We write about female designers, models, activists, and actresses on a daily basis here at Who What Wear, but International Women's Day got me thinking about brands that can actually change women's lives—and immediately Carcel came to mind. Carcel is a Danish brand that makes elevated basics like T-shirts, sweaters, trousers, and more. The brand employs incarcerated women who volunteer to learn new skills and receive a living wage, which enables them to send money back to their families outside of prison and save money for their life after release. Carcel is currently planning their next production outside of prison, so the women then have the opportunity to continue working with Carcel post-release
Carcel won Denmark's prestigious Magasin du Nord Fashion Prize in November and presented its first "show" at Copenhagen Fashion Week in January, which actually included no models or clothes on display. Instead, the audience watched a video that "raised questions about overproduction and overconsumption, and challenged press, buyers, and creatives to pause the status quo and step up on the empty catwalk to take an active role in creating change," per Carcel's press release.
Intrigued? I thought you would be. I interviewed the brand's founder and CEO, Veronica D'Souza, to learn more about Carcel. "For us, we believe that employing someone in a prison should have the same fair rights and wages as being employed outside," D'Souza told Who What Wear. "Our employees benefit financially for both themselves and their families. They no longer have to depend on relatives for covering their own basic needs in prison. But more than just financially, we experience a change in their self-esteem and mental health. They all express the importance of dedicating themselves to creating great products and working as a team."
D'Souza also provided more context about why the brand has set out to offer new skills and living wages to this demographic in particular, which has few chances to achieve financial independence while in prison. "The main cause of female incarceration worldwide is non-violent, poverty-related crime," she explained. "The women we work with come from poor backgrounds with little opportunities and are providers for their families. For example, they end up trafficking narcotics in order to take care of their children and are incarcerated for many years. Meanwhile, their children lose their providers."
Knowing this, you can see how giving incarcerated women the chance to send money back to their families can be majorly beneficial. If you want to learn more, on its website, Carcel goes into specific detail about its employees' wages, which are above or equal to the family living wage in both countries of operation: Peru and Thailand. The website also explains how working conditions are monitored in-person by the Carcel team multiple times per year.
Carcel is also transparent about the limitations of its impact. "Working with incarcerated women does not address the root causes of why they are in prison in the first place," Carcel explains on its website, "but it creates opportunities for them and their families while they are incarcerated and when released."
Sustainability, including avoiding overproduction, is also a critical part of Carcel. The brand uses 100% natural materials—never synthetic—and only sources locally from its production sites. "The biggest issue in fashion is overproduction and waste," D'Souza told me. "That's why we don't have seasons and collections but instead do limited batches of high-quality essentials that last. And we never put our products on sale because we believe that if you make something well, from good materials, the product should not lose value. This enables us to sell what we produce and produce what we sell."
Now that you've gotten a behind-the-scenes look at Carcel, scroll down to shop the pieces that will last you a lifetime.