Made from organic cotton and coming in a selection of feminine colours, this is the first time Swedish female prisoners have had their own, sex-specific uniforms to wear.
As Lars Nylén, Director General of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) explained, inmates were previously limited to wearing drab, grey, unisex t-shirts and jogging pants: “They really were awful”.
Students form Beckman design School were set the task to produce a range of hard wearing, easy-care and cheap clothing for prison inmates as part of their second year coursework. “It was a very unusual and special project for us to take on” said Sofia Hulting, Press Officer for Beckmans: “But the pupils really enjoyed doing it”.
As part of the existing in-prison production scheme KrimProd, all of the clothing will be made by inmates. Nylén discussed how this is beneficial for the inmate population: “By giving them work to do, we give them a meaningful day, training and a social environment”.
By manufacturing the items using the prison workforce, Nylén told how the costs of the range were kept low: “As the clothes are made for very little by the inmates themselves. We are able to introduce a new, considerably better uniforms for the women, while spending less than what we do now”.
“The inmates are very easy to motivate; they are not doing it for the government or the guards, they are working for themselves, learning skills which will help them in the outside world”.
The lives of the women prisoners are enhanced not only by the introduction of constructive work and education, but also through wearing the new style garments. As Nylén noted: “Many of the women entering the prison have been involved in drugs and/or prostitution. They are often in bad physical condition. They suffer from very low self-esteem and have been heavily marginalized by society”.
Instead of the grey, shapeless, unisex uniforms previously enforced, the new outfits are simply tailored and come in a range of sympathetic and attractive colours. The clothes offer subtle detailing which allows the wearer to slightly alter the style of the item.
As a result, it is hoped that the new uniforms will aid inmates suffering from poor body image and self-esteem and help them to express their own individuality in their appearance.
“Used as tools by the men in their lives and frequently trapped in abusive situations including forced prostitution, these inmates need to be given the strength and support to leave criminality and drugs. We need to mentally build them up” explained Nylén.
There is also a practical reason for the flexibility in the design of the pieces, as a large percentage of women enter the prison as drug addicts. Amphetamines are a particularly popular drug in Sweden, a side affect of which is substantial appetite suppression.
“Therefore when the women suddenly stop taking the amphetamines and eat normal, regular meals they inevitably gain weight” said Nylén.
“It was necessary to design clothes that are able to stretch and adapt to weight changes in the women, without reinforcing any physical insecurities”.
“The clothes the women wore before were horrible and did nothing to help how they saw themselves. We realized it was very important to change the clothes these women had to wear”.
“Our inmates need a lot of support to transform their lives and if we can enhance the process through clothes, then that can only be positive”.
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