On first glance, Carcel - a newly established Danish fashion brand - you may assume it's just another minimalist essentials label with that lust-worthy Scandinavian design sensibility. And while that's all great, you'll be even more on-board with the clothing company once you read a bit more into it: Carcel, which means "jail" in Spanish, empowers women in prison through work, new skills, and fair wages. And all of the cozy knitwear you're eyeing on its website, made from the finest 100% baby alpaca wool, are produced by 15 women at a female prison in Cusco, Peru.
The idea came to its CEO and founder Veronica d’Souza after she visited a women’s prison in Kenya; there, she saw how its inmates were working all day with low-quality materials and without any market access. This kickstarted a greater business idea: to train women in prison to work with high-quality materials native to the production country — and thus offer a true fashion alternative to the conscious consumer. In 2016, she went to Peru and visited multiple prisons before deciding on the one just outside Cusco in the middle of the Andes.
Carcel has since formed a relationship with INPE (the National Penitentiary Institute), the local prison authority in Cusco, which shares the brand's vision of better opportunities for the incarcerated women, many of whom have been sentenced for drug-trafficking because they are used as 'drug mules.' Around the world, poverty is the main cause of female incarceration, and in Peru in particular, the drug cartels typically target girls from poor backgrounds —young, beautiful, and often pregnant girls have better chances of getting through customs.
Through working with Carcel, these women are offered the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and gain new skills ("Stories from the Inside" about each woman employed by the initiative can be read on the brand's blog). The initiative focuses on building a healthy work environment and ensuring good jobs and fair wages for the women to support their family and to save up for their future. Plus, each of the final styles carries the name of the woman who made it.
Soon, Carcel plans to expand to a women's prison in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and will launch a new range of products using silk (as a local natural material) later this year. "The vision is to employ more women and create a bigger impact — and within the next five years our goal is to have established production in three to five different countries," d’Souza explains. "We wish to convince consumers that ethical fashion can be sexy." Louise van Hauen, Carcel's partner and creative director, adds: "Our different approach to fashion challenges our design process in a wonderful way. Working with responsible production and against traditional fashion seasons forces us to focus on texture, shape, and fit." And we can attest that the product is just as good as its mission.