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.

KNOWWEAR feat. Brave GentleMan, GIG Radio Interview on SIRIUS XM, & John Corbett

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• KNOWWEAR recently featured our recycled-PET Brave GentleMan “Covert” three-piece, Italian, vegan suit. KNOWWEAR is a new online space that cuts out third-party retailers by bringing the latest products directly to you through a carefully crafted daily editorial experience. They’ve been featured on GQ.com’s The GQ Eye and we love the clean, perfectly styled experience almost as much as trying it on ourselves.

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• You can hear all about the Brave GentleMan suits since I was interviewed this week on business mogul and vegan environmentalist John Shegerian’s Green Is Good Radio. Green is Good broadcasts on SIRIUS XM. Green is Good Radio is a fantastic resource for any professional looking to make their business more sustainable. You can subscribe on iTunes or listen live on channel 244 on Saturdays at 5pm.

 

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• You may know that Mr. John Corbett has played leading men on telvision from Northern Exposure to Sex and the City and The United States of Tara. But did you know he’s now a musician and a vegetarian of over 20 years? John recently lent his famous voice for a Farm Sanctuary video about a pretty amazing pig, The Doctor. Check it out below, and his full interview here. Tweet at John to tell him thanks for being a hero to animals: @realjohncorbett

 

Art & Animals: An Interview with Giovanni Aloi

-2In Giovanni Aloi’s groundbreaking book, Art & Animals, the reader is asked to look critically at the way in which animals – living, dead or in representation, have been and are increasingly used in contemporary art. Dealing with identity, “otherness” and down the roots of civilization itself, the book is insightful, inspiring and yet very worrying for anyone involved in the creative industries, or anyone who is concerned and fascinated by animals and the environment. Aloi’s honed analysis is informed by almost seven years of experience as Founder and Editor in Chief of Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. Giovanni and I spoke via email:

 

JOSHUA KATCHER: We deal a lot with masculinity on The Discerning Brute, mainly from a critical perspective regarding the illusion that exploiting animals is a reflection of strength and virility. In your book you refer to natural history dioramas as “a violent subjugation of nature, a typically masculine endeavor, manifestation of the deep desire to possess and control nature, arresting life in a three-dimensional photographic capture designed to educate and inspire while also demonstrating human supremacy over nature”.  Where else do you see conventions of patriarchy being sought out in the art world regarding our use of animals? In your book, Zang Huan’s muscle/meat suit seems to have avoided a machismo interpretation.

GIOVANNI ALOI: This is a very interesting question. That quote from my book is substantially informed by the writing of Donna Haraway, her famous essay on taxidermy titled ‘Teddy Bear Patriarchy’, and was needed within the main context in order to reflect the current predominantly negative, cultural approach to taxidermy. I still believe that statement to be very much true when considered with regards to the golden age of taxidermy (late Victorian period) which led to the expansion of natural history collections around the world. The synergic conflation of gun, camera, gaze and the desire to possess involved in taxidermy of the golden age predominantly was the resultant of traditionally masculine perceptions and attitudes towards the wider world, not just animals. As aptly pointed out by Hogart in the famous series of engravings titled The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751), what we do to animals, we are likely to do to other humans…in a literal or metaphorical sense, I would add.

Since the writing of the book I have been further developing my views on taxidermy (a project that will be published next) and most especially on its ambiguous presence in contemporary art. The current revival of taxidermy is a much more complex phenomenon that some claim. In my opinion it has less to do with a sense of guilt for colonialism, a reparational practice, and much more to do with where we are right now, culturally and historically. Read more…

Stunts & Sake: Trampas Thompson

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Portraits by contributor Dominic Neitz

Trampas Thompson grew up the son of a cattle rancher on the Texas panhandle. This doesn’t explain why I’m meeting him for lunch at a vegan diner in Brooklyn today, but it’s the perfect beginning to the story of this thrill-seeking, Hollywood stuntman who has worked on everything from blockbuster films like Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, Resident Evil and National Treasure to popular television series like Alias, Charmed and Star Trek.

Life for Trampas is a never-ending adventure, full of all the scars to prove it. He’s been lit on fire, repelled face-first from the Hollywood Bowl, crashed cars, had sword fights with some of the greatest heroes and villains in Hollywood, plummeted down a mineshaft, jousted with kings, fallen from buildings, been thrown down stairs and more. “My leg’s a little swollen today,” he says when I arrive. “A horse stepped on me during the shoot yesterday”. Ouch.Trampas1

His adventure into veganism started with a jolt; he crashed to the Earth at seventy miles-per-hour in a terrible skydiving accident, breaking both legs and shattering his femur and knee. “I knew the parachute wasn’t doing what it was supposed to. I was sure I’d die”. He survived, and while rehabilitating, developed an interest in an equally daring exploration of philosophic and existential concepts, with the goal of broadening his consciousness while maintaining his levels of adrenaline. This included reading The China Study and watching Earthlings. “A lightbulb went on, and I was determined to change. At first I was concerned with the quality of protein I’d be eating, and thought I needed to eat fish as a stuntman and athlete”. Like many active people, he was a victim of powerful marketing forces, but soon realized he could be a strong, fearless daredevil on a completely plant-based diet.

The stunt community is full of “conservative cowboys”, as Trampas puts it. This culture of machismo, which is often showcased by eating things that are bloody, doesn’t stop him from voicing his opinion and point of view, or leading by example. Growing up, Trampas was an avid comic book collector and he credits the influence that heroes stopping at nothing in pursuit of truth and justice had on his life when it comes to his desire to be a warrior for animals. Part of that is being physically strong. He trains in LA with John Pierre, a vegan trainer, fitness and nutrition expert, and his favorite protein is Vega Sport chocolate.

Animal advocates are often faced with situations that require compromise in order to make a greater impact or have more influence. Being a puritan and being effective are not one in the same. Obviously, there are ethical conundrums with being a vegan stuntman. “There’s things outside of my control like a costume designer using leather or a film involving animals like horses. I avoid working with animals when I can, but can’t always be consistent. On a shoot I won’t name, there was an animal who wasn’t doing what was required and the wrangler took him behind the barn and did what he thought he had to do… Animals aren’t actors in the sense that it’s not consensual, they’re not compensated, and I disagree with the assumption that this is what they’d prefer to be doing. But sometimes I compromise my ideals to keep my job.”  It’s not just work that requires a delicate balance of ideals and compromises; when he visits his childhood home, the cattle ranch, he and his father try not to ruffle each others’ feathers.

Trampas, a sake aficionado, is based in Los Angeles where he recently opened the shop Satori Sake. While in New York, his favorite spot is the Shojin restaurant Kaijitsu, and he frequents Decibel sake bar, and shops at Sakaya for his favorite brands Koji and Biho.

Follow Trampas on Twitter and Facebook.


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BRAD STEVENS: Wearing your heart on your sleeve

The Discerning Brute Arts & Culture contributor, Brad Silk returns with an extensive interview with one of New York City’s most talented tattoo artists – Mr. Brad Stevens.
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Brad Stevens, seen here at his Adorned Tattoo studio in Novacos shoesphoto by Catie-Rae Zappala.

Brad Stevens, seen here at his Adorned Tattoo studio in his Brave Gentleman shoes
photo by Catie Zappala.

Summer is here, which means tank tops, short shorts, fragrant punks, and a lot of tattoo gazing. If you have them, you know the perils of walking around with them exposed–especially if, like mine, yours are not PG. Everyone and their grandma stops to talk to you about them. Though, it can get tedious or throw off schedules, I actually love talking about my sleeve. It is a gorgeous, unfortunately unfinished, piece, by Orrin Hurley, but more than a beautiful thing to look at, it is a snarky biography of my queer-vegan identity: Bacchus sits on my upper arm, enjoying himself, while food spills from the cornucopia he holds. The healthy bouquet of fruits and veggies spilling onto the outside of my arm shift into decadent piles of ice cream, cheesecake, and candies on the inside arm.

Some people have a lot of hang-ups with identity based tattoos. You might know someone with a vegan tattoo who broke vegan or a person with a straight-edge tattoo who you met in a bar… over beers. No T. No shade–It is just a fact: ink can be more permanent than ideals. Yet, there is another issue in getting a vegan tattoo–one pointed out by Jen Carlson at Gothamist. Not all tattoo ink is vegetarian. Google it. You will receive a dizzying array of information and misinformation…

Luckily, I knew about this issue enough and found a vegan artist. At the time he was working at Daredevil, the sister shop of Fun City, mentioned in the Gothamist article. During the 18+hours getting work done, I connected with a few of the other artists as well; one being the vegan heartthrob,  Brad Stevens, who was kind enough to talk tattoos with me:

Brad Silk: First, how long have you been vegan and what drove you to make the choice?

Brad Stevens: I’ve been vegan for over ten years now. I stopped eating meat when I was 16, I remember just thinking one day that it was wrong and I shouldn’t be doing it. Veganism was a natural step for me when I learned more about it soon after. It was that simple. For me it was part of growing up, you reach a certain age and you make your own decisions.

Silk: How did you know about veganism–was there a big sis/brother or pamphlet?

Stevens: When I started going to hardcore shows there were a lot of like-minded people. Back then people would do tables with info on veganism. When I read up on it, I realized how half-assed being vegetarian is.

Silk: We met through my position at Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, so I know you have a sweet tooth. Did you always love ice cream and baked goods or did your nostalgia for the dairy based products lead you to this passion?

Stevens: At the time I was living on 7th street and Lulas was a block away. I’m sure you remember seeing me a couple of times a day around then, haha. I’m not huge on cake or sweets, specifically, but for some reason I can eat ice cream every day. I wouldn’t say its dairy nostalgia that led me there, I actually don’t really remember the difference between dairy and the vegan stuff. Even ten years ago, living in the small town of Fulton, NY–where I grew up–I could always find some ice cream alternative. But it is way easier being vegan now than it has ever been, even outside the city.

Silk: When not eating treats, do you have a favorite meal?

Angry tiger tattoo by Brad Stevens

tattoo by Brad Stevens

Stevens: I don’t have a favorite meal exactly, I’m pretty big on anything with seitan right now. I’d have to say my favorite spot in the city to eat would have to be Blossom, with an honorable mention to Candle, Angelica and even Vinnies Pizza.

Anyway, I know the Discerning Brute is a blog about ethical fashion and all kinds of culture, but I just want to touch on a topic addressing the whole lifestyle. Where did the rumor start that all the hippy, bike riding, heavily tattooed hipsters in Williamsburg are vegan? I see more of these types lined up outside fancy meat joints than at Angelica Kitchen. I don’t like being compared to all the trend followers when I’m doing something that takes a lot of commitment, and am doing it for my health and the sustainability of the planet we all live on. So how did that rumor start? We’re still punk, right?

Silk: People tend to conjure up two identities for vegans–the grass-eating Buddhist and the angry tattooed anarchist. While both do exist, not all vegans fit these stereotypes and not all people who fit these stereotypes are vegan.

Silk: You work in a pretty traditional style. Is there an artist who inspired you to pursue tattoos? Is their style reflected in your work?

Stevens: The first tattoos that I saw that really stood out to me was the stuff Grez, Ron Perry, and Claire Vuillemot were doing in Syracuse, NY in the late 90s early 2000’s. I tried to copy their style exactly when I first started tattooing. When you’re that heavily influenced it takes a while to develop your own identity in tattooing, and it wasn’t until I got away from that when people started noticing what I was doing. I still owe those guys the world just for doing good clean tattoos and exposing people in the ‘burbs to something way above average for that time and place. The tattoos I was influenced by at the time were a more contemporary take on traditional Americana tattooing. When I explored tattooing further I developed a taste for more and more raw looking traditional tattoos. I was finding the more modern that I made my tattoos look, the more I dated them. So now when I draw I just think about making classic motifs that will look cool forever, not just in 2012.

A vegan tattoo by Brad Stevens

An eagle tattoo by Brad Stevens
(vegan tattoo is not done by Brad Stevens)

Silk: And you went to art school, were you already vegan apprenticing or interested in tattoos at that time? What did your work look like?

Stevens: I didn’t get an apprenticeship until a couple of years after college, but I was interested in tattooing since high school. When I started focusing on tattoo artwork the paintings I was doing were really just a rip-off of what my tat-heros were doing. Nothing original at all.

Silk: Okay, enough filling out your OkCupid: About section… Real talk: getting the word vegan as a tattoo–committed or committable?

Stevens: I think its cool. It’s a commitment for sure, which makes it a good mark of shame for all the quitters. It’s a weird kind of cowardly thing to go from vegan back to omnivore. When someone knows all the facts about where their food comes from and still chooses to support that industry, it just says something about their character.

 

Silk: If a vegan person has shown interest in getting a tattoo, they have probably researched enough or got flack about a lot of the industry using animal products. Certainly anyone reading this could simply Google ‘vegan tattoo’, but lets make it easy: Can you outline what makes standard tattoos not vegan?

Brad Stevens by Catie Zappala

Brad Stevens by Catie Zappala

Stevens: Some tattoo ink is vegan, some isn’t, it’s that simple. The black that’s kind of the industry standard has shellac in it, which comes from some kind of beetle. Some color inks use glycerine as a carrier, but a lot of great brands are made with vegetable glycerine or just no glycerine.

Silk: Are all black inks non-vegan?

Stevens: Not all blacks are non-vegan, there are plenty of alternatives, but the most popular black happens to have shellac.

Silk: Are vegan products better for tattoos? Is there a down side to using vegan products?

Stevens: They arent better or worse, there’s really no difference. Interviews always ask this, and honestly it kind of annoys me. Granted I’m putting myself into a position to be interviewed and asked about vegan tattoos. I feel like people are looking for me to say its healthier or something, but lets face it, we aren’t meant to be tattooing our bodies. If there are health risks concerning tattooing, they are going to exist with or without vegan ink. It’s a tattoo, it’s supposed to be dangerous.

Silk: Do you find most shops able and willing to accommodate vegans–will shops buy vegan products on request? What role can the vegan-patron take to ensure their tattoo is vegan?

Stevens: If I wanted to make sure a tattoo was going to be vegan, I would make sure the artist is vegan AND they know you want the tattoo to be vegan. Some vegan tattooers don’t really mind the shellac in the black they’re using. It’s like vegans that choose to eat honey, or squish bugs, ya know. The only other thing I can think of is aftercare. Aquaphor and A+D ointments usually have lanolin, but really as long as you keep a tattoo really clean it doesn’t hurt to skip the ointment and go straight to a good unscented lotion.

Silk: Sure, veganism is ultimately a choice; it is up to the individual to define how strict they will be and make sure that is relayed properly to the artist. In case there are any vegans reading this that want to break into tattooing, is there anything behind the scenes we should know about? Is any of the equipment nonvegan?

Stevens: I’m glad that I have the option to live and work without the burden of killing animals on my conscience. Any vegan tattooer should know what brands are vegan and they should know how to make their own ink–but I would say don’t break into tattooing. There are too many people doing it who don’t care about it and it’s really hurting the industry. The people who are half-assing it are watering down the integrity of the craft. People think it’ll be an easy, fun job. It’s a lot of hard work if you want to make really nice tattoos. Tattooing is such a hard thing to get into, that honestly, the last thing to worry about should be whether the apprenticeship is vegan friendly.

I usually hate doing interviews like this, but I really like what the Discerning Brute is doing, and I’m sure it’s readers are a class I can identify with. Usually when I talk to some vegan blogger about tattoos, it’s their flavor of the month issue–because tattooing is part of pop culture now and their one small tattoo is as edgy as they get. From that exposure I’ll get a slew of people wanting paw prints and tiny tattoos done in vegan ink. But I have to stress to your readers that if you’re going to get a tattoo from a certain artist, do it because you love their work and trust them to come up with the best design for you. Show everyone that you don’t have to be a hippy to be vegan, you can have bold traditional tattoos and eat an animal-free meal.

Silk: It is art and you should choose the artist who best fits your needs and wants for the piece. Thank you, Brad, for enlightening us on vegan tattoos!

Tattoo by Brad Stevens

Geode tattoo by Brad Stevens