Words by Smiley Team
A nonprofit organisation has launched the UK’s first clothing brand entirely produced by ex-offenders.
Inside Out is a social enterprise providing young prison leavers with skills to help them access employment opportunities, and its first project focuses on clothing and business.
The Blank Canvas project taught young prison leavers on the programme skills like design, printing and sales as they worked towards launching their own clothing line.
“I started my own clothing line in 2017 before I went to prison," says Tashan Lane-Pierre, the Project Ambassador at Inside Out Project. "Now that I’m out, I want to learn the business of fashion, how it’s produced behind the scenes in the hope that I’ll be able to run my own label one day.
“The skills I’m learning through this project will help me in business and I’m excited to be a part of it. I just want the opportunity to be treated normally and not judged for my past actions.”
Inside Out is run by broadcaster and journalist Greg Mckenzie and entrepreneur and charity owner Zack Fortag.
The organisation’s mission is to create realistic job prospects for young people leaving the justice system by creating opportunities in business through fashion and design. The clothing range, a 13-piece collection of branded hoodies, hats, T-shirts, facemasks and bags, was available for purchase at a pop-up store, ‘Blank Canvas’, in London in April.
The project has had support, with card reader producer Square providing the hardware to support the training. “Square was proud to participate in such an inspiring project, levelling the playing field for ex-offenders who are looking to enter the vast, exciting world of entrepreneurship," says Kaushalya Somasundaram, executive director at Square.
“Taking part in projects showcases that innovative tools can empower anyone from any background and help them actualise their business vision.”
The group also developed their soft skills, like working in a team, problem solving and how to apply for jobs. Research has found that just two in 10 UK prison leavers are able to find work in the first year of their release.
This is due to a variety of factors from hesitancy from employers to hire somebody with a spent conviction, to the anxieties of the prison leaver and a lack of skill.
The unemployment rate can also be caused by or lead to homelessness, and between April 2020 and March 2021, 3,194 prison leavers were homeless.
“Unemployment rates for former prisoners are much higher than among the wider population, even ten years after release," says Inside Out project founder Greg McKenzie.
“But there is a positive correlation between employment and reduced reoffending, which shows the need for proactive policies to ensure more prison leavers are able to access job opportunities and the tools and training they need to succeed. This is what Inside Out is all about.”
SUPPORT: You can support Inside Out clothing by donating – 100% of the money goes towards future projects and helping people get the training they need to find employment.