LULU—LAND is a tiny global community with followers and contributors from all over the world. Since I founded LULU—LAND, I've been traveling from country to country and working from more places than I can remember (that was before the pandemic). I love exploring new destinations. However, there are two cities that'll always be a little bit closer to my heart; Copenhagen, in Denmark, where I'm from, and New York City, where I feel truly at home.
From the very first time I took a Yellow Cab from the airport to Bowery Street in lower Manhatten, I knew there was something extraordinary about this city. I once read a quote in Quoted Magazine that describes the feeling I had perfectly:
"I was walking the streets. I was noticed, but I wasn't the center of attention. I felt like I fit in. You're not awkward. You're not weird. You're home. It doesn't matter where you're from or what you believe. New York is the city for everyone."
The city is not everyone's cup of tea, but for those who thrive there—New York is magical! However, it can also be a tough place to live. The city is equally relentless, commanding, and addictive. As easily as anything, it can chew you up and spit you out in the middle of the streets.
Last year, the LULU—LAND platform was launched from a small café in Lower East Side in the coldest months of the year. Growing up in Denmark, with low rates of homelessness and one of the absolute best social security systems in the world, seeing people struggle to survive on the streets in the biting cold was absolutely heartbreaking. I kept thinking about ways to help and give back to the city that keeps inspiring me and the people in it who make it so special. This year, I've decided to do something and make a fundraiser in collaboration with The Bowery Mission.
The Bowery Mission is one of the oldest rescue missions in the United States. Since the 1870s, the organization has served New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, hunger, and other crises. It's well-known for its history as a soup kitchen and men's shelter located at 227 Bowery. However, today, the Mission provides programs and services at multiple campuses across the New York metro area.
Last year, the privately-funded Mission provided 429,500 hot meals, 104,000 nights of shelter, 27,600 articles of clothing, and 67,500 showers. And during the COVID-19 emergency, the Mission has remained open every day to safely care for their most vulnerable neighbors by offering essential services.
Each meal and every service is an invitation to residential and community programs that help neighbors in need progress towards individual goals such as regaining sobriety, reconnecting with family and faith, and preparing for work and independent living. To empower children to thrive and succeed, they also offer year-round opportunities for enrichment for youth.
I have the utmost respect for The Bowery Mission and their work. I've personally walked past the characteristic red doors on 227 Bowery countless times over the years, with the greatest admiration for those who work there to help people in need every single day. I've been reminded of how privileged I am and thankful I've always had a home and roof over my head no matter where in the world I've been.
I hope this will inspire you to take a little time to learn more about homelessness in New York City, The Bowery Mission, and their work. Further, I hope you'll consider helping us, help them by making a small donation through our official fundraising page. We appreciate every single dollar we can pass on to make a difference. Thank you!
$10 provides six meals for a New Yorker who is struggling with food insecurity
$25 provides one night of emergency shelter for a man or woman (each guest receives dinner and is invited to take a hot shower, receive clean clothing and hygiene products, sleep overnight on a comfortable mattress made with freshly laundered linens, and receive breakfast in the morning)
$75 provides one day of compassionate care services for five people at the Bowery campus (each guest can receive a hot shower, clean clothing, and hygiene products, and is invited to receive care from a social worker and other staff to choose help beyond homelessness through the long-term residential program)
$240 supports one man in long-term residence for one week as he works through the root causes of homelessness and unemployment
Homelessness — A Shared Experience in NYC
Chances are you have walked by or shared a train car with someone who is homeless, know someone personally who has been homeless or even experienced homelessness yourself.
Today, more New Yorkers are experiencing homelessness than ever before. In a city of more than 8.3 million people, nearly one in every 106 New Yorkers is homeless — that’s nearly 80,000 men, women and children. Every night, nearly 4,000 people sleep on the street, in the subway system or in other public spaces. However, the vast majority of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness spend the night within the city’s shelter system where they remain unseen. For every person sleeping on sidewalks or on trains, 20 more are sleeping in shelters. And nearby metro areas such as Newark have smaller but persistent populations of individuals experiencing homelessness.
The COVID-19 pandemic began amidst an already raging homelessness crisis. Millions of New Yorkers already lived on the razor's edge, one personal crisis away from homelessness, with 1 in 5 New Yorkers living in poverty and 1 in 4 New Yorkers paying more than half their income in rent. Now, because of the pandemic an estimated 1 in 7 New Yorkers have lost their job and more than 50,000 people are at risk of eviction. Sadly, the many people who have lost work were already in low-income jobs and on the brink of homelessness.
WHAT CAUSES HOMELESSNESS?
In most cases, multiple factors are involved. Common ones include: mental illness, substance abuse, untreated medical issues, traumatic events, violence and abuse, lack of affordable housing and difficulty sustaining employment.
WHO EXPERIENCES HOMELESSNESS?
People of all genders, races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds experience homelessness. Among those sleeping in city shelters, more than 13,000 are single men, nearly 5,000 are single women and more than 44,000 are adults or children in families.
HOW MANY CHILDREN ARE AT RISK AND HOW DOES IT EFFECT THEM?
During the course of each year, more than 116,000 different homeless New Yorkers, including more than 42,000 different children, sleep in the shelter system.
Nearly 1 in 3 NYC children live below the poverty line. South Bronx and East Harlem are two New York City neighborhoods suffering from concentrated poverty. Burdened with high crime rates, poor health outcomes, and poor housing conditions, these areas pose high risks for child welfare.
Hundreds of studies have examined the detrimental effects of poverty on the well-being of children. Growing up in poverty may disturb a child's brain development and undermine his social and emotional growth.
Opportunities for enrichment and mentoring can play a critical role in helping children thrive in school and life. Quality programs support children's social and emotional development, helping them grow into adults who are healthy, grounded and economically self-sufficient.
What does progressive fashion that makes a positive difference look like?
If you ask social entrepreneur Veronica D'Souza, part of the answer is to say no to seasons and sales, limit waste and overproduction, and get as far away from the constructed fashion wheel as possible.
We need to say yes to beautifully made timeless clothing that lasts beyond this trend and that. We need to strip down and simplify—in life and in our wardrobe. Fashion with a social conscience never goes out of style!
Veronica founded the clothing brand, Carcel, back in 2016, after having visited and researched female prisons around the world. She found that poverty is the primary cause of female incarceration and decided to do something about it in her own way.
With Carcel, she aims to create sustainable change within the fashion industry while empowering some of the world's most vulnerable and marginalized women, stuck inside a broken system, with production in prisons in Peru and Thailand in places riddled with the highest crime rates due to poverty.
The ambition is to transform the time the women serve in prison into a meaningful and productive stay while creating opportunities for education, developing new skills, and fair wages, in return for their know-how. Hopefully, the experience can be a way out of poverty for the women when released.
We have had the opportunity to meet Veronica at Carcel's tiny Copenhagen headquarter, showroom, and storage combined in one. Where we talked about how she found her own path into social entrepreneurship and had the chance to ask her a couple of questions about the past, present, and future. We hope you'll find the meeting as inspiring as we did.
CARCEL IS THE SPANISH WORD FOR JAIL OR PRISON.
DANISH CLOTHING BRAND, FOUNDED IN 2016 BY SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR VERONICA D'SOUZA.
ALL STYLES ARE MADE BY MARGINALIZED WOMEN SERVING SENTENCES IN PERU AND THAILAND, PRIMARILY DUE TO NON-VIOLENT, POVERTY-RELATED CRIMES, TO SUPPORT THEIR FAMILIES.
THE WOMEN WORK VOLUNTARILY IN EXCHANGE FOR FAIR WAGES, TRAINING & EDUCATION.
CARCEL DON'T ADHERE TO SEASONS AND SALES. THEY ONLY PRODUCE LIMITED QUALITIES TO ELIMINATE OVERPRODUCTION AND WASTE.
ALL MATERIALS ARE LOCALLY SOURCED AND CAREFULLY SELECTED BASED ON QUALITY, SUSTAINABILITY & DURABILITY.
BY SETTING UP AND RUNNING THEIR OWN PRODUCTION SITES INSIDE THE PRISONS, CARCEL CAN ADJUST TO DEMAND IN REAL-TIME
EVERY PIECE OF CARCEL CLOTHING IS SIGNED BY THE WOMAN WHO MADE IT.
INTERVIEW — VERONICA D'SOUZA
How are you... really?
It's a good opening question ... The first thing I think about is when I lived in Nairobi, and when I would ask someone I was working with how they were, the answer would always be plural. We are good. My wife is good. My children are good. My animals are good. The "How are you?" is never about one person; it's always about the community you belong to. I always thought that was nice, instead of talking about the I ...; I didn't really sleep well last night ... you know! I like that the individual emotions are dependent on the greater well-being of a bigger whole, and therefore in order to feel good, you need to invest in your community.
So, I'm going to do it the Kenyan way ... We are really good—both from a family perspective, which is, of course, the closest circle. I feel extremely lucky and grateful that we live here in Denmark, where it's possible and has been possible even through the shutdown, to move around and be outside. Not having to be stuck in a small apartment with the kids and not being able to go anywhere. You just really get to appreciate nature and freedom in these apocalyptic conditions. I feel extremely privileged about health, as well, when there is something like this going around. We are all healthy, and I think that is the bottom line. We are really good.
Also, our employees are healthy, which is really important to me. Obviously, it has been and still is a challenge right now because there is a lot of overpopulation in prisons. It can be detrimental if COVID gets into the prisons we work with, so far, knock on wood, everyone is healthy. We're trying to navigate the best possible way and work with the governments and the prisons to figure out how we work around it—when it is safe to go in and teach, or do work, and when it's not—basically to protect them.
Oh, and the team here in Copenhagen is good, as well. We are all good and healthy.
"Today, more than ever, there is a connection between what has happened in the past and where we want to go in the future. There is no stillness about now."
On the broader range, I'm also very excited about this time. Even though it is full of chaos. A lot of things are coming to the surface that need to be dealt with, discussed, and experienced, not just COVID-19 but also race, gender equality, and capitalism; there is a lot of big conversations right now.
Actually, I have probably been waiting for those conversations my whole life. And been part of them. But they haven't been mainstream topics in society. So, I'm really grateful and happy, but it's also a very vulnerable time and a tough time for many people. It's not just waking up and feeling happy. It's a complicated and thoughtful time. It's full of emotions, and I think historical emotions. There is some kind of...
Okay, this is me, rambling ...
The "How are you?" is for me both "How are we as a community?" but there is also something about the collectivity of time. Today, more than ever, there is a connection between what has happened in the past and where we want to go in the future. There is no stillness about now. We need to understand, deal, and connect with the past to figure out how we move forward. It's the progressive energy in that, which excites me. The progressive energy in the fashion industry, in production, in the conversations that are happening, but also in all the societal movements regarding equality.
Well, that was the long answer to your question.
For people who are unfamiliar with the brand, where did the story of Carcel begin?
Well, it's a brand, but it's actually so much more than that. It's a vision—multiple visions. We have set up production spaces inside of women's prisons in Thailand and Peru. The idea was formed after a visit I had to a prison in Kenya. I started researching and learning that particular women are most often incarcerated due to poverty-related crimes—women who come from low levels of education and extremely marginalized groups in society. Women who have children, who are mothers and when incarcerated, can't provide for their families anymore. When released, there is a lot of stigma in society, and it's very difficult to get a job.
"The point with Carcel is to enter a space where nobody really goes.A place where there isn't a lot of interaction and definitely not a lot of opportunities for making a wage to provide for yourself, send money home, save up, and become included in the economy."
The point with Carcel is to enter a space where nobody really goes. A place where there isn't a lot of interaction and definitely not a lot of opportunities for making a wage to provide for yourself, send money home, save up, and become included in the economy. These are some of the most marginalized women in the world who are most often forgotten about. We want to provide opportunities here and shed light on the women's capabilities, so they can gain dignity and continue to provide for their children, which makes a big difference for them. It's about self-esteem. It's about feeling that you can be a mother, that you can give your child a birthday present, and support them in school. Many of them actually lost connection with their children before because they were ashamed that they couldn't contribute to their lives and be some kind of provider. It's also about education and learning a different skill, so they don't necessarily have to go out into the streets and continue trafficking drugs, which is what most of them did. The question we asked ourselves was: How do we then create a sustainable business model that can create these jobs in a dignifying way? The way we thought about it was looking into places where there already is an incredible tradition for crafts amongst women in rural areas. Places where their craft is something we honor, where they're actually the best, and where they have the skills to be able to contribute with their know-how, so it's a real exchange.
Carcel is also about looking at the materials we use because thinking about the environment is fundamental for even existing as a fashion brand. That's a key driver. We are an extremely dogmatic company in many ways; we source locally in each country of production and only use natural materials that can become earth again. For now, we use alpaca wool from Peru and handmade silk from Thailand.
What did you do before you started Carcel?
Oh, where do we start? Actually, I was really into music and literature and very idealistic. I wanted to be part of and participate in the world. I've always felt strongly about social justice on a global level, but I'm way too impatient for politics.
I went to UWCAD, an international school, as I got a scholarship to study in Italy when I was 16, together with 200 people from 80 different countries. That was a major game-changer. I came from a small village in Denmark and suddenly found myself in a microcosmos of the world. I was like, wow, okay, you can make friends everywhere, and I was exposed to so many different cultures. That experience made it even more obvious that I wanted to be part of the world somehow and contribute to it.
However, at the same time, I was extremely cynical about NGOs in general, and the UN, like the classic, "do good" field. Not to generalize that every NGO isn't good, I think there are many great NGOs, but unfortunately, there have also been a lot of inefficiencies and focusing more on the fundraising and the fundraisers than understanding how to create solutions that people really want to use. That really didn't motivate me to go into those fields.
"I decided to apply for business school. I thought, if I could get a better vocabulary, infiltrate capitalism from the inside, and understand why it's creating so much harm, then maybe I could find a way to work within it, change it, and somehow make it work for good."
Instead, I chose to look at what I thought was the core evil of the world. The things that were really bad. For me, there were two things; capitalism and the military. This was when I was a bit younger (ha-ha). So, I decided to apply for business school. I thought, if I could get a better vocabulary, infiltrate capitalism from the inside, and understand why it's creating so much harm, then maybe I could find a way to work within it, change it, and somehow make it work for good.
One of the things capitalism does very well is scale. If you could make good solutions scale, you didn't have to convince people to be less selfish. You could just use the system against itself. That was my motivation to go to business school. My mom was like: "Seriously, you do literature and music. Are you sure you really wanna study finances and budgets?" and I was like: "Yeah, there is this whole world of evil, and I know nothing. I want to have a better vocabulary and not just a big anarchist sign."
I think I was lucky. Right when I started, there was a new movement of social business and social entrepreneurship. It was the first year, and it was exactly what I was looking for without knowing it—how to make sustainable business solutions where doing good and solving problems in society is ingrained in the core. I became a supernerd and studied all the cases and literature I could find.
Together with two friends from school, I started my first company in 2011. We tried to apply all the knowledge we had gained from case studies, particularly inspired by the bottom of the pyramid theory ... maybe now is not the time to disclose the literature list (ha-ha). But anyway, we stumbled across a study that said that menstruation was the biggest cause of school dropout for girls living in poverty. This was in 2011, and the study was from 2007. Still, nothing had really been done about it. We thought it was weird that there was this obvious fact from the UN, stating that this is the biggest issue, and then there was just not much else.
My friend was part of a group that was using a menstrual cup. At that time, it was completely unknown, the really early days. She was German, and in Germany, it was connected to some kind of a hippie movement. In Denmark, it was seen as something very gross, unnatural, and weird. We all tried the product, got superexcited, and immediately saw an opportunity to use the cups in a different context. We developed our own product, moved to Kenya, and then founded the business,Ruby Cup, together with women and girls in the slums. It was a very anthropological approach, where we lived there. Everything from the packaging to the marketing, the pricing model, and adjustment to different living situations was done together with the women!
The project was extremely meaningful, and we learned a lot from just starting a company in a different country. There are a lot of things to be said about that, but it was also a lot of fun. That's how I got into that whole field of social entrepreneurship.
"I had never gone to a prison before. I knew nothing, and I couldn't find very much. It always makes me curious when you can't really find anything on Google."
While I was living in Kenya, I visited a women's prison in Nairobi because I was curious about why women were incarcerated. I had never gone to a prison before. I knew nothing, and I couldn't find very much. It always makes me curious when you can't really find anything on Google. For me, it's always about speaking with people: How is it? How do you feel? What is going on? Where are you? The women's answers inspired me to start Carcel. They needed employment, financial inclusion, and something to do they could feel proud of. They needed to be able to be providers for their families. We just needed to find a way to create meaningful and educational employment that would make the women feel valuable.
COVID-19: No one can get around the fact that there is a worldwide pandemic raging; How has it affected you, Carcel, and your employees here and in the prisons in Thailand and Peru? How have you dealt with the current situation?
We have changed our business radically. We saw it as an opportunity. In order to explain that, I need to explain our business model. Like I said in the beginning, Carcel is more a vision than it is a brand. The brand needs to follow the vision. The vision is a lot of different things. What connects everything is an ambition to be a driver for positive change. Both when it comes to the fashion industry and at the same time creating opportunities for responsible employment and new ways of ethical production, inside a system that is meant to deprive you of everything, which is an oxymoron in itself.
"Because the fashion industry is as damaging as it is, there is a need for finding new ways of existing. It's very challenging, but if we are not trying to do that, I don't think that the industry should exist at all."
Because the fashion industry is as damaging as it is, there is a need for finding new ways of existing. It's very challenging, but if we are not trying to do that, I don't think that the industry should exist at all.
We have always been against seasons. We don't have sales, and we don't have collections in order not to be part of the traditional retail wheel, where you basically sell things in stores for a few months, then it goes on sale, and then there is a new collection—so much waste and devaluation of quality and value.
After having worked in the industry for a few years now, I know that retailers are extremely happy if we have a sale-through rate of 60% for an order. If they buy something and sell 60%, that is like the most successful you get. They still stock a brand if it sells in between 30-40%. That's the norm worldwide. Everything else is sold on sale, thrown out, or sold on outlets.
If you just look at that ...
I think there are so many meaningful conversations going on. Especially about materials and innovation when it comes to recycling—and that's great—but if we don't address the consumption pattern, the way we buy and sell products, then we are actually not changing much.
We have been working with many different stores, and until now, what we have done in order to not become part of that system is that we have bought back stock that the stores couldn't sell, and then we have sold it to other stores. Great when you want to save the world, but very bad for business (ha-ha)! We couldn't handle taking the cash flow risk, and we couldn't grow that way, without either compromising on being part of the system and allowing stores to put our products on sale or go out of business.
We have been thinking about that for a long time, and when Corona came, and we basically shut down the world, it was very easy to see that the sell-through rate would be terrible. It wouldn't reach anywhere near 60% because the stores were closed. We thought, now is the right time to do it, to go out of this model. Either we would be left with so much unsold stock that we would have to allow the stores to put it on sale, buy it back, or think of a new model—anyway, the current model wasn't working that well for us. So, we kind of took it as a brave kick in the butt.
We love our retail partners, but let's just say we will be back at some point with a new model. For now, we are stepping out and doing everything online. This also means that we have been able to cut down prices, which I think is a big conversation when it comes to thinking in sustainable ways. If you actually pay proper wages and invest in good materials, it's also an expensive product. There is something about trying to make the prices more accessible to more people. Therefore, we removed the retail markup. Right now, we are developing a new way to be in stores where the stores won't have any stock! We're experimenting with a new way of digital retail.
"There is a value in being physical—this is not a hateful argument towards shops—I love shops! It's just the way that it works right now that doesn't make sense."
There is a value in being physical—this is not a hateful argument towards shops—I love shops! It's just the way that it works right now that doesn't make sense. There is something about redefining and cherishing the reason for being physical. How can we extend that emotion and make that even more special, and when does it make sense to be digital, so we don't continue the way it works today?
We have to admit that we are slightly biased when it comes to the fashion industry and sustainability. At LULU—LAND, we only want to promote brands that attempt to change the status quo of the industry. In your opinion: How are we ever going to get out of this mess we have created? What have you learned? And how can we move forward?
I think I already kind of answered part of this question, like what I have learned and how it works. You sometimes have this conversation; Who is supposed to make the change? Is it the consumers? Is it the politicians? Is it the brands? Who has the responsibility? I think that is such a stupid conversation because obviously, we all have to change! The answer is manifold. There is a need for a business model that allows brands to be seasonless. That is currently not possible. We were set up to be seasonless from the beginning. However, we realized that it was impossible, or close to impossible, in the way retail is set up, and if you want to work with stores. There is a need for structural innovation that makes it possible to work in a different way.
"I honestly feel that if we aren't working on a better solution, we should probably shut down as an industry. In my personal opinion, I don't think there is a right to continue to exist if we don't ambitiously work in better ways. "
We need new business innovation more than guilt. Obviously, if you have a way of doing it, more people would. Right now, it's a shaming game. You shouldn't continue having collections and seasons, and brands are like: "So how are we going to survive?". I honestly feel that if we aren't working on a better solution, we should probably shut down as an industry. In my personal opinion, I don't think there is a right to continue to exist if we don't ambitiously work in better ways.
There is a little bit of time, but not a lot. We should spend that time figuring out how we can use real creativity to create change. Creativity in fashion today is as much about the model as the expression of the garment. There probably isn't a piece of clothing that we haven't seen before somehow. Where fashion is really strong, and the reason why it makes sense to not just kill it is that it can be a powerful way to communicate movements in society, identity, and expression—that's when it becomes progressive. I think that what we have seen for many years is a regressive industry. It's been about clothes and not so much about what is going on in the world. It's been pretty disconnected from the fact that the planet is falling apart and that people are not getting paid. If we do not change that or start working with it, then the industry simply shouldn't exist.
Something that is really on my mind right now, particularly right now, is that there is such a huge need to deconstruct, and there is also a lot of anger that makes sense, but we also need to reconstruct. That inspires me as a creative thinking person. It's much more the construction than the deconstruction.
"At Carcel, we believe it's less about the "need" and more about creating the "want" to change. Talking to the "want" will make it possible to transition humanity to the post-consumer era, the next perception of beauty."
Carcel has always been about a desire to create a movement that people want to be part of. That's also why the clothes need to be beautiful and attractive, and the brand needs to look cool. We want to create an emotional space, which is not a rational argument. We're getting told so many things from a rational point of view ... "did you know that..." and then we are supposed to change behavior, but we don't want to do that.
At Carcel, we believe it's less about the "need" and more about creating the "want" to change. Talking to the "want" will make it possible to transition humanity to the post-consumer era, the next perception of beauty. We need to transition to somewhere and not just say: "everything is shit," "capitalism is shit," "politics is shit," "the climate is shit" that creates apathy. I think that's what we all feel. This feeling of "I don't know what to do about it" and "I can't think about it too much because nothing is good; we shouldn't even be breathing; there are already too many people on the planet, my phone is made by I don't want to know who, and the Internet is using too much CO2"—it's never-ending. What we actually need is human beings to feel agency to create change and drive that change. We can only do that through creating a "want" and "desire" to change.
What are some of the challenges you experience because of the way you do business? When we met you outside of the shop during the Corona lockdown, you mentioned that social media can be harsh and challenging at times?
When you talk about things—it's like at a dinner party—if you bring up intimate and personal stuff, people will comment on it. You need to make a choice. You can't both share everything and then get frustrated when people have opinions about it. For us, part of being progressive is also to be transparent. To allow people to make their own choices and give information about everything—the production cost, labor costs, the materials, the business model—all of it.
However, the most challenging with our brand is that we are operating within a system, which is a prison system. We are doing that in order to create an impact for people who basically have close to no opportunities, but it's also a complicated situation.
It's a really emotional conversation. Particularly in the US, where there is a horrible past and present of putting people in prison because of race and private companies exploiting prisoners as free labor. But it's not just in the States; exploitation of prisoners is taking place globally. Obviously, that is what we are trying to change by creating a different model based on fair living wages, code of conduct, and protection of prisoners' employment rights in order to create rehabilitation. But there are not a lot of great examples to lean against.
We realized this when we had a social media backlash in 2019, which came as a big surprise. Until then, we had been in the media a lot, but only with positive stories. It was a big debate about what we are doing as equal to modern slavery. People on Reddit wrote that we were white supremacists that wanted to exploit poor women of color. It was a huge challenge to communicate how complex this topic is in only a few sentences.
Still, at the end of the day, it also motivated us to pick up the phone and call everyone we could find on this planet in order to talk about this and the different aspects of prison labor. We contacted people from the UNODC who are working with prisons, the ILO (International Labour Organization), and the American Prison Association, amongst others. There is a global framework that everyone has agreed to, and it's called The Nelson Mandela Rules, which are basic human rights for people incarcerated. It's a human right to have access to a job in prison if the job is fairly compensated and voluntary.
However, there are no guidelines to ensure that a prison job is fairly compensated and voluntary. What we realized was that the reason people reacted was that this is not the norm. The norm, across the globe, is that companies are exploiting incarcerated people and that they don't have any rights. This is what people know. It's so brutal and crazy. So it makes sense to doubt our little company, to be critical towards our intentions and demand answers.
For us, this was a wake-up call. We needed to bring in people, and we needed someone who could check on our practices. We asked ourselves: Is there an NGO? Is there a union we can engage with? Is there someone we can look into to improve ourselves, and who can help us find out what we are doing well and where we can do better? But we couldn't find anyone specialized in ethical employment rights for prisoners. In general, there is very little research globally around the topic of work and incarceration. Because of that, we started creating a draft of the first global 'Code of Conduct for Protecting Prisoner's Working Rights' because we needed it ourselves, and we thought it might be useful for others.
We got advisors from different fields, from the UN, from the ILO, from the unions, and asked them to look into this. We started working with a consultant, Luke Smitham, from Kumi Consulting in London, who has in-depth experience working with extremely vulnerable supply chains like mining, places where there are child labor, and risk of exploitation, which can be the case when you're incarcerated. We asked ourselves: How can we create a codex and different steps of implementation that protect prisoners' rights?
We were invited to speak at The OECD Annual Garment & Footwear Meeting in Paris, where guides for responsible business conduct are discussed within the fashion industry. We invited all the unions we could find, governments, NGOs, not to say: "Listen, Carcel is a great idea" but to say ... "Listen, there is an issue here; we have a global population, who is currently working, and no one is upholding their rights. These are some of the thoughts and things we have learned ... We then made a roll-out plan, but are delayed due to COVID-19. Our goal is to both create a case with implementation research and work to lobby for global attention to this group of people. However, this is just to say that we are also very engaged on a political level to actually be part of progress, but within a broken system.
That doesn't mean that we are for or against prisons. I think that's what people sometimes misunderstand. If you work with a prison, then you are pro prisons. That is not how we feel. But, what we do think is that a large group of people in prisons are being forgotten about who deserves a chance to be included as capable humans beings.
"I like constructive criticism, it allows us to have so many meaningful conversations, and it gives us something to work with."
For us, the most important thing is to hear what the women want and what matters to them. They say that having a job is essential for them in order to be able to contribute to their families and to have their dignity back. They are so proud to be a part of this, and it means a lot to them.
Obviously, you get in doubt when you experience a backlash like that, but I think that is a healthy thing. We should always get in doubt when we are critiqued. I like constructive criticism, it allows us to have so many meaningful conversations, and it gives us something to work with.
Compared toRuby Cup, this has been extremely challenging.Ruby Cup had a straightforward vision. Who doesn't want to keep girls in school? We can all agree that it is not a political topic. Labor in prisons is a political topic. Some people think that prisoners are criminals and don't deserve the right to work and shouldn't get a job. Others believe that prisons are evil and shouldn't exist—if you even engage with the people there, you support prisons' existence. There are a lot of different aspects to it.
I think communication is essential, and that's something we are working on right now. From the outside, you could get the idea—if you don't know us—that we are this huge, wealthy company that has set up production in prisons to exploit cheap labor. However, when you meet us and sit here, you realize that we are 2 1/2 employees and underfunded (ha-ha). We've got so much positive exposure that people sometimes think we are a much larger company. It's not that I'm not proud of the brand, but it's easy for people to think that we are super wealthy, but that's not really how it is at all! That's also why transparency is so important to us. We want to make sure that people understand that everything made on the products is reinvested into the business. No one is exploiting profit from this.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, we are working on a new way to be in retail that eliminates stock and waste—that is the core focus.
We are also working on creating a production facility outside of prison in Thailand—even though we can't go there, so the women who are released can still work together with us if they would like to. We have four women from our team coming out next year. Last week, we learned that they have gotten amnesty, which is many years off their sentences. We are planning for it and also planning to do it in the right way. Corona has speeded things up in some ways, but in other ways, it has also been, "Okay, let's wait a few months more and do it well and hopefully go there and be a part of the process."
Right now, we are also in the exploration phase on how to make our own silk. We probably want to set up a weaving mill outside of prison. Also, there is a lot of natural dye in Thailand. We are thinking in the outside space in terms of different types of craftsmanship that we can use for different projects and products.
Oh, and one of the important outcomes of Corona, which I didn't mention before, is that when you have a humanitarian crisis and a global pandemic like this, overpopulated prisons start to release people before time. We actually just had a woman released who was supposed to stay there for 5-6 years more. As a result, we have started a small production outside of the prison in Peru, with our first employee called Vanessa. During the pandemic where everything was shut down, and we couldn't rent anything, somehow, we managed, and she managed.
This was ahead of time. It has always been something that we wanted to do, but we thought that most of the women had so many years left that we would wait and do things in a different order. All of a sudden, it was like: Okay, she is out. How do we get a machine? How do we get started? We feel really lucky and fortunate to have her on our team, our first employee, on the outside!
Does the work the women do for Carcel have anything to do with them being released ahead of time?
Officially, no. Unofficially, it's different from country to country. If you don't have a hard sentence in Peru, it diminishes your time if you work. But if you are in for a hard sentence, like drug trafficking, it doesn't affect your sentence. But your papers, good behavior, and recommendations do. In that sense, everyone in the prisons can see that it's a really positive system. The prison director in Peru wants us to employ everyone because it changes a lot. She says there are an entirely different energy and positivity among these women. Their goal is to get as many women into the Carcel project as possible because it leaves them with some kind of prospect and creates a positive culture. The same in Thailand.
Does it give the women hope for a better future?
It is always hard to speak on behalf of someone else, but it is also very difficult not to say that it gives them hope because they can't call you up or be here for this interview and answer themselves.
"Whenever there is a bleak day, a shutdown, or business challenges, I always think about our teams in prison. They are incredibly positive and extremely powerful—they really want this!"
Whenever there is a bleak day, a shutdown, or business challenges, I always think about our teams in prison. They are incredibly positive and extremely powerful—they really want this! I may think that life is a little bit hard and that it's challenging to be an entrepreneur sometimes, but their energy motivates me. They are so proud whenever they see their work in magazines or when someone writes an article about us. For them, it's a cultural acceptance—even though they are prisoners, which is such a cultural, social stigma.
One of our women in Thailand said that she thought she was cabbage, which translates to feeling like garbage in Thai, but now she feels that she is a valuable human being. Being incarcerated is so full of shame for these women. We can't possibly understand or relate, but we can listen and try to create ways for the women to be heard and act.
We had the princess of Thailand visit our production facility; she is the UN goodwill ambassador for female prisoners' rights. She came to visit our project. It was such an incredible experience for them to get to show her their work and give her a present that they made themselves. That is basically the highest level of acceptance they can think of; how can we make something for a princess when we are not supposed to be anything?
How will you look back at 2020, and what are your hopes for 2021?
You know, I was always sad that I wasn't born in the 60s. Back then, conversations were about something—at least that was how I felt growing up in the 80s and 90s. I felt that I grew up in a very shallow time. With really shallow music—a lot of it—very bad dance music. Of course, there was some good music, but most of it, like mainstream music, was horrible in the 90s. It was reflected in design as well; everything reflected this shallow wealth era. I think that the conversations were like that as well. People were not going into deep topics, and if you did, it was the "political" conversation.
"You know, I was always sad that I wasn't born in the 60s. Back then, conversations were about something—at least that was how I felt growing up in the 80s and 90s."
In the 60s, things were about something, and things changed. They were also painful and cost lives, but stuff got done; the mass movement for civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, and a lot of other things that are fundamental for how we even think today. I hope that what we are going through in 2020 and hopefully also in 2021 and 2022 is about that. So that the chaos, the pain, and the change are what's necessary in order for us not to have a planet that is heated by more than 2 degrees in the best-case scenario. We will know that within 7-10 years. That's the time frame we have. We need chaos. We need radical transformation. We need either a complete breakdown or a really fast revolution. I'm hoping for the last. But if not, then we need to break down. That is what I hope to look back on this year, but also in the years to come — that it's not just another year. My nightmare would be that we end 2020 or start 2021, and everything is back to normal like it was at the beginning of 2020. Then I would feel really sad. But I don't think that is going to happen. Hopefully, 2020 brings a lot of positive change.
"We need chaos. We need radical transformation. We need either a complete breakdown or a really fast revolution. I'm hoping for the last. But if not, then we need to break down."
What does the future look like? Where do you find your inspiration for the further development of Carcel?
Carcel has always been a very collaborative project. The fact that we were started with a Kickstarter campaign and everyone in Denmark who worked at Carcel worked for free for the first two years, made everyone involved, from interns to the women in the prisons, part of shaping the company. That's also pretty much how it is today. We are a few people who are getting paid now—a little bit—but I think the inspiration and the ideas always come from a collective. We meet new people along the way, and they become part of the journey, in everything from our design processes to strengthening our ties in Peru and Thailand.
"We want to build something bigger than Carcel. That's the dream. Carcel can hopefully be a catalyst for change, and that change can then be a platform for other people to engage."
We set things up in a way that'll hopefully allow our facilities to be its own function run by the women, where they can have other clients and customers. We want to build something bigger than Carcel. That's the dream. Carcel can hopefully be a catalyst for change, and that change can then be a platform for other people to engage.
I hope that it will be a continuity of a collective and collaborations with a lot of people who can chip in and who can participate. In the world I think we should live in, it's never about ownership. We need as many people to get involved as possible to at least try to address some of the things that we have been talking about.
Anything we missed you'd like to add?
Not other than, I think it's a really exciting time. It's nice to think about the fact that we are not alone. I don't think we are a hero company leading the wave. There is a massive movement going on right now, and we can all learn from each other. There's also a new generation who is not stuck up in whether it's "do good" or "fashion," is it "business?" or is it an "NGO?" The young generation sees the world much more connected. It doesn't have to be either-or, and I think looking at the world like that makes a lot more sense. We are moving in the right direction. It's not a conversation on whether we should have sustainability anymore. I'm not concerned if we had the time. If we had 40-50 years, we would definitely get there. My concern is the timeframe that we have if we want a habitable planet for the number of people we are today. We have to do whatever we can to speed up the process—and sometimes that might be inappropriate and not wanted conversations.
Veronica is a passionated, business-savvy, social entrepreneur by heart. Prior to Carcel, she co-founded the award-winning social business Ruby Cup in collaboration with local women in Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived. She is recognized as a 'Global Shaper' under World Economic Forum, the youngest jury member at INDEX: Design To Improve Life, a SOCAP selected entrepreneur, a senior fellow of Humanity in action New York, a UWC graduate, and co-author of 'The Road Map for Sustainable Leadership'.
Today, one of our friends shared this video he and his sister recently did with their dad. A personal insight into the conversations they grew up with around the dinner table in their childhood home. We asked if we could share it with you because it really touched us deeply. More than ever, these are the conversations we need to have and listen to.
"The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out - blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?"— Dr. Robin Diangelo
"We, Jamil and Julia Fearrington, are siblings and grew up in Denmark with a Danish mother and an Afro-American father.
Through 25-30 years, we've participated in talks around the table about police brutality and an American system, which didn't protect its black citizens' rights.
We saw Rodney King. We saw Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner get killed, we saw murders go unindicted and unpunished, we saw many similar cases, and dejected we wondered at the table:
"How are we ever going to get out of this mess?"
The other we sat at the table yet again, shaking our heads. We decided spontaneously to film - to invite more of you to join the table.
Our wish is that the conversation must take place. That more seek insight into the conditions of America and acknowledge that condition of America might be differently brutal and racially structured than they thought. Maybe we can contribute a little.
Our father is an Afro-American male, born in Philadelphia in 1944. He's lived in Denmark since 1979 and has throughout life visited most parts of the world as a touring musician and teacher. He travels to the US several times a year for business and to visit family and friends.
Hi, my name is Louise. For those of you that don't know, I'm the Founder & Creative Director of LULU—LAND. I don't usually write personal posts, but these are the times to break habits!
BLACK LIVES MATTER. PERIOD!
I've taken some time to figure out how to address the current situation of the world in the right way. Honestly, I've been afraid of saying the wrong things. Who am I as a privileged white woman to say anything at all when it comes to racism against Black people and POC? However, I've come to the conclusion that the only wrong thing would be to say nothing at all. We can't be neutral when it comes to racism, discrimination, and inequality. Silence is a quiet acceptance of the status quo.
As a European, when watching an unarmed man getting killed while in police custody, protests against racism, and the overall injustice happening in America, the easy thing would be to dismiss it all as an American problem. But we all know that in truth, racism and inequality are global problems, that come in many different disguises.
As a white female, born in a tiny, wealthy, country (Denmark) with free access to education, a high level of social security, and a passport that allows me to go just about anywhere in the world, I am beyond privileged. I've had advantages and opportunities that most people don't have, and I am well aware of that fact. I make an effort to remind myself not to complain, and I try to use my privileges to the best of my ability. I've never been attacked verbally or physically because of the color of my skin, or as such experienced racism first hand on my own body. I have no idea what it feels like having to deal with racism on a regular basis. I can only listen and try to understand.
For the past week, I've been silent, observing, listening, learning, and reflecting. I am horrified by the things I see and by the injustice that still exists in this day and age. Like many others, I've been trying to get a grasp on how I can use my privileges to support the change that's obviously needed.
I firmly believe that change starts within ourselves. We all have the ability to take small, simple actions that will generate impact short-term as well as long-term – even the largest changes occur in tiny increments.
For me, this means that we have to call out racism, discrimination, and inequality when we see it. We need to look within ourselves to understand any subconscious biases we might have. We must make it a priority to change our thought patterns, our behavior, and our language and work with our friends and community to do the same.
LULU—LAND was founded based on a dream of creating a community for all of those, like myself, who thrive with fluid boundaries and whose restlessness and creative mindset are their greatest strengths.
LULU—LAND is for EVERYONE who gets it, regardless of ethnicity, gender, color, sexuality, religion, and background! It's about finding your own path, learning from each other's differences, experiences, unique perspectives, and about sharing inspiration to create positive change. It's a platform that forms and grows with us as a community.
This past week has made me realize that it's time for an internal adjustment. As of today, LULU—LAND Journal has a new category;
SOCIAL JUSTICE & EQUALITY
It's essential for me that the issues around these matters become an integral part of LULU—LAND for as long as it's necessary. Racism and inequality are deep-rooted problems that we cannot solve before we truly understand the dynamics behind them and how it affects the people exposed to them. Racism, in any way or form, should not exist. Whether it's individual racism, systemic racism, or the so-called casual racism that has become a seemingly innocent part of everyday bantering. We can't ignore it just because it makes us uncomfortable. We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. The magic"progress," "development," "growth," and "change" happens outside of our comfort zones.
I would like to invite anyone in the LULU—LAND community to inspire positive change by sharing their perspectives, thoughts, feelings, insights, and learnings on topics within this category. At LULU—LAND, we welcome contributions in any form (writing, photography, music, graphics, illustration, video, etc.) that can help create more awareness. I see a lot of rightful anger that needs to be channeled into action and initiatives towards creating positive change. Hate and violence is not the solution.
Through this initiative, we want to take part in sustaining the current momentum and raise awareness in a peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring way. I know this isn't enough. However, It's a small start and our attempt at taking a step in the right direction, not just this week or the next, but for at long as it takes to create real change.
At LULU—LAND, we commit to being part of the solution. The truth is we can all do better. There are no excuses. If you want to contribute to the LULU—LAND Journal, have an idea, or a suggestion on how we can improve – we're all ears. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. It's how we deal with them when made aware and how we move forward, that truly matters.
THIS IS POWERFUL. THIS IS TIMELY. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
At LULU—LAND, we like to support people who dare. We find this message about the contradictory injunctions women faces in 2020 from Girl Girls Girls Magazine, Camille Rainville & Cynthia Nixon incredibly powerful, timely, and important, in an age where we are redefining what it means to be female.
The short now-viral video unfolds the various meanings of the term “be a lady,” outlines the confusing nature of what it means to be a “real woman” and highlights the immense pressure and impossible standards women face in society today. We hope that this will help create a constructive and positive debate. Well done!
Be a lady they said. Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Your pants are too tight. Don’t show so much skin. Don’t show your thighs. Don’t show your breasts. Don’t show your midriff. Don’t show your cleavage. Don’t show your underwear. Don’t show your shoulders. Cover up. Leave something to the imagination. Dress modestly. Don’t be a temptress. Men can’t control themselves. Men have needs. You look frumpy. Loosen up. Show some skin. Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative. You’re asking for it. Wear black. Wear heels. You’re too dressed up. You’re too dressed down. Don’t wear those sweatpants; you look like you’ve let yourself go.
Be a lady they said. Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down. Stop eating so much. Don’t eat too fast. Order a salad. Don’t eat carbs. Skip dessert. You need to lose weight. Fit into that dress. Go on a diet. Watch what you eat. Eat celery. Chew gum. Drink lots of water. You have to fit into those jeans. God, you look like a skeleton. Why don’t you just eat? You look emaciated. You look sick. Eat a burger. Men like women with some meat on their bones. Be small. Be light. Be little. Be petite. Be feminine. Be a size zero. Be a double zero. Be nothing. Be less than nothing.
Be a lady they said. Remove your body hair. Shave your legs. Shave your armpits. Shave your bikini line. Wax your face. Wax your arms. Wax your eyebrows. Get rid of your mustache. Bleach this. Bleach that. Lighten your skin. Tan your skin. Eradicate your scars. Cover your stretch marks. Tighten your abs. Plump your lips. Botox your wrinkles. Lift your face. Tuck your tummy. Thin your thighs. Tone your calves. Perk up your boobs. Look natural. Be yourself. Be genuine. Be confident. You’re trying too hard. You look overdone. Men don’t like girls who try too hard.
Be a lady they said. Wear makeup. Prime your face. Conceal your blemishes. Contour your nose. Highlight your cheekbones. Line your lids. Fill in your brows. Lengthen your lashes. Colour your lips. Powder, blush, bronze, highlight. Your hair is too short. Your hair is too long. Your ends are split. Highlight your hair. Your roots are showing. Dye your hair. Not blue, that looks unnatural. You’re going grey. You look so old. Look young. Look youthful. Look ageless. Don’t get old. Women don’t get old. Old is ugly. Men don’t like ugly.
Be a lady they said. Save yourself. Be pure. Be virginal. Don’t talk about sex. Don’t flirt. Don’t be a skank. Don’t be a whore. Don’t sleep around. Don’t lose your dignity. Don’t have sex with too many men. Don’t give yourself away. Men don’t like sluts. Don’t be a prude. Don’t be so uptight. Have a little fun. Smile more. Pleasure men. Be experienced. Be sexual. Be innocent. Be dirty. Be virginal. Be sexy. Be the cool girl. Don’t be like the other girls.
Be a lady they said. Don’t talk too loud. Don’t talk too much. Don’t take up space. Don’t sit like that. Don’t stand like that. Don’t be intimidating. Why are you so miserable? Don’t be a bitch. Don’t be so bossy. Don’t be assertive. Don’t overact. Don’t be so emotional. Don’t cry. Don’t yell. Don’t swear. Be passive. Be obedient. Endure the pain. Be pleasing. Don’t complain. Let him down easy. Boost his ego. Make him fall for you. Men want what they can’t have. Don’t give yourself away. Make him work for it. Men love the chase. Fold his clothes. Cook his dinner. Keep him happy. That’s a woman’s job. You’ll make a good wife someday. Take his last name. You hyphenated your name? Crazy feminist. Give him children. You don’t want children? You will someday. You’ll change your mind.
Be a lady they said. Don’t get raped. Protect yourself. Don’t drink too much. Don’t walk alone. Don’t go out too late. Don’t dress like that. Don’t show too much. Don’t get drunk. Don’t leave your drink. Have a buddy. Walk where it is well lit. Stay in the safe neighborhoods. Tell someone where you’re going. Bring pepper spray. Buy a rape whistle. Hold your keys like a weapon. Take a self-defense course. Check your trunk. Lock your doors. Don’t go out alone. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t bat your eyelashes. Don’t look easy. Don’t attract attention. Don’t work late. Don’t crack dirty jokes. Don’t smile at strangers. Don’t go out at night. Don’t trust anyone. Don’t say yes. Don’t say no.