Designer fashion can cost a pretty penny, and for that reason it can sometimes cause a crisis of conscience: Love the clothes, feel guilty about the sticker price. Carcel is a new clothing label that can help bridge that gap.
The Copenhagen, Denmark-based fashion label is giving jobs to women in prison who will make the clothes as well as get valuable training and pay for their work, setting them up for a brighter new start when they are released from prison. The income can also help the women send money home toward supporting their children, and of course it gives them a purpose for what can otherwise be long, empty days.
“We go where the best and most sustainable materials in the world meet the highest rate of poverty-related incarceration,” say the designers who came up with the Carcel clothes and concept. “This way, we transform lost time into fair wages, skills and hope for a better future. And we give our customers high-quality designs that last.”
The idea for the venture was born when founder Veronica D’Souza was living in Nairobi, Kenya in 2014. She visited a women’s prison and found ordinary women from poor backgrounds, not the hardened criminals she’d expected. They were jailed for nonviolent crimes, which reflected the shortage of opportunities for them in their communities. The women spent eight hours a day knitting and sewing.
“The time was there, the women were there, the machines were there, but without access to good materials, designs and a market, they were unable to sell their products and made no money,” the Carcel staff explain.
Now Carcel is launching with clothing manufactured by women in prison in Cusco, Peru. Each item is made on a hand-knitting machine and comes with the name of the woman who did the work. (You can read letters from the women giving details of their lives and hopes on the Carcel site.)
The first clothing line includes a women’s sweater and trousers, men’s sweater and trousers, a unisex tee and a scarf, all available in rich, interesting colors. You can get in on the ground floor on Kickstarter.
Super-soft baby alpaca wool is the only ingredient in the first collection. Alpaca wool has many benefits in addition to its snuggly softness. The animals can be traced back more than 6,000 years, and their temperature-adjusting wool has always helped them survive in the remote, high Andes mountains, where the weather is harsh and extreme. There’s often blistering sun during the day, but at night the temperature plummets because of the altitude.
Now we too can benefit from the alpaca’s wool—the Carcel designers say it’ll keep you warm when it’s cold out, but will also let some of your body heat escape and cool you off on hotter days. Ah, the ingenuity of nature.
And there’s also the exclusive nature or cachet of alpaca wool, since it’s in limited supply. The Carcel staff share the stats: “There are only 6 million alpacas worldwide compared to the nearly 50 million cashmere goats,” and there are more than 1 billion sheep around the world, according to the Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
The Carcel team has already scouted the next manufacturing location and decided on India, where they will employ women in prison to craft designer clothing, this time made from 100-percent-organic local silk.