Without a doubt, Carcel is one of the most interesting concepts to have been launched in the Scandinavian fashion scene in recent years: with a strong social conscious and a goal to empower incarcerated women around the world, the Danish brand offers minimalist styles from a range of sustainably sourced materials manufactured in women’s prisons for a fair wage. Founded by Veronica D’Souza and Louise Van Hauen, the brand experienced a rapid Crowdfunding campaign before initiating collaboration with a governmental prison in Peru; and after successfully launching their brand in Europe, the small team has been looking for new production partnerships around the world. Working gives female prisoners a chance to support their families and prepare for a life after incarceration – and working with top-tier textile production gives them training that would otherwise be inaccessible. And finally, last week, after much bureaucratic negotiation, could Carcel announce their new partnership with Thailand’s Ministry of Justice and the NGO Kamlangjai Project that lobby for rights for incarcerated women. This new partnership will see the production of the highest quality silk merchandise in the prison, while ensuring a 100% transparent wage system and proper technical training for workers. An incredible achievement, the first for any fashion brand in Thailand, we got on the phone with the founders to get the full story.
What made you pursue Thailand for the expansion of CARCEL’s production network?
We go where the highest amount of poverty related crime meets the world’s most luxurious materials because that is where we believe we can make an impact through desirable quality products. Thailand ranks amongst the global top 7 in countries with most prisoners per capita and the majority of women in prison for non-violent drug-related crimes. At the same time, Thailand has a very long tradition for craftsmanship and is known for their amazing silk. For us, it is about creating the greatest social impact by providing the women with good wages and ensure new possibilities for them – all while creating beautiful silk products.
The Thai government has been open and supportive from our first point of contact. The partnership agreement has been in the developing since spring 2017, where we first visited Thailand with the curiosity and dream of starting production inside Thai women’s prison. This partnership is on the highest level of government signed by the Secretary General from the Ministry of Justice and coordinated by the Kamlangjai Project (The Inspire Project) under HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha. Everyone involved is passionate about creating better lives for female prisoners. Together, we believe that these key elements are the right ingredients for creating a sustainable operation that improves lives through beautiful garments.
How is the specificity of the Thai incarceration system different from that of Peru? What is your role in this new context?
In both countries, we are pioneers. In Peru, we are the second international company venturing into prisons, and in Thailand, we are the very first. So both for us and for the Thai government, there are many things that we will only come to know as we get started. We are starting in Thailand with a 6 months pilot project where we are very much hands on every day, and based on our experiences, we will develop a longer term plan for how to operate co-jointly with the Ministry, Kamlangjai and the Chiang Mai prison direction. In Peru, we have our own operational entity from where we manage all operations. In Thailand there is more extensive experience with running production so it might be that they will be able to run more independently. It’s very exciting to develop a new type of organization from production processes to payment models – and it’s important to do this in the field, not from a desk. So ask me again in 6-8 months time, and I should have a more extensive answer. For now, our key pointers are giving education, good wages and creating a quality production, and the most important tool is an open mind and being there, working side by side inside the prison so we really gain the experience, from the inside.
What does this expansion mean for CARCEL?
Our ambition has been global from the get go, so this is an important step for us. We are the first international company to start working inside Thai prisons, and the Government is looking to us to learn from our experience in Peru, so we really have a fantastic chance here to create immense impact in cooperation with the government. It’s really something. Also, we show our customers that we are more than a knitwear brand and underline our brand vision of empowering women in prison globally through the best natural materials in the world. On a day to day level, it means that our office is buzzing with creative energy, and that we are working hard on getting to know all the fantastic qualities of 100% locally made silk from Thailand.
For more information, see Carcel