In a world where the fashion industry has been deemed polluting, wasteful and unsustainable, where the clothes are often made by anonymous, exploited workers, the Copenhagen-based luxury label Carcel, is proposing solutions to those challenges. With their self-managed supply chain built from women’s prisons in Peru and Thailand, Carcel not only makes quality garments, but does a whole load of good to tackle social issues. “I believe in improving the world through design,” begins Veronica D’Souza, the founder and CEO of Carcel, as we engage in a passionate chat on their alternative approach to fashion.
The idea for Carcel’s unique business model was sparked by a visit to Nairobi’s female prison, where D’Souza recognised unrealised potential and a lack of rehabilitation programs. “Most incarcerated women in the countries we produce our clothes from, have been sentenced due to poverty crimes,” explains D’Souza. “Mothers providing for their families by trafficking drugs would neither receive fair wages to support themselves in prison, nor have any stability or prospects for when they come out.”
By selecting areas of the world with the highest percentage of female incarcerations, where quality materials such as baby alpaca wool and organic silk are plentiful, Carcel tapped into what D’Souza described as a “dignifying exchange”. The first production site was set up in Peru, and in 2017 Carcel’s knitwear collection saw the light of day, offering not only ethically made designer items, but also a completely different way of shopping.
“We want to create an alternative fashion model that solves problems through something beautiful,” – Veronica D’Souza, Founder and CEO of Carcel
“Having our own supply chain and production managers on-site allows us to closely monitor the entire process, eliminate waste and reduce dead stock” says D’Souza. At Carcel you will not find season sales, but long-lasting garments sold in limited batches, which can be pre-ordered and made especially for you.
The signature style of Carcel pieces is based on the idea of a wardrobe filled with essentials you wish to go back to and cherish every day. A tonal all-knit “suit” and a silk dress in electric blue create a balance between effortless elegance and “Copenhagen cool”, ensuring that comfort and high-end design go hand in hand. “We strive to encompass sustainability in everything that we do, but the essence of Carcel is first and foremost design”, explains D’Souza. “Each piece is a strong statement of choices we’ve made to create a better world of fashion.”
The alternative fashion model created by Carcel not only allows incarcerated women to connect with the outside world, but also brings that human touch, that fashion production often lacks, to the customer. Female prisoners in the Chiang Mai prison in Thailand, extremely skilled in hand embroidery, have been adorning the designs with Thai words. Inside each piece you will also find the name of the woman, who made it.
As for the brand’s progression, Carcel is expanding to become a stronger voice in empowering people. Their Vesterbro studio opens three days a week for those, who wish to experience the clothes “offline” and educate themselves on what the brand is trying to achieve. In the near future, the space is bound to offer even more, serving as an innovation hub for artists, organising events and workshops.
All images courtesy of Carcel
“The timing is right to do more as a fashion brand, to have a purpose for existing,” says D’Souza. With that approach in mind, Carcel will be expanding in Thailand with a production facility outside of the prison, for a more focused process of reinstating the inmates into society. In 2020, we can also expect to be introduced to a new fabric – the environmentally-friendly lyocell fibre made out of eucalyptus pulp. In line with the timely question Carcel strives to answer through their actions, it makes sense for the world to be the change you wish to see in it.
You can learn more about Carcel through their website and online shop.
Carcel is one of the finalists of the Magasin du Nord fashion prize –Find out more about the other nominees here >>>
Tags: Carcel, danish design, Danish fashion, sustainability, sustainable fashion
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