Fashion Education in Prisons

Today I had a great meeting with Claire Swift, Director of Social Responsibility at the London College of Fashion. We were connecting around the work we do in championing community projects and creating more social responsibility conversations in fashion education and industry.

Claire shared the amazing work she has been a big part of developing in women’s prisons in London.  Since 2010, the London College of Fashion have been working with women, training them with textile skills and embedding their story and experiences into the fabric of the work. This has give women prisoners practical skills with textiles, a haven space to express themselves and work creatively, whilst also providing them with extra finances for the work they produce.

One of the projects that have evolved from the relationship is ‘The Beauty Inside’, a unique publication produced by eleven serving women offenders and eleven students from across the London College of Fashion who, over the course of ten weekly workshops held at the prison, worked together to produce content inspired by and relevant for the women prisoner readership.  This magazine, also printed by prisoners at HMP Maidstone’s Printshop, was distributed to all inmates at the prison and aims to contribute to the commitment to the rehabilitation of women offenders.

The magazine hosts a variety of content and voices, and is a really interesting look into the normal every day life of a women in prison, who express the same desires, hopes, thoughts and challenges of women outside prison walls.

‘When I paint I am free.  This Place no longer has a hold on me.  It is my escape’

Meeting with Claire was brilliant, I loved how we shared the same enthusiasm and love for the people we work with.  Her face lit up when talking about the amazing natural talent demonstrated by the women prisoners she has worked with.  Also how 90% of the women in prison should not have been there, but it is due to the unfortunate circumstances that they have been dealt, within an environment and society that doesn’t have the means to support them.

Its another moment for me that signifies how important the arts are in connecting with people and telling the stories of those communities that have been let down or pushed down by the system.  Art gives people voice. Creativity gives people a means to express themselves.  And with the right support, art can give people a livelihood and means to live a life of purpose in their own authentic expression.