Words are cheap, artisanal craft is not. Amidst the endless tide of cheap fast-fashion knock-offs and trend-chasing upstarts, scant thoughtful makers are carving their own path. Meet one such maker: PROLETA RE ART.
PROLETA, uh, what?
“My brand’s name is taken from the ‘proletariat’ or working-class people in a capitalist society,” PREOLETA RE ART founder PROT explained to Highsnobiety. “I combined this word with ‘RE ART,’ which I prefer to ‘repair.'”
Well, the art comparison certainly makes sense: PROLETA RE ART’s exquisite garments are to upcycled clothing what Courbet’s The Stone Breakers was to figure painting.
Despite PROT’s humble naming cues, PROLETA RE ART exploded in popularity over its 18 months of existence, an incredibly uncommon swell in attention rare for any slow-fashion project.
Produced exclusively by PROT himself, with aid from his seamstress partner “E,” PROLETA RE ART’s clothing is primarily made to order at the bequest of customers, though the waitlist is currently a mile long, give or take.
PROLETA RE ART is also sold in limited supply by a handful of tastemaking boutiques like MR PORTER, NUBIAN, H LORENZO, and Mannahatta NY.
PROT’s painstakingly handstitched trucker jackets, five pocket jeans, and tote bags are as much collectibles as they are clothing.
As such, they’ve proven irresistible to folks as famous as Travis Scott, Odell Beckham Jr., Lil Baby, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, DJ Mustard, and fashion collector Justin Reed.
The handcraft alone is impressive — every PROLETA RE ART garment comprises layers upon layers of exhaustively deconstructed denim scraps, vintage bandanas, and centuries-old indigo-dyed Japanese textiles — but PROLETA RE ART’s appeal is multifaceted.
On one hand, the brand sort of fits into the glamorization of Y2K fashion, wherein flashy, over-embroidered denim brands like True Religion and Evisu are as covetable as the streetwear brands of today.
On the other, there’s the push for eco-conscious design that yields both a celebration of sustainable practices and enthusiasm for garments that make the designers’ fingerprint visible. Raw hems, obvious mending, repurposed workwear: it’s all incredibly en vogue and PROLETA RE ART elevates that aesthetic to an artform.
Right time, right place, not unlike PROT’s fellow denim deconstructionists at KAPITAL or likeminded upcycler Yuta Hosokawa of READYMADE.
Not that PROT willfully aligns himself to any specific movement or trend, mind you.
“I myself do not have a conscious sense of “sustainability,” per se, but I have always liked things that have developed personality and texture through a life well-lived,” PROT said.
He explains that he views the intersection of sustainable talking points, textural appeal, and rising interest in archival fashion as the primary reasons for PROLETA RE ART’s swift crossover appeal, which has lead all the up a recent co-sign from Yohji Yamamoto himself.
PROT’s proud of his work and keen to introduce PROLETA RE ART to more people, though he usually prefers that the work speak for itself.
Still, over the course of a few Instagram DMs and emailed interactions, PROT was keen to participate in a brief interview, which has been slightly edited and condensed.
How’d you get started making clothes?
I’ve loved making things with my own hands since I was a child. I majored in fashion design at university, learning about the philosophy of the body, clothing, and space.
After graduation, I worked as a designer at an apparel company. I used to work mainly with denim in the company’s factory, where I acquired sewing, remaking, and vintage-treatment skills.
Five years later, I was put in charge of the design department. But I spent less time creating with my own hands and more time managing others. There were moments when I almost forgot what originally excited me about clothing.
I eventually became ill and left the company. After struggling to find the way I wanted to live my life. my partner, who I’m still working with today, and my best friend pushed me to go back to basics and start my own brand.
So, in March 2021, I launched PROLETA RE ART.
How’d you begin selling your clothes?
In the very beginning I sold my works online. I was selling them pretty cheaply on Yahoo! Japan as “customized vintage clothing” with barely any description, measurements, or photos.
I was surprised that, almost immediately, everything I made sold out. I realized that this could be a way to make a living.
After a while, I noticed that the majority of bids on my clothing started coming from overseas buyers.
One day, while on Instagram, I found someone who had purchased one of my boro jackets and posted a photo of it to their page.
This was before I’d begun putting the “PROLETA RE ART” tag in my clothes so all these commenters were asking where the jacket had come from.
I replied in the comment section, explaining that I made it and was accepting custom orders. That was the first time my traffic skyrocketed.
[PROLETA RE ART also boosted its visibility by collaborating with fellow Instagram-savvy brand Vuja De in November 2021.]
Beyond your fixation on boro, what inspires your PROLETA RE ART creations?
Most people are probably familiar with my “UROBOROS” series, where I upcycle vintage jeans and denim jackets with boro patchwork [the name is a clever play on the ouroboros symbol]. Since that was the first PROLETA RE ART series that became popular, I intend to continue making it for the rest of my life.
However, prior to introducing the UROBOROS garments, I had been working on an embroidery series called “MEME.” The name MEME is taken from internet memes, of course.
Back when I was in junior high, I would search online for crude bootlegs of popular characters, which fascinated me.
When I traveled Southeast Asia as a student, I was impressed by the stores and food stalls that’d been handpainted with warped renderings of famous characters like Mickey Mouse. Having been exposed to the elements, these illustrations blended into the landscape of their lives.
For me, these amateurish drawings are more meaningful than any famous artistic masterpiece. I consider them true art.
Speaking of art, PROLETA RE ART’s output is incredibly expressive.. Certainly, it must be difficult to price your clothes.
I put all my energy into creating my work. Other than eating and sleeping, I don’t do anything besides create and design.
It takes a lot of time and effort to make even one garment; they’re all one-of-a-kind, handmade by me and my partner in our home and studio.
[Each individual garment takes over 24 hours to produce. As a result, PROT has produced only just over 200 PROLETA RE ART pieces thus far]
Partially because we work in such enclosed spaces, it’s extremely taxing to create these handmade pieces.
[For instance, PROT’s eyes once became infected from the chemical particles generated by cutting, treating, and dying vintage garments.]
There’s been far more demand than I ever expected but the number of pieces I can make is really limited, even if I don’t take breaks.
When more orders started coming in last summer, for instance, I initially tried to meet them by working without stopping. That resulted in my body shutting down: I couldn’t work with my hands for over a month.
When was your clothing first worn by celebrities?
A stylist in LA reached out to me in April 2021. She placed an order for Iann Dior, who she was working with for a shoot.
Due to various scheduling issues, he didn’t get photographed in the clothes I made but I heard that he really liked them, so I appreciated that.
After my work began spreading on Instagram, A$AP Rocky and A$AP Lou messaged me about my embroidered MEME jeans, and bought custom pairs. At the time, I was still not well-known, so their approval gave me confidence to keep going.
Now that you’ve received even more international recognition, how do you feel?
I started this brand without setting any specific goals, so I never thought it’d turn out like this. To have so many people discover my work in this way is most gratifying.
What’s next for you and PROLETA RE ART?
There is no end to what I want to make. I’d like to make not only clothes, but also furniture, home goods, and even proper artworks that can be displayed like paintings.
I’d also like to collaborate with people who have special skills that I do not have.
I don’t have a goal of achieving a certain level of sales or expansion, though.
I instead believe that if we simply keep working with people whom we respect and continue pushing ourselves to do even better work, we’ll continue to thrive.