MODEL MAN: RICHIE KUL

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Richie Kul isn’t just a model. He’s an Ivy League educated, vegan model with a passion for being a hero. He’s articulate, warm and perpetually using his powers for good. I’d seen Richie in various campaigns from brands like Swatch and VAUTE to organizations like Animals Asia, PETA and Compassion over Killing, so when we finally got to meet in person over some Beyond Sushi in NYC’s East Village, I found that there was much more depth to Kul than first meets the eye.

Joshua Katcher: How did you end up in front of the camera?
Richie Kul: After graduating from Stanford with degrees in Economics and Organizational Behavior, I was convinced that a career in finance was the next logical step. Through stints as an Investment Banking Analyst and Finance Director, I came to realize that a life poring over spreadsheets and company financials wasn’t for me so I reflected back on the times I’d been approached in shopping malls or on vacation about modeling and figured I’d give it a serious go. Ten years, twenty countries and countless memories and friendships later, I’m really glad I took that leap.

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JK: I always see photos of you with your dog. What’s her story?
RK: Lily is a rescue and was found abandoned in a foreclosed home in Las Vegas. At the tender age of 4, she’s proven to be a chip off the old block and has already participated in a number of photo shoots and developed quite the extensive portfolio and fan base all her own. In fact, for many of the animal welfare campaigns I’ve shot, it’s been specifically requested that she be featured front and center. She’s vegan as well since I didn’t feel it made any sense to nourish and sustain life at the expense of others. I actively researched how healthy it was to have her on a plant based diet and found that many pups have thrived on them so it was an easy choice. Many people have commented on how energetic and happy she is, and her cruelty free path has inspired others to make similar shifts for their pups and themselves. She’s quite the ambassador for cruelty free living!

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JK: Being vegan in the fashion industry can be challenging. Have you ever refused to wear something, or walked off a shoot? Does animal activism and modeling coexist smoothly?
RK:
With clients I’ve worked with previously, they’re generally more accommodating and willing to make adjustments. I try to be reasonable and recognize that, with notable exceptions, fashion by and large is not vegan friendly and to help bring about meaningful change, you sometimes have to work from within while sowing well-placed seeds. I have worn products that incorporate wool, silk or leather but if I find that it’s egregious and obtrusive like a leather jacket or fur coat, I’ll opt out. Sometimes stylists and clients are receptive, and sometimes I’ve simply had to walk away. Work is not life and life is not work, but the daily decisions you make contribute greatly to shaping who you are, and at the end of the day you have to be able to put head to pillow knowing you stood up for what you believe in and didn’t compromise your integrity.

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JK: What is dating like for a working model with strong principles?
RK:
Early on, I was fortunate to have found someone who shares my principles of compassion and non-violence and that’s proven to be a major source of comfort and strength. So thankfully I haven’t had to contend with the dating scene much but I know it’s a struggle in any relationship to strike that balance between standing firm in your convictions while being malleable enough to allow for personal and shared growth.

JK: You’ve been all over the world, what are some of the best spots you’ve found for food, clothing, and culture?
RK: There are always cruelty free options and outlets available if you’re proactive in seeking them out. On the fashion front, the U.S. is light years ahead of its international counterparts. A number of great American brands have emerged here over the past decade so I like to do most of my shopping Stateside. With regard to food though, I’ve found it easier to find vegetarian and vegan fare in Asia when I’m there for work vs. most places in the States or Europe (New York City, Los Angeles, and London being notable exceptions). In Buddhist countries, vegetarian restaurants are more integrated into the fabric of everyday life, and when I was in Bangkok last month, I overlapped fortuitously with the Thai Vegetarian Festival which ran for two weeks this year. It enjoys widespread participation and it was so easy to find tasty options wherever I went.

Style: "Neutral"

JK: In the fashion world, awareness of race and ethnicity is very heightened due to desired aesthetics. Have you experienced any forms of racism in the fashion world?
RK:
Workwise, being different from the conventional standard of beauty has proven to be both blessing and curse. Agents regularly send out casting briefs where clients have explicitly stated “No African American or Asian models.” That brazenness initially irked me but in the end I prefer not to commit time and energy trying to appeal to someone who is completely closed off and not receptive to diversity. I’ve also found that particularly in the high fashion world, clients often accentuate stereotypes and when they do incorporate Asian models into a campaign, they’re rather likely to further a cliché aesthetic of porcelain skin and slanted eyes that doesn’t actually represent many Asians or Asian Americans. On set I’ve been lucky to have met and worked with lots of creative, progressive individuals who see diversity as something worth celebrating and actively promoting. They take note of the growing clout of consumers in the Far East and find that incorporating someone of that background into their brand image enables them to better capitalize on those markets and I respect that. In the end, casting decisions are often very deliberate and well calculated and go beyond whether they like you as a person or think you’re attractive. So while I don’t always agree with those decisions, I also don’t take them to heart.

JK: Books, music, art and ideas… What is inspiring you right now?
RK:
The growing awareness of the ethical, environmental and health benefits of going vegan excites and inspires me more than anything. Seeing public figures like James Cameron, Ellen Degeneres, Brad Pitt, Cory Booker and fellow Cardinal Griff Whalen extoling the virtues of a plant based diet gives me great hope that through their words and examples, many hearts and minds will awaken to the idea that we as humans should be caretakers rather than exploiters of our fellow animals. Traditionally, I’ve been pretty conventional in my music tastes and usually listen to a lot of top 40 – Coldplay, One Republic, Sam Smith, Train, The Script. But lately I’ve been getting more adventurous and have been digging some great indy artists slightly off the beaten path like Mat Kearney and Andrew Ripp. My favorite though is Ilse Gevaert, particularly her single “I Am Human”. I love her textured voice and her personal story of overcoming struggles in her life and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which she approaches her craft. On the art front, I really like the work of Mark Humphrey, a NY based artist who incorporates a lot of thoughtful shapes, textures and colors into his pieces. His work is elegant while still being affordable.

JK: Have you acquired a sense of style since working in fashion? What fashion tips do you have for other guys who may not have been dressed by many stylists?
RK: Day to day I’m admittedly very much a cut off tee, shorts and sandals kind of guy. Every now and again there are opportunities to spruce myself up and in those instances I have definitely benefited from seeing talented stylists at work. Top tips I’ve acquired along the way include ensuring that garments really fit and flatter your body type regardless of the size on the label and being premeditated when it comes to big purchases. Go ahead and splurge a little if you feel you’ll get some long-term utility out of something but make it neutral enough that you can pair it with lots of other pieces. Male wardrobes tend to experience less turnover so it’s all about making those decisions smart and impactful.

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JK: You’re in your undies a lot – firstly, what’s your favorite underwear, and second, what do you do to maintain such envious abs?
RK:
Being a Miami-based model, you shoot a lot of underwear and swimwear jobs. When I first started modeling it wasn’t something I envisioned doing much of, but as a vegan I’ve seized on it as an opportunity to combat the widespread perception of vegetarians and vegans being sickly and emaciated. Modeling has been a platform that’s allowed me to show people that you can live a cruelty free lifestyle while still being healthy and strong. Plus most underwear is cotton based and thus vegan friendly so that’s a major bonus. I’m not obsessive about fitness but I do make it a point to work out every day. Though a lot of my routine centers around lifting weights, I try to mix it up with battle ropes, muscle ups, TRX, Pilates and various targeted abs exercises like planks and hanging leg raises. My daily cardio I have Lil to thank for as we regularly go for jogs along the beach in the evenings.

JK: What must we all try?
RK:
I think we’re happier, more interesting people when we proactively seek out our passions in life. I’ve found that tremendous fulfillment can be achieved in reaching beyond ourselves and helping others, and while everyone is different, I derive great satisfaction and purpose in advocating for rescue, animal welfare, and vegan advocacy groups.

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BORN FREE HOLIDAY ADOPTION

The Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary is offering a special gift adoption package for a limited time, through December 17. For $52 ( $1 a week), people can “adopt” one of six monkeys from the more than 600 who live at the Texas sanctuary. The gift recipient will receive an adoption certificate, photo of his/her monkey, the monkey’s story, a cuddly plush chimpanzee, and a Born Free USA t-shirt. This package is valued at $87 if purchased separately.

About The Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary:

The 186 acre Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary is home to 630 residents — 22 baboons, three vervets, and more than 600 macaques representing seven different species. Located in Dilley, Texas (1.5 hour drive from San Antonio), the Sanctuary is the only one of its kind in the U.S. in that the majority of its residents – ages two to thirty-one – live in free-ranging groups in natural enclosures of several acres, providing a safe, permanent home for its residents, many of whom were rescued from roadside zoos, research facilities, or private possession.

In order to allow the residents the maximum amount of privacy and freedom, with minimal human interference, the Sanctuary is not open to the public. However, the public can support the work of the Sanctuary by making a financial donation; purchasing an item from the Sanctuary’s online wish list; or by “adopting” one of its residents. Just to provide proper food and diet alone for its 630 residents costs approximately $150,000.00 a year. The Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS).

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/sanctuary/images/adopt-kit.jpgIn recent years, this sanctuary has taken on significant rescues. Fifteen macaques retired from laboratory research celebrated their four year anniversary with Born Free USA in July. In 2012, they took in 107 macaques and one baboon from the defunct Wild Animal Orphanage. Had they not stepped up, these animals likely would have been put to death. And, then just over one year ago, nine baboons arrived from a New England laboratory, and then earlier this year, two more monkeys from a laboratory were able to call Born Free USA their new home.

By adopting a primate, or making a donation, these animals will have a quality of life they deserve, never again knowing the cruelty of a laboratory cage or being kept as a “pet” or used in an attraction. They will live a life rich with large open spaces, fresh air, sunshine, grass, trees, the comfort of others – and most importantly, the chance to just be monkeys.

Healthy Hero: Dominick Thompson

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photos by JP Bevins

Dominick Thompson is a real New Yorker. He works a demanding day job, started his own business on the side, and still finds the time to stay healthy and vegan while training hard for triathlons. LÄRABAR, famous for their simple, real ingredients that you can actually recognize, asked The Discerning Brute to spend a day with Dominick and get to know the insights, secrets and strengths of this healthy hero. We chased him around on foot, on wheels, under weights and in the kitchen and even caught him sharing his favorite Cashew Cookie bar with a squirrel friend.

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Joshua Katcher: People who live in NYC are notorious for having the busiest schedules. What does your typical day look like and how do you make time to work out and eat well?
Dominick Thompson: I work 10-12 hours a day Monday-Friday. That doesn’t include any special projects I’m managing that may involve late night hours or weekends as well. However, I do create time for training and even competing in races as they are important to me and my health. There is simply no excuses to not be healthy and train efficiently in this day and age. My typical work day includes me rolling out of bed to train from 5am to 7am. That gives me plenty time to shower and head into the office. I spend my lunch hours training as well whether its at the gym or going outside for a run through the busy streets of Manhattan. By the time I leave my office in the evenings, I have one thing on my mind, and that is to go hard in my third training session for the day which usually lasts 2 hours after work.

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JK: You’re in amazing shape. What’s your motivation for staying fit?
DT: The physical and mental feeling one experiences when they are at their peak level of fitness is something that is just as addicting as life itself, and life itself is truly my motivation.

JK: What’s your workout regimen like, and are you currently training for any competitions?
DT: I’m currently training to compete in my next Ironman, with hopes of qualifying for the Ironman Championship held in Hawaii. I currently log over 120 hours of training per month.

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JK: Who are some of your heroes? How have you inspired others to get healthy?
DT: With respect to physical health and athletic achievements, I didn’t have any real life heroes growing up. The only hero in my life in terms of athletic achievements was the person I used to stare at in the mirror everyday before and after football practice. To understand this, you would have to understand my past. To be brief, all I saw growing up were individuals just trying to survive the day to day struggles of life and poverty. The last thing on their minds was being healthy. Not having any male role models drove me to teach myself how to play football and to get involved in other team sports on my own. It also taught me how to think very critically and grow up fast. Without going too deep, let’s just say that I used the negative things and experiences I saw growing up as inspiration to do my best and to be the opposite of what I was used to, both on and off the field. Now in my adult life, I have inspired others by showing them they can thrive and still perform in athletics at a high level all on a vegan diet.

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Cashew Cookie

JK: Do you make time for fun?
DT: I do make time for fun, but I also consider competing in endurance sports such as triathlons and marathons as fun. I love them!

JK: Let’s talk food. What’s a great pre-workout meal, post workout meal, and snacks for in-between?
DT: I like things simple and healthy. I juice and consume a variety of berries for pre-workout fuel. If I’m out on a long bike ride, I re-hydrate with juiced watermelon and eat bars like LÄRABAR throughout my ride. The Cashew Cookie bar is one of my favorites. The best thing about LÄRABAR is that it’s only a few, simple ingredients like cashews and dates. Post meal is always bananas and juiced fruits.

JK: What are some common myths you dispel simply by being you?
DT: That you can’t be strong on a vegan diet. I’m actually stronger now that I am on a vegan diet than I was when I consumed animal products. In fact, my strength training has only improved.

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JK: What music gets you pumped? What ideas inspire you?
DT: It varies. Depending on the day or the mood. Sometimes I rock out to Tiesto and other times I crank up some Young Jeezy. I love all types of music. Kings of Leon is one of my favorite bands. As for what inspires me, people that work 9-5 jobs while competing as weekend warriors in marathons and other athletics inspire me! It is the very reason I formed IRON BRUKAL, which represents The Working Athlete.

JK: What’s something every guy should know?
DT: That compassion defines one’s intelligence with respect to all life itself.

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JK: What is something every guy can do right now to start getting healthier?
DT: Honestly, cutting out all meat from your diet is the first step in my opinion. Your children and grandchildren will thank you in the future when you are still living and able to play catch with them.

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Model Man: George Paul

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George Paul was born in Poland and his German father moved their family to Germany when he was four years old. For George, this led to an important realization. “In Germany I got a new name with a new passport which never made me really identify as either German or Polish, but for me [it was] just the right circumstance to understand that we are all human.” When he started modeling, the scope of his traveling  and experiences added to this foundation. This winter, you might see George and his friends handing out coats on the streets to the homeless or dining at a vegetarian restaurant. You might hear George speaking in one of the many languages he’s mastered, or get a lesson from him in optimism or meditation. George will be featured in an upcoming Brave GentleMan editorial video, and we are always thrilled to work with professionals whose ethics are aligned with ours. George and I spoke about his experiences modeling:

Joshua Katcher: How long have you been modeling and how did you get started?

George Paul:  I’ve been working now as a model for more then 5 years. Back then in Duesseldorf I used to work in a bar called Monkey’s Island, it was my first little step towards the wide world. This one day a woman looked at me with a smile the day after she came with a friend who was checking me out but then asking me if I would like to work as a model…I did not answer and he gave me his business card and left. I went to his office and they took my measurements. I realized that another door to the world just has opened. Two weeks later I was in Milano working as a Model.

JK: Do you find yourself floating between two worlds? Is the modeling world  compatible with someone who has ethical standards, compassion and a desire to do good in the world?

GP: I used to doubt myself and the job I’m doing in the past, but but now I know that compassion and doing good one can do anywhere in this world no matter where you are. I just need to be aware that I am responsible [for] the harmony in and around me. That’s why meditation and sports are very helpful for me.

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