The Most Controversial Fashion Brand Yet: Ministry of Tomorrow

What is this controversial fashion brand, Ministry of Tomorrow (MOT), really about?

MOT represents a new frontier for a way of doing business based on love for all and the notion of responsible commerce.

How did the idea for the Ministry of Tomorrow come about?

While studying marketing and fashion in London, I took a trip to Kenya. While in Nairobi I became aware of Kibera, Africa's largest slum. There had been some serious political turmoil there and I was curious to see first-hand what was going on.

The Most Controversial Fashion Brand Yet: Ministry of Tomorrow

At my hotel, I met Evans Mbugua, a private taxi driver who after much convincing agreed to take me there. Evans parked outside the slum and then we walked into Kibera. Surrounded by contaminated waste and the most unhygienic conditions one could never imagine, I was enthusiastically greeted by thousands of beautiful children as I walked through the slum. Every few steps there was a chorus of very excited children warmly welcoming me shouting "halo- how are you". It is not common for people in this place to see a "mzungu" (slang for white man) walking around so I, in fact, became the curiosity. I was so taken in by the beautiful faces of these precious children, who were born into extremely dreadful conditions, I was rendered speechless.

This scenario grabbed my heart in a most serious way. Something had to be done to break this unfortunate pattern. No-one deserves to live in severe conditions like this.

I could not walk away and forget what I had witnessed. As I had been working on the establishment of a social enterprise using fashion for positive change, it became clear to me that day that Kibera was the place to start something.

Is there any upside to your unusual approach?

Yes, for sure! I discovered some real advantages; people are extremely willing to give their very best to do excellent work. They are really grateful for the chance to have a job and be treated with decency. This is reflected in the bags they make. This may sound crazy but I can feel the gratitude vibrating in the bag. I cannot think of anything more rewarding that I would rather be doing with my time.

The Most Controversial Fashion Brand Yet: Ministry of Tomorrow

Why vegan?

It would have been much easier to work with leather but I just cannot get behind that. Vegan is a choice. "No harm" should not be a difficult choice to integrate into business or daily life.

In the same way, cannibals believe it is morally acceptable to eat humans, as a society we have come to accept that eating the flesh of dead animals and wearing their skin is normal. But it's just not normal.

I am using ultra high-quality vegan, organic and sustainable materials to make the case, that it is possible to achieve luxury without causing harm to animals, people or the environment.

Vegan is the way it should be. We say the contrary, "Why leather?"  What gives us the right to take an animal's life and skin, then clothe ourselves with it or put our stuff in it. We don't need to do this as there are endless alternatives. If we don't choose an alternative to leather, then we are choosing to participate in an endless act of cruelty.  It is monstrously repulsive when you think about it, but it has nonetheless become acceptable in society.  We do this so mindlessly. What does this say about us as a species? It says we have been conditioned to accept cruelty and lack respect for life and not even think about it.

Take a step back and consider the processes to make leather; imagine a living animal suffering excruciating pain, trauma and fear just before it was murdered and then having its skin ripped off its body just so a person can enjoy an ill-schooled perception of quality leather. This is sick!  We have no right to do this just because we can.  It's time for new thinking, a new moral compass.

What are your criteria for the non-leather materials you use in your bags?

The Most Controversial Fashion Brand Yet: Ministry of Tomorrow

MOT products are produced with respect for the earth and humankind. The company closely examines the supply chain at each step of production. We look for elegant alternative materials that exhibit the similar desirable qualities that leather offers but the difference is, our materials are always cruelty-free - no animals had to suffer in order to make our bags. 

Our raw material criteria include; aesthetics, functionality, cruelty-free, not harmful to the environment and wildlife, fairly traded and brings about social benefits.

How do you define luxury?

MOT defines luxury through a new expression of imaginative design that is elegant and at the same time distinctive and functional. MOT's fashion statement is: "Awe-inspiring works of art".  MOT bags are hand-crafted by skilled tailors who are proudly devoted to producing exceptional quality bags.

Why did you choose to launch MOT with luxury bags?

The world is cluttered with luxury goods and frankly, there really isn't a place or reason for yet another brand. There is, however, a gap in the market for high quality, handmade, vegan, luxury bags. There are millions of vegans and vegetarians who are both fashion conscious and consider how the products they buy are made and what effect their production has had on animals, people, and the environment. We have brought something quite different to the market. I feel that bags are an ideal category to demonstrate this new model of responsible commerce.

What does Africa have to offer the fashion world?

Africans have long been tastemakers well before Europe took so much from these rich and varied African cultures. Given the same tools, opportunity, and access to the market, we will see an explosion of unmatched creativity from Africa.

Beyond building a business what do you hope to achieve?

We are interested in creating social and environmental impact and having an outrageously good time while doing it. I plan to replicate our Nairobi factory with other small versatile production facilities in unexpected places around the world that can become a beacon of hope in these communities.

What would you say is the main difference about your facility in Nairobi as compared to a traditional European fashion house?

Old established producers have well run, mature systems with expensive overheads that fix creativity within a restricted framework of arbitrary rules.

They use big money to make people believe their products are desirable when if you really evaluated how the products are made many people would not buy into this fabricated story. It's time for a new story based on things that are good for people, animals, and the environment. 

There are so many very talented young artisans in Nairobi who are eager to show the world what they can do. I am trying to provide them with that opportunity. There is an abundance of fresh and unrestricted expression that is soon to be discovered, respected and desired. This sends the message that everything is possible and no-one can hold an exclusive on quality and creativity.

What challenges did you face setting the company up and making it a sustainable business?

I have had to bootstrap the development of the company from inception until now. It's not so easy to start a business this way in any place but it certainly sharpens one's creative survival skills.

The Most Controversial Fashion Brand Yet: Ministry of Tomorrow

What challenges did you face setting the company up and making it a sustainable business?

I have had to bootstrap the development of the company from inception until now. It's not so easy to start a business this way in any place but it certainly sharpens one's creative survival skills.

We have got to where we are on the power of a dream. I was lucky to have met Michelle Aricha who runs the production facility and shares this dream.  With her great patience and a strong desire to achieve something important, which is shared by the entire staff, we are progressing to our goals. I am motivated by their determination to succeed. The realization of our mission is now in reach.

How would you describe your target audience?

I am designing for a unique demographic of young spirited people who are fashionable and enjoy the experience of a luxury lifestyle but at the same time want to feel good about supporting responsibly produced products that deliver social and environmental benefits.

Our customers are individualistic, educated consumers with disposable income who crave authentic, creative, style that is meaningful and engaging on many levels. MOT is a controversial fashion brand, not for anyone who likes to jump on a fashion bandwagon. 

How exactly does this new approach to commerce empower employees?

We ensure that all the employees are well paid above the minimum wage. Our tailors receive more than 2x the Nairobi minimum wage. There is a bonus for flawless work delivered and we provide a nutritious and tasty lunch and afternoon tea. Also with increased sales, the factory will be able to increase wages and benefits.

Name three people that have greatly inspired you and why:

Vivienne Westwood for breaking the norm in fashion and for standing up for environmental and sustainability issues. She has created a very controversial fashion brand as well.

Ingrid Newkirk for her tireless fight for the rights of animals through PETA

Julia Butterfly Hill who raised world attention for the need to protect forests by living in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree for 738 days

What’s next for MOT?

Following the launch of MOT magazine, we will bring out MOT Radio - Afro-Beat Live. This will be a monthly podcast. We have engaged Emmanuel Nado the producer of Echoes of Africa to produce and host the program. Each show will be a 2-hour long podcast with a combination of classic music mixed with new sounds coming from Africa.  We will have at least one live artist interview that will introduce the artist, the artist’s origin, culture, influences and any message that artist has for the world. There will be 3-4 artists profiled during each show with a playlist of 3-5 songs from each artist.

Later this year we will launch two new product lines and extend the bag and accessory offerings. If anyone wants to learn more about us and what we're doing they can visit our website and sign up to be notified.