Joshua Van Leader

17.10.1991 – 4.11.2022

Early Life:

In 1991 Joshua was born in Leeds and was the youngest of five with two older sisters and two older brothers.  His early years were spent living in the East side of Leeds, West Yorkshire and being amongst so many cousins and friends in the local area that helped shape his very personal and cheeky character.


Having two older brothers that played football and were strikers it was no surprise that when the jumpers went down to make up the goals Joshua would be told to get in the goal and from then his goalkeeping talents commenced.

After playing for his local area team Joshua started to excel and ended up playing for Leeds City Boys at under 10 and then Leeds United Academy for 5 years to under 15.  Joshua then set his sights on completing his education and a football (soccer) scholarship in the USA playing for York College until he was 17.  


At 18 Joshua was offered a soccer scholarship in Tennessee, USA for Tennessee Wesleyan College and studied a sports related course, playing across Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.  Joshua also spent his first summer there playing for Georgia Revolutions a semi pro team in Atlanta.

After two years the sports course was not doing it for Joshua and a calling to other places and professions were reaching out.  Joshua came back to the UK and through his contacts at Leeds United headed for Adelaide in Australia to play for a semi pro team Adelaide Rangers.


Joshua spent a year in Adelaide which was one of the happiest periods in his life.  Joshua became very friendly with Jackson who also played for Adelaide Rangers and lived with his family developing very strong bonds, they became his second family.

Its’ in this period that Joshua started his love for art and men’s fashion.  He would go to second hand clothes stores with Jackson mother (Louise) to buy jackets that he would pimp up and sell.

After some consideration Joshua decided that he wanted to learn how to design men’s clothes more professionally and embarked on gaining a second soccer scholarship, this time on the west coast of the USA.

At this stage Joshua had also dropped the ‘I’ in his middle name Ivan and he became well known from that point as Josh Van Leader, his business idea had also been born as JVL. Although Josh did like people to think he was Dutch he settled for the English gentleman instead.

San Francisco & Los Angeles:

Joshua did convince a coach (Mike Keller) and also the men’s fashion faculty at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, USA to give him a place in their college, quite amazingly as he had no previous men’s fashion experience.  He started on a five year degree that he incredibly completed in three, working most evenings, summers and Christmas holidays.

The work he completed there was truly inspiring as was his networking that had expanded down into Los Angeles and New York making clothes for a number of high profile musicians.

Joshua only played football (soccer) for two years for the Academy of Art as his head injuries and multiple concussions had caught up with him, a thought to this day makes his family wonder whether his head injuries caused or certainly contributed to his very deep and dark depressions that were to follow.

Joshua’s ambition to drive his JVL label had momentum that he didn’t want to stop and he rushed into a chest operation in San Francisco (pectus excavatum) as he was having breathing challenges.  Unfortunately the operation didn’t go well, the surgeon inserted a bar into his chest, which was later removed in the UK and from that point onwards Joshua suffered from constant daily pain, which he had to the end.

Joshua’s mother Mary stayed in San Francisco to help Joshua after this operation and recalls a late night visitor in the hospital, the Academy of Art Principle, Simon.  They went for coffee, Simon did not realise the extent of the operation but was spitting feathers with Joshua, “the arrogant ‘beep, beep, beep’ has turned down design houses for Niki, Adidas and Burberry, no-one turns down these design houses”.  But of cause Joshua had his focus on JVL and was very much his own man.  Simon mentioned in that conversation that his room- mate when he was at college was Alexander McQueen, an iconic fashion designer, and Joshua just reminded him of Alexander, they both drove him crazy.

The Troubles Years:

Joshua’s constant pain from his chest and the deep dark depression he was sinking into, was getting the better of him and he returned home to the UK from Los Angeles.

A quote from one of Josh’s poems describes how he felt:

I cried and crumbled

I felt desperate 

that the addiction

and depression

was stronger than me,

that it had a hold on me,

I was in the bottom of

some well, deeper than

my mind and I was

not only lost, but alone.

A numbing darkness that 

feeds on my doubt and 

relishes my worries

Most people at this stage would have completely crumbled, but not Joshua.  His mother convinced him to continue with his artwork so together they cleared out the summer house and he started to paint again before getting a studio in East Street Arts in the centre of Leeds.

Over the following five years Joshua created an unbelievable collection inspired by the Ocean and the Blue Planet, some of the pieces are enormous and amazing when you see them in person.  

He wrote four books, three volumes of poetry ‘somewhere between the sand and the stardust’ (the last one focusses more on his mental health) and a colouring in book also aimed at mental health and uses one of his latest art collections based on mythical gods (Physiognomy).  

Joshua has also done many line drawings, where the pen never leaves the page, of which the spaceman drawings have been used in a clothing collaboration with Harry (from Commonsense).  Joshua also had a number of other collaborations where his mythical god (Physiognomy) art work is displayed on wall rugs and pottery pieces.

Joshua was also in the process of producing a documentary on his own mental health challenges and how it impacted his past and present life as he knew that would help others.  

The Person & The Character:

Joshua touched so many people even if he only met them for a short time, some feedback that his family received from a gentleman that he met the day before he passed for only 15 minutes:

A tall gentleman walked in, acknowledging everyone in the bar.  He seemed to know everybody, and everybody seemed to know him.  He chose the stool next to me and started to engage in conversation with me after he ordered his ‘rum and coke’.

Through our conversation I found out that he ’s an artist.   I asked him if he had an Instagram account that I could follow and he was more than happy to share it.

A few minutes later he finished his ‘rum and coke’, he said goodbye to everybody, and left.

Later on that night, I checked his website, his story and his art journey. I was fascinated.  I was so excited to chat with him again about his art.

This afternoon, while I was scrolling on Instagram, I saw a post on his account.

On Friday evening this gentleman took his own life.

His name was Joshua Van Leader.

A man that touched my life in 15 minutes, I was so excited to meet him again but he was gone.

It shook me to the core.

We don’t realise how fragile life is and what demons everybody fights.

Joshua’s legacy:

What Joshua’s family did not know until after his passing was how many people he had helped with their own mental health, he had saved so many people, his family have been completely overwhelmed by the bow wave of comments and feedback.  A sporting quote Joshua would talk about in his earlier life was ‘a true champion is bent over the side of the road, dripping with sweat when no-one is watching’.  Joshua applied this to helping others with mental health challenges through his own experiences, he helped others when no one was watching.

This is the quality and achievement that his family and friends are most proud off and it is this legacy that they would like to keep alive, he was a shining beam of light that lit up so many lives and left them in a better place after spending time with him.  It is his family and friends aim to release all of his work to a wider audience so that it continues to inspire and helps others with the same positive manner and in the true spirit of the amazing JVL.






Website created by Liam Pedley Design