These lines from Shawshank redemption embodies the spirit of 52 jail inmates from correctional home in West Bengal. ‘PAROLE’ – a unique sustainable label by Abhishek Dutta has created stir among the jail inmates for the right reasons ; after-all who has the time, patience and energy to motivate, train and produce an entire line of fashion collection working with the convicts in the jails of India ?
Not many from the glamour industry would be interested to take up a challenging project like this. Reasons are far more complex than one may want to fathom starting with skill development in wide variety of people, consistency on job, motivation among the convicts who have spent years in jail to societal fears and stigma associated with the outlaws.
“ It was an interesting project proposed by the West Bengal government correctional home” shares Abhishek Dutta, a Wigan and Leigh graduate and winner of Smirnoff International Fashion award with 15 years of experience, over an email interaction with Ciceroni on what led him to start this collection in the first place. “ Inspector General Arun Kumar Gupta proposed the idea to train these inmates for their skill development starting with learning to stitch. During the process of training multiple inmates, we toyed with the idea of starting up a new brand which was made by the convicts. We wanted to create affordable pret line that could be retailed across the country” he comments.
A group of 40 male inmates from the Presidency Central Correctional Home and 12 female inmates from the Alipore Women’s Correctional Home have been working on producing these designs since 2017. The inmates would keep getting released on Parole and a new batch would keep coming in, thus rendering the task of training them for a particular established work process difficult. It is every recruiter’s nightmare.
Imagine training an unwilling individual ; first you have to work on getting them motivated and then you have to make the task interesting enough for them to enjoy. Once they start performing the task upto mark, you feel things are smooth. Well, only for some time because they might soon leave and you will need to repeat the cycle again.
But that didn’t deter Dutta.
“Training and sustaining the unit is not easy. It is a constant process. It’s not simple because the inmates keep changing. It’s tedious as well, because the inmates have lost all their motivation since they have been in the prison for more than 10 years” remarks Abhishek as he discusses the challenges that he faced while creating PAROLE.
It isn’t very simple to motivate people, especially if you have been out of the society for long. The reasons to learn and work are few and far between.
“We had to get them interested in the entire concept of clothing. In order to motivate them, we got in few celebrities inside the jail and did movie screenings besides other activities to get them interested in fashion and clothing. We started training these 40 inmates for stitching and gradually taught them hand embroidery also. Now they can make various products from bags to shoes as well. In fact few of the inmates have been released and they have started their own business while few others have joined our production unit ” gushes Abhishek with pride that only one can feel after having recently launched this sustainable apparel label PAROLE.
The collection, which is based on four themes—Denimactic, Powerholic, Infusion and Printarazzi—features Western wear as well as Indo-Western wear. The handwoven fabrics consist of cotton, linen, denim and jamdani blends.
“ The Denimactic range consists of linen denim range of jackets, pathanis, dresses and kurtas whereas the Printarazzi range consists of palazzo, jumpsuits, dresses, kurta and anarkali. The Powerholic range has pastel coloured jackets for both men and women besides the quintessential black, indigo and red. Infusion range is basically an indo-western line with minimal embroidery on draped kurta, anarkali, long and short kurta jackets besides Nehru jacket, bundi and bandhgala. We will soon retail at multi-brand outlets and leading online portals across India” says Abhishek who has participated in Lakme Fashion Week, Wills Fashion Week, Singapore Fashion Week, Bali Fashion Week and Asia fashion week multiple times over the last decade.
The most interesting part about the PAROLE launch was its visual communication done with Jail inmates as the models. There is an awkwardness to appear in front of camera. But with the meticulous detailing of using Correctional home as the site for photo shoot and getting professional team to style and groom, PAROLE images definitely invoke a sense of need to buy these garments once available for the sheer dedication that went into creating it.
Sustainability is the buzz-word in India. So one wonders whether it is the new-found love for sustainability in Abhishek. However he comments “As a designer I have always tried to promote sustainability, not just in designing but also in business. So when this project came I took it as a challenge as I wanted to take it beyond the fifteen year old Abhishek Dutta brand and create something that is not just affordable and wearable but also helps the society”.
Assimilation of the convicts in the mainstream society is a major challenge after their release. Most companies and businesses refrain from offering employment. Even after serving the sentence, long arduous journey of fitting in the societal fabric remains daunting for any convict.
“Most of these inmates have come to me either to get help in getting their job started or their own production line started after they have been released from the correctional home. I have always tried to give them work or any kind of support they need. I also end up forwarding them to other organisations since I know their skill sets. With multiple dialogues around PAROLE launch, people have become far more receptive to the idea of hiring them” remarks Dutta as he awaits the official launch of PAROLE in Kolkatta by this month end ; all set to break the taboo around employing convicts and using them as the face of the campaign.
One step forward in providing employment opportunity in our developing country.
A giant leap for the society in embracing those who have erred.