In the Media

Former prisoners strut their stuff on the catwalk

PUBLISHED March 20, 2012

A rehabilitation charity has joined forces with British fashion designer Daniel Blake

Coming out of prison, with a criminal record to your name and warnings that you will never make anything of your life ringing in your ears, is a daunting experience, explains Elle. "You feel like you're stuck in a little box and people don't want to take you out of it," she says.

Not everyone thinks that way though, she has since found. The 23-year-old is dressed in a Grecian silk crepe de chine dress with military trench coat that she will model for British fashion designer Daniel Blake this month, as one of nine ex-offenders who will help to host shows for his wealthy clients.

The initiative, part of his collaboration with rehabilitation charity Bounce Back, has been a fantastic experience, Elle says.

Bounce Back trains and employs former prisoners as painters and decorators, helping some to set up their own businesses and keeping others in a core team of around 25.

Of the 60 men it has worked with since 2010, only two have gone on to commit another offence, an impressive track record given the 38% reoffending rate for prisoners sentenced to one to four years.

For founder Francesca Findlater, involving Bounce Back staff in Blake's shows, which are being held in a former sea cadet building where the charity is based in south London, is part of her philosophy of inclusion.

"Anything we do, they're part of it," she says. "The big thing for all of them is being treated like normal people, rather than like they're from another planet ? planet prison. And they love fashion."

She also hopes it may be good for business. "What we'd love is for one of Daniel's people to go, 'Oh my God, what nice chaps, I'll get them to paint my house.' It's just like any business networking."

The Bounce Back staff will model Blake's men's shirts, as well as welcoming guests, handing out promotional material and serving drinks, but Findlater has also recruited three female former offenders ? including Elle ? through the charity Working Chance.

Blake will donate 10% of sales to Bounce Back from the events (where a dress sells for around ?495).

He suggests participants who enjoy the taste of the fashion world may go on to apply for courses or apprenticeships in the field, or to work with him again.

"It's a great opportunity to bring different worlds together," Blake says. "Fashion is something that can inspire young people, or maybe spark a flame from what was just a little ember."

Elle, who works as a projects officer for a law firm and is interested in moving into events, sees it as an excellent opportunity to get experience in an area that can be tough to get into without contacts.

Blake says he finds using "real-life" models brings its own benefits. "Clothing only really comes to life when it's on someone ? on a hanger it's just fabric.

"When it's girls like Elle wearing pieces and interacting with clients who maybe wouldn't have the confidence to pick something off the rail themselves, it works really well. It gives a sense of ease and relaxes people; it brings the barriers down a bit.

"It is a privilege working with them," he says. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds