Exclusive Interview with Julian Prolman, Founder of Ministry of Tomorrow
We caught up with Julian Prolman, founder of the revolutionary cruelty-free couture fashion house Ministry of Tomorrow, to discuss the history, heart, and vision behind the brand and find out just what he has to say to the fashion industry as a whole.
Founding a movement for sustainable change in a multi-trillion dollar industry doesn’t just happen overnight, people. But it IS happening. Hold onto your pearls.
Give us a breakdown of your background in fashion design. In your education or elsewhere, what was the first thing to light your heart on fire about sustainable fashion?
While studying art and fashion in London, I did an internship during the summer of 2006 at Wildlife Works in Kenya, an innovative wildlife conservation business that uses market-based solutions to fund its conservation work. It protects highly threatened elephants and more than 300 species of other wildlife along with the entire surrounding forest where the wildlife live as part of a UN climate change mitigation strategy called REDD+.
Wildlife Works developed an eco-factory as one of the community-based income generation activities. I was given the opportunity to work in the factory and saw firsthand how this enterprise made an important difference to the local community.
I was incredibly inspired by what Wildlife Works was doing and this experience set me on a path to establish my own community development project.
After graduation, I returned to Kenya several times and while in Nairobi, became aware of Kibera, Africa’s largest slum.
I visited Kibera and was stunned by the dreadful conditions that people are living in. People there are stuck and have little to no opportunity to change their status.
For the few Kibera residents who can find a job, they have to travel outside of Kibera and need to take Matatu (the local public shared taxi) that costs them money. Then they go to a job site where they typically earn extremely low wages - $1.00- $3.00 per day.
I saw the opportunity to create a production facility right next to Kibera so that people we’d hire could walk to work and have a chance to earn fare wages. The hope is that this enterprise would facilitate a way forward with a chance for a better future for them and their families.
Sustainable fashion as part of a movement for responsible commerce is our way of doing business. Why would anyone with a conscience support activities that harm animals, people, or the environment?
What inspired you to launch Ministry of Tomorrow and what’s the meaning behind the name?
I was seeking a way to have a rewarding, happy life while working in a creative space. I thought that fashion could be used as a vehicle to help improve the lives of disenfranchised people and bring together meaning and style.
The Ministry of Tomorrow brand represents a movement for positive life experience that is rooted in love for everything and everyone.
Why the pinecone as the symbol for the brand?
The pinecone is an ancient symbol that has been used to represent the 3rd eye or the pineal gland, which is the seat of the soul. It represents the awakened human being who is physical, but also spiritual.
Tell us about the lines. Why vegan and why bags?
We express luxury by using high quality alternative materials and craftsmanship.
People are waking up to where leather comes from and how it’s manufactured. We offer a cruelty-free choice. If people could witness the process of how animals are killed and the barbaric stripping the animal goes through for its skin so it can be worn by humans, most would not feel good about supporting that product.
There’s a mental disconnection from the cruel process to the desirable way the products are marketed.
I think we are in a transitional period where many people are seeking truth and realizing they’ve been brainwashed, buying into undesirable belief systems imposed by others.
Our bags are marketed to a consumer that exercises independent thinking. This is a conscious revolution for people who like to look good, feel good, and do good.
We are a luxury brand because we only use the highest quality Japanese and Italian vegan leathers. All of our cotton is sourced from India and is 100% Certified Organic and Fair Trade.
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 that our materials are always cruelty-free - no animals suffer to make our bags.
We have a stringent selection process that has to check a list of criteria including aesthetics, functionality, cruelty-free, good for the environment and wildlife, fairly-traded, and social benefits. This makes our bags an exceptional choice.
MOT defines luxury through a new expression of imaginative design that is elegant and at the same time distinctive and functional. Our fashion statement is: “Awe-inspiring works of art.”
Our bags are handcrafted by skilled tailors who are proudly devoted to producing exceptional quality and our price points are attractive because we’re able to compete on quality with the best of major fashion houses in Milan and Paris.
You can’t easily tell that our bags are not made of leather. All of our hardware is made of the highest quality metals and our zippers are the same ones used by major Italian and English luxury brands.
What has made you feel most accomplished in your career so far?
Seeing the smiles on people faces knowing that they now have the ability to provide for their families and are creating art at the same time.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
Knowing I have a huge responsibility to assure the ongoing livelihoods of those involved in this project and that MOT is unbound with opportunity to redefine luxury with cruelty-free bags. And I’m always excited about the creation of the next collection!
Tell us more about your factory in Nairobi, who Michelle is, and the lives that have been changed because of their work with Ministry of Tomorrow.
I chose Kibera but it feels like Kibera chose me. I could not walk away and forget what I witnessed. Surrounded by contaminated waste and the most unhygienic conditions one can’t even imagine, I saw the beautiful faces of thousands of precious children who excitedly greeted me as I walked through the slum.
This scenario grabbed my heart in a most serious way and would not let go.
The circumstances of how people live there rendered me speechless. I knew that something had to be done to break this pattern because no one deserves to live in such severe conditions. So, having seen the amazing work Wildlife Works had done in rural Kenya to improve conditions there, I thought I would try my hand with a similar concept in Nairobi.
It’s clearly not an obvious choice to initiate the development of a couture fashion house in proximity to a slum, but this is precisely why I set up shop in this location. My view is, “Why not Kibera? Why not bring opportunity to where opportunity is needed?”
As a result, I discovered some real advantages; people are extremely willing to give their very best to do excellent work. They are 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 vibration of gratitude in the bags. I can’t think of anything more rewarding I would rather be doing with my time.
Michelle Aricha is the general manager of the factory. She was instrumental to recruit the tailors.
There are so many very talented young artisans in Nairobi eager to show the world what they can do. They need a spotlight and this is what I’m working to do. There’s an abundance of fresh and unrestricted expression that’s 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.
We got to where we are on the power of a dream. I was lucky to have met Michelle, who runs the production facility, and who shares this dream. With her great patience and a strong desire to achieve something important, which is shared by the entire staff, we’re progressing to our goals. I’m motivated by their determination to succeed and the realization of our mission is now in reach.
The simple way we can assure sustainable livelihoods is to provide steady work and pay well.
To achieve this, we need market success. We just launched the collection and the reception is positive. Assuming this translates to sales, everyone will have steady work.
Some of the staff are paid full-time and some are new and paid according to the days they work.
We pay our staff above Nairobi minimum wage. They get a bonus for flawless work delivered, a nutritious and tasty cooked lunch, and an afternoon tea.
Talk to us about your choice to work with models outside the traditional realm of beauty to showcase the brand.
On this planet surrounded by deception, I am interested in the truth about things.
As we know, most models and editorials are based on heavy manipulation to create the “perfect” person. This entails lots of Photoshop, makeup, and lighting. For the most part, the models fit a certain cookie-cutter criteria and create the desires of little boys and girls around the world in terms of beauty standards. They are sold on what they should look like to be accepted and the products they need to achieve that status.
That’s Madison Avenue manipulation. We stand for free thought and individual expression, so you’ll see that our models have a unique yet genuine expression.
Who are the designers or brands that inspire your creativity and who do you aspire to collab with?
I have always loved Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen.
Vivienne Westwood for breaking the norm in fashion and standing up for environmental and sustainability issues and Alexander McQueen for his views on life and the unique presentation of his fashion shows. Everything Alexander McQueen does (minus using leather and fur) is very beautiful.
How do you think eco-consciousness in the fashion industry has evolved over the last few years and what is there still left to do?
People are becoming more aware and concerned about the source of the goods they buy and the effect on people and the planet.
Now it’s time to reorient people towards cruelty-free bags and garments.
What do you want to say to the fashion industry as a whole?
Everything in life holds energy. The people who manufacture your bags have feelings. They have families, most of the time they live in unthinkable conditions and are working to survive. Imagine these people creating a bag out of love, with gratitude, pride, and joy… the positive vibrations are in the bag.
Now imagine the animals that are killed to create fashion. They live in unimaginable conditions, usually a lifetime of torture, and then are killed for their skin… and then you wear that on your body. That dead skin holds negative energy from the suffering, sadness, and torture.
Why would someone want to put negativity on their body rather than to respect life and wear something vibrant?
So what I would say to the fashion industry - change the model. Put animals, environment, and people above profit and derive your livelihood from positive choices.
Love is the Ministry of Tomorrow - this is our aim.
What message do you have for the next generation of fashion lovers?
It doesn't look good to look good at the expense of others.
So, true “fashion lovers,” practice good karma. Make responsible purchase decisions and support fashion that defies the status quo of mindless zombies. Instead, buy stylish products where no harm in production was caused to animals, nature, and people.
What advice do you have for brand new designers?
Lose your mind. Don’t play to societal norms. Dig deep in your creativity and do whatever comes out. Don’t think twice. Just express yourself.