Best friends and vegan designers Leanne Mai-lyHilgart and Joshua Katcher.
Seeking a coat that didn’t use animal fibers but was still warm enough to endure our harsh winters, Chicago native Leanne Mai-lyHilgart started Vaute Couture in 2008 with the goal of creating a fashion-forward vegan brand. Brave GentleMan, a line created and designed by Joshua Katcher, produces elegant menswear that is 100 percent vegan. The two designers—who are also best friends—are at the forefront of the local sustainable design scene and are proud champions of their lifestyle.
What made you want to become a designer of vegan fashions? JOSHUA KATCHER:Veganism has really reached an exciting place. Huge investments in vegan businesses are being made by very influential people, with cultural and political powerhouses from Steve Wynn and Bill Clinton to Ellen DeGeneres and Russell Brand embracing the fact that veganism isn’t only a rational choice—it’s a superior one that is generating visionary innovation and economic growth. Even companies like Puma have recently announced that they’ll eventually be phasing out all leather.
What are the rewards and challenges of working with vegan, eco-friendly, and sustainable fabrics? LEANNE MAI-LY HILGART: I really don’t know anything else. I started Vaute to take on the challenge of taking animal fibers out of the equation, and work with the latest in high-tech fabrics that are vegan and eco-conscious. Problem solving is my second favorite thing; creating is my first. And creating with sustainable vegan fabrics is both of these things; it’s exciting because it’s the latest in technology, it’s the latest in fabrics—and I only want to work with exciting textiles.
Blazer ($690), vest ($520), shirt ($480), Brave GentleMan.
What is unique about your fashion that sets it apart from other designers in the same arena? JK: I want my clothing and accessories to be able to compete with other menswear brands on a level that is purely aesthetic. People love the designs, the colors, the inspiration. But the icing on the cake is that I can say that when you indulge in Brave GentleMan suits or boots, your money is paying factory workers a living wage, investing in superior textile technologies, and supporting a brand that is made up of more than spin.
What’s vegan and great in Chicago? LMH: After I graduated from DePaul, I spent the yummiest summer as a server at the Chicago Diner, one of the oldest and best vegetarian restaurants in the country. The Radical Reuben is so good my friend Christopher Hollowell of Dun-Well Doughnuts recently had two flown into Brooklyn for himself. JK: I work with a local Chicago alchemist who makes the most handsome-smelling “Beard & Body Brick” soap. They are fair-trade, palm-oil free, organic, and vegan. Our first scent was a bold black pepper geranium, and now we’ve expanded into whiskey and others. And when I visit, I really like to go see my friends at the Chicago Soy Dairy.