I’m excited to welcome The Discerning Brute’s newest contributor, D. R. Hildebrand. David is an author and a model in New York who will be writing about a wide range of topics from food to fashion to the various vegans he meets.  Today he’s starting with some reflections.

– Joshua Katcher, editor

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There are a few questions, regarding modeling, that I get asked more than any other.  Is it fun?  Where have I seen you?  Do you get to keep the clothes?  Every now and then, someone comes along and asks exactly what I ask myself almost every day: What is your place in the industry?  To what extent will you compromise your values?  How can you call yourself vegan and represent such un-vegan companies?

When I started modeling, seven years ago, none of these questions had crossed my mind.  Though I was raised vegetarian and had since become vegan, the ethical issues regarding clothes and accessories were only beginning to needle me.  I didn’t know what, if any, alternatives I had to the shoes, belts, wallets, and winter coats made from animals, so I bought them as infrequently as possible, and left it, simply, at that.

Upon signing with my agency I received a form, as all models do, asking a myriad of questions.  They ranged from my abilities in sports and languages to my comfort being photographed naked to whether or not I have tattoos, piercings, or—among dozens more—if I would ever model fur.

Fur is the only product, with respect to animals and ethics, which is questioned at the elite levels of fashion.  While I, specifically, have yet to be confronted with fur (in part because I’m a man, and in part because I model in a mildly enlightened age), I am not exempt from a host of other, equally relevant, ethical issues.

I am what the industry calls “commercial fashion.”  This means my “look” is neither “editorial” (androgynous, quirky, hipster, weird) nor “mainstream” (cheesy, cutesy, spritely, Mid-America).  The former walk runways for coveted designers and model in bizarre spreads intended to shock its viewers; the latter appear in fabric softener ads and bubble gum commercials that warm hearts and encourage smiles.  I fall in the middle.  I model in anything from showrooms and look books to department store ads and travel magazines.  I might be styled in jeans and a t-shirt one day, then work in a wool suit with a silk tie and leather shoes the next.

Often, I’m not advertising clothes.  I’m advertising an image that is associated with certain types of clothes.  Say I’m working for a resort or a computer company, or a high-end department store, it would be completely acceptable if the clothes I’m wearing were made cruelty-free—as long as the impression they give remains the same.

Advertising a Samsung computer to businessmen, it helps to look the part, but the part doesn’t require animal exploitation.

This is both frustrating and inspiring.  The frustration is simple: while my role is rarely to market any one, animal-exploited garment, my image implies that those who do what I’m doing should wear what I’m wearing.  The inspiration is equally simple: the exact same clothes can be made—and are being made—without harm to animals.

Unfortunately, non-clothing products have their own history of violence.  Men don’t often model for cosmetics companies, but cruelty is not limited to makeup.  I decided years ago never to work for a fast food chain or a meat or dairy distributor.  But will I resolve the same when I eventually reach an age where I get castings for high-paying luxury car companies—that make leather seats and use animal-derived products in their tires?  Or not long thereafter when even higher-paying pharmaceutical companies—which test on animals—ask to hire me?  Just taking a photograph with film, which until a few years ago we all did, relies on gelatin, made from bones.  The deeper we delve into almost any product, clothing or otherwise, the more likely we are to find a system of cruelty associated with it.

Running from the industry will solve nothing.  Vegan models are everywhere yet if we all retired in protest tomorrow, nothing would change.  We’re as replaceable as vegan waiters serving meat at a steakhouse.  As much as the industry infuriates me and I want to rage against the status quo, I feel slightly more empowered in it than outside it.  When I model I can talk to makeup artists and stylists and educate them about the various products available.  At castings I can collaborate with other vegan models.  Outside the industry I run into people all the time who want to know what I, as a model, do and do not eat.  And I tell them.

I also recently had the opportunity to work for my first vegan designer, whose clothing is starting to get noticed by mainstream vendors.  Just as I would rather not model for a non-vegan client, most vegan clients would rather not hire a meat-eating model.  Thankfully, there is a move now, among some of us in the industry, aimed at uniting like-minded models, designers, photographers, stylists, and makeup artists in an effort to both promote one another and to incite broader change.  And it is this opportunity for change—more than anything else—that keeps me from quitting.

Modeling a designeresque jacket for Vaute Couture at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.