In August 2017, Danish fashion designer Verónica D’Souza launched “Carcel”, a new fashion label with a goal to combine social responsibility and sustainability. The brand’s high-quality products are made exclusively by women in prison using 100 percent natural materials and disregarding traditional seasons in order to sell all products and avoid waste.
Based in Copenhagen, the company began manufacturing garments made of baby Alpaca wool in a prison located in Cusco, Peru. At the end of this month, Carcel will be presenting a line of silk clothing made by women in a prison in Chiang Mai, Thailand, its second production location.
Today the brand sells its products all over the world through its own online platform, Net-a-Porter and Browns department store in London. Prices of products range between 90 and 875 euros.
At the end of this month, Carcel will be presenting a line of silk clothing made by women in a prison in Chiang Mai, Thailand, its second production location.
FashionUnited was able to talk to D’Souza on the phone about the the creation of her brand, and what her plans are for its future.
How did the idea of Carcel come about?
D’Souza, trained in sustainable business, said the idea came about when she was living in Nairobi, Kenya, and working with women who lived in poverty: “I was very curious about the reasons why women went to prison, so I asked permission to visit a women’s prison and they let me. When I arrived, I realized that the main reason that they were imprisoned had to do with poverty, which led them to become prostitutes, to steal and to traffic drugs. Many of them were also mothers from rural areas, with low wages and low level education “.
When D’Souza saw those women sewing, knitting or making small handcrafts just to pass the time in prison, without even having access to good materials or having a space to market what they made, she considered it to be a waste of resources and realized that the same thing was happening in many parts of the world.
“I thought that places could be found where they could have access to the most incredible natural materials in the world where they could also have some traditional female products and combine them with places where high levels of poverty were related to crime. This could result in beautiful competitive products that could really help these women break away from poverty, so that they could save, earn a fair wage and send money home for their children so that they could have a better future.”
Peru, the first production centre
D’Souza said that she started by making a list of countries that had the best materials in the world and the highest rates of crimes committed by women living in poverty. “Peru was one of the main places on my list for drug-trafficking issues and because they also have a fantastic tradition of products made with alpaca.
I then contacted the president of the National Penitentiary Institute of Peru (INPEC), we met, and he told me that they were interested in having job opportunities for people in prison. I travelled across the country, visiting different prisons, and we decided to start in Cusco. We installed our own production centre there and we were the ones who had to learn because we knew nothing about alpaca. Louise (Van Hauen), my partner and designer, presented the first products and that’s how we started,” she explained.
In addition to Peru, the label has opened a new production centre in Chiang Mai prison, Thailand. “In each country, we have a production manager who visits the centres every day and monitors the work done. The differences are in the materials, which are unlike any others, so they are produced in different ways. The cultures of both countries are also different,” said D’Souza.
An innovative fashion proposal
In just one and a half years the label has grown exponentially. “Our customers have changed; in the beginning they were mostly Scandinavians but now we are taking orders from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Mexico…we are really expanding. 50 percent of our customers are outside Europe,” said the founder of the firm.
D’Souza said they plan to continue working with women who are deprived of their freedom, in order to make them more self-confident and break the circle of poverty in which they are immersed. “I think that by creating businesses that solve problems in the world, you can make money and find solutions.”