I recently wrote a piece about my last leather jacket, submitting that, when it comes to going totally leather-free, I draw the line at dress shoes, which are essentially the only new leather items I still buy. If a company like Alden or Crockett & Jones applied their level of craftsmanship to shoes and boots made with a vegan material that rivaled leather, I’d seriously consider it.
A couple of the dress shoe offerings I’ve noticed from Brave Gentleman make me want to consider it.
Brave Gentleman (pronounced “Gentle MAN”) is a luxury vegan menswear line founded by Joshua Katcher, whose mission is to create handsome, durable goods without any animal materials. As I’ve said, the trickiest trick for me is leather, specifically with dress shoes.
Fake leather… vinyl… or “pleather,” as we all used to call it, has a horrible reputation as a plasticky material that looks and feels really cheap and cheesy. For shoes, belts and other goods in his collection, Katcher is using something called “future leather,” which, according to the claims, is a durable, supple, weather resistant, hi-tech polyurethane microfiber made in Italy and is EU-Ecolabel Certified.
Of course I’m still skeptical. Is the material durable? Does it breathe? Does it wear as well as leather? Does it look and feel as nice as leather? Is it sustainable? According to Katcher’s pitch, the answer to all of the above is ‘yes’. Watch the video:
Another sticking point for me is design. With the exception of Stella McCartney, the notion of vegan fashion has an image of being wispy, anemic, soft, weak, boring, sexless, shapeless… generally unattractive and not very appealing. The challenge is to find something that sets off the same sparks in the brain that your sexier luxury leather goods ignite. Essentially, I want something that has the same appeal (and quality) as a blucher, oxford, wingtip, monk strap or chukka boot from Alden or Crocket & Jones. A couple of shoes from Brave Gentleman look like they might ring those bells for me. If they can shine up and hold up like expertly-crafted shoes made with a nice shell cordovan or calfskin, I could see myself going there.
Here are three pairs of footwear from Brave Gentleman that got my attention:
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Visionary Boot II
The Envoy is part of their Signature Collection. It’s an oxford made with a combination of Goodyear and Blake construction, creating a stronger, sturdier, more waterproof shoe. The sole is hand-layered natural hard rubber (more durable than leather) with flushed metal heel and toe taps, which extend the life of the soles and heels.
. . .
I’m not ready to dump my leather shoes just yet. But if the technology keeps getting better with the future-leather, and the construction and design are on par with heritage shoemakers, it’s something I’d seriously consider as someone who has an increasingly harder time with the treatment of animals for the sake of looking cool.