Copenhagen Fashion Week: A Q&A With Carcel
Sustainable Danish brand Carcel is based on the positive impact that fair wages for women in prison has on society. The timeless pieces have been known for their top quality and durability, but also for their contemporary cut, perfect for the conscious modern woman.
Even though Carcel doesn’t do seasons it always plans around fashion week with this season being the launchpad for their new silk. Last week they showed at Copenhagen Fashion Week, where they have introduced their second line – silk – made inside the women’s prison in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Made out of 100% silk, the label states how it’s possible to combine timeless, solid pieces with a strongly considered production set-up.
We talk to Veronica D’Souza, CEO and Founder of Carcel, who is a social entrepreneur by heart.
What is your ambition for Carcel?
To pioneer fashion of the 21st century and to prove to the fashion industry that there’s a new business model corresponding with the industry, the planet and the people living on it. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, we need a completely new business model for how we produce and how we sell. I want to build a new supply chain that shows that its possible to contribute positively to our planet while honouring the beauty of quality design.
How will you try to achieve that?
We’re very focused on every step of the value chain. Our ambition is not to harm the planet and to help solve a social problem in the world. This matters in everything we do from choosing materials to making sure that the production workers are paid fairly: we’re eradicating poverty and eliminate overproduction and waste. We aim at a balance, which means making the products that sell and selling the products we produce, so that everything we put into the world is good and has a long lifespan and human value.
Just as the Peru production is into the Carcel brand, so does Thailand with their amazing natural silk materials and a great tradition for craftsmanship amongst women. The women in the prison already hold the resources and skills for us to tap into. Thailand is the country with most female prisoners in the world, making it a large socio-economic problem. There’s so much potential working there, because if you can make a difference for these women in prison, that will hopefully transcend to a broader impact to their families.
We were very lucky to get in touch with the Department of Justice and The Inspire Project, whose protector is Princess Bajrakitiyabha – a UN Goodwill Ambassador for women’s rights in prison and she focuses on making silk a primary commodity of Thailand, too. They are equally determined to pioneer a new model for quality work in prison coming from their country.
How easy or hard is it working the way Carcel does by employing female prison inmates?
I think it’s probably good that we don’t have any prior experience working in other ways, so that we don’t have anything to compare it to. Personally, I’ve been surprised as to how easy it’s been to gain access to the prisons and how willing our partners have been to work towards positive change – especially regarding payment systems and fair wages.
We don’t outsource the production, so the women working for us in the prison are our employees. That has been a key element for our business. A minor challenge is that a prison is a different ecosystem. Even though it’s our place of production, the primary reason for the prison is another. In order for us to run a commercial business like we do, we have to have time buffers for unforeseen events – like if a woman is put in isolation. Our advantage is, that owning our entire value chain and production, as well as being in direct contact with our customers, we have fexibility and the benefit of following a product almost in real time. This means we can change course extremely quick if necessary, minimising waste and mistakes.
As the founder of a fashion brand, what is your biggest concern?
I’m very proud of our contribution to the fashion world. One of my main considerations with Carcel was building a brand that could compete with other products on the market and having people buy it, because they love our designs.
In your opinion, what are the key question fashion companies should ask themselves today?
When starting a business like this, you have to think long term. It takes time to build a brand. So first and foremost: what is the story of the product, they’re sending into the world? Who made it, how much were they paid, what is the material footprint? A second thing is: we need every brain in the room to figure out what the future of retail is going to be, because it definitely needs some rethinking.