Ministry of Tomorrow founder, Julian Prolman, talks about his mission to create both opportunity for the workers in Kibera as well as products that inspire change within the fashion industry.
1. What inspired you to launch Ministry of Tomorrow?
While studying art and fashion in London, I had an opportunity to go to Kenya to design t-shirts. I was incredibly inspired by what the factory was doing and this experience set me on a path to establish my own community development project.
After returning to Kenya several times and while in Nairobi, I became aware of Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, where I was stunned by the dreadful conditions that people are living in. People there are stuck and have little to no opportunity.
I wanted to show the world how a business can actually benefit the planet and empower people – how each step of the production line, from the creation of the fabric to the cutting and sewing, to the shipping, can send people to school, empower families, eradicated harmful pesticides in the soil, benefit the environment with the support of carbon offsets.
The Ministry of Tomorrow brand represents a movement for positive life experience that is rooted in love for everything and everyone.
2. What are your sustainable priorities for the business?
Ministry of Tomorrow is a business that sits upon a five-point ethos:
Quality and Design
Ministry of Tomorrow 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”, bags hand-crafted by skilled tailors who are proudly devoted to producing exceptional quality bags.
Our flagship project is located in Nairobi, Kenya just outside of Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums. The facility we built sponsors skilled tailors who are recruited from within Kibera to make designer unisex bags, creating sustainable livelihoods for its employees.
Woman’s empowerment is a core objective, exemplified by Gertrude “Michelle” Aricha, who has been sponsored by us to fully own and operate the factory that produces the company’s bags. Michelle in turn employs the tailors from Kibera to produce the luxury bags exclusively for Ministry of Tomorrow.
The fabrics we utilize are cruelty free (no animal products), and are 100% Certified Organic and Fair Trade cotton. The cotton, for example, is sourced from Rajlakshmi Mills in Kolkata, India, that buys its cotton from the Chetna Organic Farmers Association – a collective of more than 6,000 organic cotton farmers. The farmers growing the cotton are paid a fair price for their crop, are not exposed to harmful pesticides, and the organic farming methods do not contaminate the earth.
Social and Environmental Activism
Social and environmental activism is woven into the fabric of MOT’s products. MOT products are produced with respect for the earth and humankind. The company closely examines the supply chain at each step of production. Responsible commerce is MOT’s way of doing business.
In order for long term goals to be achieved, each step of the process (planting seeds, growing cotton, spinning & ginning to the creation of the fabric, using low impact dyes for color, followed by stitching and lastly shipping) needs to be carefully looked at and respected. No harm to humanity, animals or the environment is fundamental. Ministry of Tomorrow products are produced with respect for the earth and humankind.
3. How has your eco strategy developed as you have grown?
It has been the same since day one, empower people, protect animals and save the planet.
4. How challenging has it been to maintain your eco principles?
Not challenging at all because I wouldn’t accept doing business any other way.
5. What have been your biggest milestones and triumphs until now?
My biggest triumph has been the company proving to the world that there is no limit to creativity and even in the biggest slum on the planet, with the right motivation and access to tools, anything is possible. We have proven to the world that we can create the same quality (if not better, due to the amount of care towards the supply chain and the overall benefits of the product to the planet) as the biggest luxury brands on the planet. Our biggest triumph is sending over 12 kids to school for the past 6 years, allowing our tailors to have a better life where they can provide for their families and be proud of the work that they are doing.
6. What have been the main prohibitors to your progress in building a sustainable business?
Making people understand that vegan is the same quality, actually better than leather. It is a product that doesn’t kill animals and it is stronger and more durable. Having to deprogram this misconception is my biggest challenge, and it is so interesting to see how many people hold on to the “truths” they have been taught.
We exist in a world where unsustainable is legal and the norm. Corporations make a profit at the expense of nature and society. Until a new generation of mindful consumers demand sustainable alternatives and then support them, not much will change.
There are many small innovative companies struggling to get their products to market. Access to growth capital remains a challenge.
7. Do you feel pressure from your customers to be more eco?
The customers we are targeting already understand that killing an animal doesn’t make something more expensive. So, no pressure. We are creating a conscious community 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. We aim to inspire conscious fashion or what I am now calling ‘high-frequency fashion’.
8. What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?
- As a producer, be willing to pay the true cost of raw materials and production considering every step of the supply chain.
- As a designer, create highly desirable sustainable fashion
- As a marketer, aggressively promote the positive attributes of responsible commerce
- As a customer, support authentic companies that do all they can to produce goods that not only don’t cause harm to animals and the environment but also goods that bring benefits to the actual people who did the work to produce them.
9. 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 and 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.
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.
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