Is Clothing Made in Prison Really Ethical?


Business of Fashion writer Kate Abnett writes: “Across England and Wales there are 105 public sector prisons, containing 63 textiles workshops. In the US, the Federal Prison Industries (a government-owned enterprise, commonly known by its trade name Unicor) operates 78 factories inside correctional facilities, which make products for the prisons’ own use, such as uniforms or bedding, and also work on federal contracts for products like military uniforms. In 2014, Unicor’s revenues were $389.1 million, of which clothing and textiles sales made up $69.4 million.

These programmes have been in place since the 1930s, but in the last decade, clothing brands like Peruvian label Pietà, US company Prison Blues, and Stripes Clothing in the Netherlands have added a new layer to the relationship between fashion and prisons. These enterprises sell fashion products made by inmates — which begs the question: is making clothing inside prisons a viable business model?”

lazlo heirloom tee

Lazlo image

While we too keep hearing about more brands working with various prison systems in the U.S. and abroad, it does lend the question, is it ethical? In the case of Lazlo, based in Detroit, they believe people deserve a second chance, and that includes access to employment. Currently, the brand is in the process of building out a 30,000-square-foot foreclosed building in the historic Corktown neighborhood that has been transformed into a collaborative space and creative incubator for socially conscious businesses.

“We are working with the state to hire formerly incarcerated men who were trained to sew while in Michigan prisons. In addition, we are partnering with local non-profits to provide wraparound services,” says Lazlo founder Christian Birky.

So maybe offering prisoners the ability to make and then to prime themselves for life outside the gates seems logical? What do you think? Go comment on our Facebook page so we can get a little closer to figuring this out.

Image: Unsplash