humankind has in fact fully exhausted all the possible ways to use animal skins. It is time we give some serious thought to the price animals pay for our vanity, and carefully examine other viable solutions. For a designer like Joshua Katcher— who is already successfully implementing these solutions, you can’t put a price on compassion. “No one complains that furs or leathers are “too expensive”, but most designers are desperate to use that visual currency. But if you asked them to pay workers fairly or invest in new textile technologies that remove animals from the production model, suddenly it’s “too expensive.” Deciding to work towards an ethical fashion system doesn’t have to be an aesthetic choice. If you’re a good designer, you should be able to make brilliant work with whatever materials and production methodologies are available,” he says. We look forward to the day when being a good designer becomes universally synonymous with being an ethical and compassionate one. And we feel confident that this day will come.

Written by Julie Gueraseva

Brave GentleMan photographs courtesy of Joshua Katcher, Gregory Vaughan and Anthony Two Moons (respectively).

 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

IN GOOD TASTE: INNOVATION AT RESTAURARE

A RECENT VISIT TO TULUM, MEXICO uncovered the Mexican restaurant of our dreams. So discretely tucked away off the main road that even a local taxi driver had difficulty finding it, the beautifully-designed open air Restaurare felt like an oasis of creative vegan Mexican food. It’s no wonder that the restaurant’s name is inspired by the philosophy of restoring the spirit. Chef Karla Madrazo’s and her partner Roberto Mattocks’s vision for a restaurant was one with as little environmental impact as possible, and one that respected animals and humans. “The goal is to give vegetarians, vegan or anybody, the chance to know and taste delicious Mexican food, but consciously and happily,” explains Karla. The Chef’s talents are evidenced in thoughtful dishes that combine tradition and innovation—a result of inheriting her mother’s cooking secrets and a modern education at culinary school. “I grew up with a mother so good at cooking Mexican food that I just have it in my cells,” Karla tells us.

And here is where she shares a little history lesson… Prior to the 18th century, restaurants didn’t exist— only taverns where travelers could get soup, a drink, and sometimes a place to stay for the night. In 1765, a man named Dossier Boulanger hung a sign outside of his Paris tavern that read in Latin: “Come to me, men of tired stomachs, I will restore you.” At Restaurare, this sentiment is executed to perfection. We left our dinner full, energized and warmed by Karla’s and Roberto’s genuine affability. As we fantasize about them opening up a second location in New York City, please enjoy these recipes directly from the Chef:

TACOS PIBIL

Pibil soy ‘meat’
1 piece bitter orange
½ cup water
1 tbsp recado rojo
1 tbsp vegetable seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 cup texturized soy

Mix everything together in a pot and put on high heat. When it is boiling add the texturized soy, integrate really well with a spoon and turn off the heat.

Tip: If you can’t find ‘recado rojo,’ try finding achiote— a red paste that mayans used to put on their faces during rituals. You can mix it with dry oregano, onion, garlic, black pepper and salt and make your own recado rojo!

Xnipek
1 piece red onion
2 pieces lime
1 piece habanero chili
1 tsp salt
1 pinch black pepper

Cut the red onion into small cubes or ‘brunoise’, add the juice from limes salt and pepper. Cut the habanero chili really small and put it in. At the beginning it will be spicy but with time you’ll start to feel it is less spicy. Correct seasoning if needed.

Black bean spread
1 pound black beans
¼ piece white onion
1-2 cloves  garlic
salt to taste

Put everything in a pressure pot and cook as you usually do. I like to leave the water for beans a little bit salty so when cooked it’s flavorful (the water has to taste with a hint of saltiness). When they’re cooked, process the beans with some of the cooking liquid and the spread is ready!

Tip: if you want the spread even more flavorful try sautéing white onion and garlic (chopped), add the processed beans and correct seasoning.

Tacos
3 pieces handmade tortillas
3 tbsp black beans spread
6 tbsp pibil soy ‘meat’
¼ piece iceberg lettuce or any local (finely sliced)
3 tbsp alfalfa sprouts
3 tsp xnipek

Plate the tacos as you prefer, or you can follow Restaurare’s presentation:

To start, spread a tablespoon of the black beans on the tortilla, then 2 tablespoons of the pibil soy. Top it with lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and xnipek on top. Try keeping everything in the middle so as you’re plating it looks neater, and serve.

COCONUT CHIA SALAD

Vinaigrette
2 pieces lime
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
5 tbsp organic coconut oil
1 tsp chia seeds

Salad
1/3 piece romaine lettuce (or the local one you prefer the most!)
¼ piece cucumber
1 piece tomato (wedges)
½ piece carrot (sliced)
1/8 piece red onion (sliced)
Sunflower or pea sprouts, preferred amount (or any available sprout)

How to get there:
The vinaigrette is really easy: we’re making an emulsion from the acidity of the lime and the oil from coconut. Mix the lime juice with the Dijon mustard, chia seeds, salt and pepper (still you will have to correct seasoning at the end, depending on the ingredients). Whisk really well before adding the oil until you see it starts to make a few bubbles. Then, start adding the coconut oil slowly so it can integrate while you keep whisking. Ingredients change from one place to another so maybe you’ll need more lime or more coconut oil but the taste has to be a little bit salty so when mixed with the salad it is still flavorful.

Try to get a crispy cucumber, a sweet tomato, a powerful red onion and limes with a lot of juice.
Choose the ingredients you like the most for the salad, we chose these because they’re local, fresh and tasty, toss them with your homemade vinaigrette and enjoy!

Tip: you can try other vinaigrettes with the same principle of getting and acidic ingredient and any type of oil.

 

Learn more about the restaurant at:
Restaurare

Photographs courtesy of Restaurare

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

THE WITNESS: PHOTOGRAPHER JO-ANNE McARTHUR

Pig in Transport Truck

IF “PHOTOGRAPHY IS TRUTH,” as Jean-Luc Godard once proclaimed, then photographer Jo-Anne McArthur’s camera is like a floodlight, illuminating what is so often hidden and dismissed in our society— the plight of animals. With her trained eye and empathetic resolve, she documents the suffering, distress, confusion and sadness of the ones who are confined; then shows us the joy and contentment of those lucky enough to be free. Jo-Anne has been putting truth on film and pixel for over ten years. She has traveled the world with her documentary project We Animals, contributing her photos to countless animal liberation campaigns. Each of her images is at once a question that lingers, a confrontation with our own conscience… and a call to action. Most recently, she documented the transport of pigs to slaughter in below freezing weather in Canada, as part of the Toronto Pig Save vigils. Her images will be featured in the upcoming film The Ghosts In Our Machine (directed by Liz Marshall), which tells the stories of animals who are used for food, clothing, entertainment and research. Jo-Anne appears to be ubiquitous, working tirelessly to make a difference. Here, she talks to us about the drive behind her work, and her love for animals.

Why did you feel it was important to be there on those freezing afternoons in Toronto to photograph the transport trucks?
It’s in extremes of weather that the pigs suffer most. The pigs are acclimatized to the indoors until they’re sent to slaughter, so the cold is a big change for them and they don’t have much hair to keep them warm. By the time they’ve spent hours in those transports in extreme weather, many are huddled on the floor, unable to move or respond. Some are dead. When I’m there to witness and document, I can’t help but put myself in their position. There I am, outside with cold feet and a cold nose, but they are bare-skinned and exposed to the wind rushing through the transport for long stretches of time. Their pain is crippling. Their forthcoming deaths are bad enough, but this as a prelude? It’s shameful. Needless deaths and needless suffering. I go to witness, to document, and share what I’ve learned.

What reactions have you been met with?
When we’re at Toronto Pig Save vigils, we’re met with extremes of opinion, to be sure. Some honk, wave, give thumbs up and enthusiastic support for us as we stand vigil on what has come to be known as “Pig Island”. Others make sure we see their middle finger or let us know with much originality that they love bacon. The trucks started detouring, or not going into the left-turning lane so that we couldn’t document the inside of their trucks. For the most part though, there haven’t been many efforts to censor. Mind you, the police get called fairly regularly but there’s not much they can do except tell us to obey the rules of the road. Toronto Pig Save takes a Gandhian approach to protesting; this is a peaceful movement and a pro-labour movement as well. We’re not there to anger or antagonize anyone, we’re there to open people’s eyes about the pig slaughterhouse in the neighbourhood, where 6000 pigs a day are killed. We’re there for the pigs and we’re there to show an alternative to treating animals this way.

Rescued Pig

Describe your emotions looking at the pigs. People rarely get to witness the transport of animals to slaughter, because of the industry’s notorious secrecy.
Yes, it’s an industry shrouded in secrecy, but if we take steps to witness, there’s never far to go before we can see what happens. Transports carrying animals are always going up and down most highways and in and out of cities. We believe in witnessing so that we can share those stories and show those photos, so that others can know what it’s like for the animals as well. When you witness this sort of pain and suffering, it changes you. It changes most people, and makes them want to take action, makes them want to stop eating pigs. Countless times, people are moved by the sadness in a way that motivates them and inspires them to return to witness again, and to speak out about what goes on. When we do this as a community, we can support each other, and we do. It helps to process the feelings of sadness and hopelessness. The community is growing; Toronto Pig Save has now become the “Save” movement, with groups cropping up in Canada, the USA and in Australia. Witnessing as a community is working, it’s inspiring people in so many ways.

But how do we feel about seeing the pigs in transport? It’s just plain difficult. Many of us cry. Many of us speak kindly to the pigs as they go by. In warmer weather, many  pigs come to the openings in the transport walls and sniff our hands and faces, and we pet their faces. We try to show them some kindness before they die. On a personal level and as a photographer, I balance the feelings of sadness with the necessity of work. I’m there to take really strong images so that others can witness too, and I need to do that work well. I have to concentrate on framing the picture well, documenting the pigs’ faces, eyes, injuries, the cramped conditions. It’s depressing work but it’s an honour to be able to contribute to the movement, and to change, and it always moves me to be with the animals. This is always where my heart is: being with the animals in some way, trying to help, sometimes bringing them comfort if I can.

Bird and fish in market

Your photography is your activism, and your camera can be called your weapon in fighting injustice. What has led you to photography, and specifically to documenting the plight of animals?
Yes, photography is my tool for animal rights activism, and it’s great to see so many more people doing this as well, be it undercover or wide out in the open, documenting injustice everywhere. What led me to photography… while I was studying at University I took an elective black and white printing class, and after that first class, that was it for me, it felt as though I’d found my “calling.” I’d always loved photography, but at that point my love deepened and I knew it would be a great tool in life for me, because I’m so curious about things… cameras can sometimes act as an all-access pass to the lives of others. I had some good advice along the way too; my mum had told me to figure out what I love doing, then find a way to make a living doing it. This was great, especially when so many kids are subconsciously fulfilling their parents wishes, or doing what they think they should do, when they pick their schooling or career path.

I also had some great advice from a photographer mentor of mine, Larry Towell, who told me to stop looking so far afield for stories, to look inside instead. “Do what you love” and “do what you know” are things he said, and that struck a chord. I loved helping animals, always did. Soon I realized I could combine my loves for photography and helping animals. I don’t make a living doing it, mind you (I do commercial, event and portrait photography to pay the bills), but I’m definitely doing what I love.

How do you remain in positive spirits, despite the suffering you’ve seen?
I try to balance the bad with the good. I have to. We have to. Being beaten down with the suffering every day leads to burn out, compassion fatigue, or a dropping away from activism and the issues we care about. I suffered and recovered from PTSD because of what I’ve witnessed through shooting for campaigns and the We Animals project, so I have learned to take care of myself and to celebrate the good. We really all need to do this; find balance in our activism, and take self-care seriously. We can keep our optimism and our eyes on the goal by focusing on the good happening all around us, by supporting one another in our work and by celebrating change. Don’t forget change is happening, and it’s happening because of millions of compassionate people out there making small and big adjustments to their lives, things that will ease the suffering of animals. Celebrate the good. Keep your eye on the prize (which is animal liberation, of course!).

Rescued GorillaRescued Bear

What kind of effect have your images produced in people?
One of the best parts of We Animals for me is hearing and reading people’s responses to it. I get a lot of emails about the work and how it has changed people’s worlds. I know the photos are effective, and that’s part of what keeps me going. Many people have written to me about giving up meat after seeing and reading work from the We Animals site, and many have found a calling in activism as well. It’s pretty exciting!

Where is your work taking you next?
I continue to attend Pig Save vigils and will actually be documenting Melbourne Pig Save in early March, in Australia. I’ll be there for a month to work with various animal rights groups, as well as documenting rescue and sanctuary work. Then I’ll be in Senegal doing volunteer humanitarian work (photography) with a Canadian medical team, then from there, heading north to Europe to work with some great teams of investigators again. Lots going on! Liz Marshall’s film The Ghosts In Our Machine will be in theaters this year as well, so there will be a lot happening around that. It’s a strong film about the moral question of animals as property versus sentient being, and will be a force in bringing animal issues to the fore. I hope to be back in India by the end of the year, and I’ll continue to help and contribute to local and global campaigns as much as I can. The photos from the We Animals archive are made available to groups who are helping animals and furthering a message of compassion, so it’s great that the archive can continue to be useful even while I’m doing other things.

Jo-Anne McArthur with Orlando

Learn more at:
We Animals
Toronto Pig Save
The Ghosts In Our Machine

Story and interview by Julie Gueraseva
Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur
Photo of Jo-Anne by Nick Ugliuzza