Carcel’s designs take their starting point in the Scandinavian design tradition where attention to detail and silhouette meets the most luxurious materials in the world. Each item is handmade in 100% natural materials. They believe in the power and future of Slow Fashion and keep their collections simple and strong, introducing new styles one at a time. I interviewed Veronica D’Souza the CEO and founder and Louise van Hauen the Creative Director and Partner of Carcel to found out how and why the brand started.
Tell me about your professional backgrounds. Did you work in textiles or fashion before?
Carcel was founded by Veronica who has a background in business and social entrepreneurship. She has partnered up with designer Louise who has a background in accessories design and worked for brands such Louis Vuitton and Dirk Bikkemberg. Starting Carcel has in that sense not only been about entering the textile and fashion industry, but in many ways also rethinking how we can come up with a sustainable way of creating quality items while helping a stigmatized segment of women. The process of starting up in Peru and finding the best materials for our products has also required speaking with local experts in Peru in order to understand the specific alpaca yarns, the potential within different knitting structures etc.
How did you find the prison?
We contacted the official prison system in Peru who has been very open to collaborating. They are very interested in helping their female inmates and have been very helpful in the process of setting up our first production in Cusco.
What kind of techniques/machinery do the women work with to make the fabric?
All of our knitted styles from Peru are made with a fully-fashioned technique. This means that the styles are created directly on the knitting machine, which has sustainable advantages because there is no cutting of fabrics, meaning there is a minimum waste of material. Everything is made on analogue hand-knitting machines or through actual hand knitting. This requires craftsmanship and great skills among the women in our production but it also ensures unique products that are meticulously made.
Did you have to train the women in this technique?
We ensure that all the women we employ go through a training program according to the machine that they operate. All women in prison have some level of skills within hand knitting as well as an understanding for the local alpaca wool. This creates a solid foundation for further learning when the women are being educated in the certain techniques and Carcel designs.
Did you always know that you wanted to use alpaca?
We go where the highest poverty related crime rates meets the world’s greatest materials and therefore alpaca was an obvious choice as we settled on starting in Peru. Both for environmental reasons in terms of keeping production and sourcing clothes to one another but also because it gives logistic as well as social advantages when you support local production. In terms of the actual material we use the baby alpaca wool because of its superior properties within softness and temperature regulating attributes.
How many women do you work with?
To us it’s been very important to build a strong team in the beginning and rather take it slow when building this new type of business. We have had great focus towards the individual women who we employ in prison, ensuring that they were able and ready to create good product that lasts. Currently we are expanding our production set up and will hopefully be able to employ approximately 16 girls in the Cusco prison. As we are soon launching our own online shop, based on sales we are ready to expand further over the next year.
What’s the design process in making an item?
Overall Carcel’s designs are based on our unique production. As we don’t work with seasons but focus on the individual product, we design from the dogmas of timeless Scandinavian design, technical advantages of the hand-knitting machinery and the best properties of the material.
What are some of your favourite pieces from your collection and why?
We release single items instead of full collections. This way we are can launch individual items as they get ready and maintain an optimized quality control for each item. Right now the entire team seem to be in love with the classic Milano sweater but there are new items launching soon which will probably make it harder for us to pick one specific favourite.
Are there any other textiles you’d like to work with in Peru?
Right now we are still working with the amazing potential of the alpaca wool and will be focusing on developing new styles and colour options for the future being. Instead of looking into new material opportunities within the same country we are looking into new materials in new countries where we may go in the future. We are looking into countries where there are high rates for female incarceration as well as new local high quality materials to match our demands. Currently we are falling in love with the many qualities of silk and Southeast Asia.
I read on your site that you’re moving into silk production. What made you decide to do that?
We believe in working within countries where we can make a difference for women in prison as well as source high quality materials. Here we have been looking into Southeast Asia due to high rates of female imprisonment but also due to their long heritage within silk production. Silk is a luxurious, beautiful and versatile material and we think this a great opportunity to help more women around the world as well as expand people’s mind on what type of products they can expect from Carcel. Our concept is to always work with female prisoners – providing them with fair wages and new skillsets while ensuring high quality products to our customers.
What other natural fabrics would you like to work with?
We are always on the lookout for new, high quality materials with sustainable attributes. Currently we have multiple things on the drawing board for possible future projects. The common denominator for these materials is that they have sustainable attributes and the possibility to be sourced locally within areas or countries with high rates of female incarceration.
Lastly, what do you enjoy most about your jobs?
That we get to create beautiful products that make people want to be part of a sustainable solution where they join because of good design and transparency, not only provides a fair living wage to women in prison, but also giving them dignity and pride.
Read more about what Carcel is doing and sign up to find out about their new online shop here.