John Bartlett’s fashion designs have taken on a more humanitarian tone as of late. The venerable clothing designer, whose once edgy, boundary-pushing, high fashion motorcycle-leather contributed to his rep as a fashion bad boy, has since transformed into a vocal philanthropist, animal rights activist, vegan, LGBT activist, and an HIV/AIDS advocate. That same compassionate sentiment is what inspired Bartlett to again participate in BRAKING THE CYCLE™, the 285-mile AIDS bike ride from Boston to New York City, also known as “a civil rights march on two wheels,” and a tremendous fundraiser supporting Housing Works’ lifesaving services for low-income, homeless, vulnerable, and HIV+ individuals in New York City and around the world. We spoke to Bartlett to learn more about what inspires him to continually give to those in need.
HW: How long have you been a supporter of BRAKING THE CYCLE™?
JB: I did the first ride 9 years ago and have supported it ever since. I met lots of amazing people and had a life-changing experience. My partner, John, did the ride last year, and so we decided this year to do it together.
HW: It’s a pretty grueling and physically demanding challenge. Why are you and your partner subjecting yourselves to it?
JB: My partner would ride 100 miles a day everyday if he could! He is an incredible athlete. Me, not so much. Nevertheless, we are both doing this to support our friends who live with HIV, to remember our friends who have died from AIDS, and to honor those around the world who are in need of assistance due to their HIV status. I wept through most of the first ride, remembering those I had lost, and I am curious to see how I will feel doing the same ride 9 years later.
HW: Did one of you coerce the other to sign-up?
JB: I surprised my partner by signing-up. He was already enrolled, and I decided that doing this together was going to be a very special bonding experience for us.
HW: Why is it important for you to support Housing Works?
JB: Housing Works provides incredible support for those living with HIV on a global level. I love what they do and what they stand for. Their work in Haiti, for example, is especially inspiring.
HW: Where were you in the 80s in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and how were you personally and creatively impacted?
JB: I moved to NYC in 1986, and my first boyfriend’s boyfriend (they were no longer intimate) was dying from AIDS. So at age 22, I already met and cared for someone with AIDS. I also lost two very close friends from the disease before my 30th birthday. While the landscape is thankfully less dire, those early days of AIDS will be a time in my life that I will never forget.
HW: You have a fabulous line of shirts out, marrying your animal rescue work with Pride. I understand it is also a tribute to your dog, Tiny Tim, who passed away not too long ago. Can you speak on that?
JB: I have a collection on my website, JohnBartlettNY.com, entitled the Tiny Tim Collection. 10% of the money goes to helping rescue groups save dogs and cats from high-risk shelters. I wanted to create a group of tees for men and women who want to express their pride and also express their love of animals.
HW: What reminds you to continually strive to create purposeful work?
JB: Yikes, big question. My most treasured tenet is “Ahimsa,” which means “no harm.” I try to live by this every day.