FashionBeans: Men's Fashion & Men's Style Guide
09-02-2014 11:47 PM
All fair points Will, nice one for coming on to chat about it
It seems to me though that there is now virtually no connection to the jails / prisoners, so how is it relevant to the brand? I know that you have a loose intention to get back into that in the future, but as things are it just seems like a bit of a gimmick? How do you feel about that?
10-02-2014 12:54 AM
Completely agree with this and I'm curious to know whether this is solely a marketing gimmick to give people that moral 'warmth' of thinking they are somehow helping somebody in prison somehow, when in actual fact it seems there is little to no connection from anybody in the prison system whatsoever.
Originally Posted by Ivan Condor Aasllani
Fair play for signing up and allowing yourself to be questioned but it's only worth anything if you give honest responses to peoples questions and don't hide away from the questions you will undoubtedly read.
Not interrogating you, just want to know whether its a side-story to your jeans or a key aspect
10-02-2014 01:56 AM
I don't want to hide anything and I'll always be completely honest. There is only so much I can put on the website and since it's launch I'm realising that there are more and more things I've left out. I'll be updating it as I go along to try and cover the queries that people have.
I'm not going to sit here and deny that the 'made/developed in prison' aspect is a good marketing angle. It is. I don't think that's a crime though. People in general have been very receptive to the whole thing from the start. From early on the thought was that the 'made in prison' would drive sales, increase demand and then increase the need to create more jobs for prisoners. Something which the UK government are fresh out of ideas as to how they can do it It seemed win win for all parties involved so long as people could understand that it isn't 'exploitation of cheap labour' and that it is genuinely a beneficial process for the inmates and the tax payer.
Still, whether our jeans are made in prison now or not, we've still done more than 99.99% of all other companies with any thoughts for CSR.
To be frank, I was quite literally destroyed when I was told (two years in to the project) that the prison service would no longer be willing to manufacture jeans and continue to support the project. I'd been doing this since Uni and had put in about £9k of my own personal savings by this point (I'm 25 now and £9000 wasn't just lying around for me back then). Of course I was angry and very close to packing it all in until I realised that there was still a great story to be told. A story which I'm trying to get across now.
I won't lie, the link that there once was isn't nearly as strong as it should have been, but I've left the brand intact for several reasons.
I still harbour hope that this project will be allowed to go ahead and we will be able to manufacture in prison. It was full steam head when Kenneth Clarke was Secretary of State for Justice, however in the cabinet reshuffle he was replaced by Chris Grayling and in doing so the ministers direction was altered.
I am also working on a way to create jobs for prisoners. Prisoners like the ones that worked on this first range. I want to be able to give them work, using their skills to work on developing future ranges. perhaps not design work so much, but their tailoring skills so that we can create samples and prototypes. I need to see how people even receive company before making serious inroads into that, but it's my next port of call.
So in short, the answer to your question is no. It's not meant to be purely a marketing gimmick. I'm trying to do a bit of good but the government seem damn determined to make it as difficult as possible for me. It is a key aspect and I want to be able to do something good. I don't expect anybody to believe me, but equally it's pretty hard to take when people jump straight on the negatives and forget about any good that has been done. Some people assume I'm a bad guy for working with prisoners and trying to sell something off the back of it. I didn't see many others dong anything about it, which is why I decided too.
I didn't enter this project blind. I knew/know that there will always be critics and cynics, but I just have to learn to balance them with the people that say 'Well done, at least you're doing something'
Hope I've answered a few more questions. I'll happily take more if you have any.
P.s Sorry if my grammar is sloppy. Way past bed time.
10-02-2014 10:10 AM
Very nice to read your side of the story, including the big hurdles you have had to face. Nothing is plain sailing in this world but it's great to hear that you are doing this with the aim of making a difference. I don't think anyone could ever doubt you were looking to create positive opportunities for offenders.
You do seem to be focusing hard on the prisoner aspect (just wondering, is this terminology to include released prisoners, or are you focusing on inmates only?). If just inmates, then it's no surprise that the prison service are a bit apathetic, because even though you are providing training opportunities, it's a cost overhead for them (management of the initiative, clearance etc) and the 'citizen payback' element is missing, because the public do not directly benefit from this initiative if the inmates have no job upon release. It's no good having skills with no job prospect, and another tailoring firm will not be interested in a released prisoner. Ministry of Justice are focusing on reducing reoffending, and this only happens once someone is out and on probation. I'm telling you this from the perspective of someone who has worked directly with Ministry of Justice (including HM prison service and national offender management service/ NOMS) for the last 7 years within my company, in addition to working directly with offenders for 3 years to help them try to find work. HMPS will view this as a 'nice to have' initiative but not an essential that will directly reduce reoffending - which is their primary objective. They may even dislike the idea a bit if they feel that there are decent profits going to a private company such as your (regardless of how low the profit margin is) at the expense of using their resources. Most private companies who are working with the prison sector, such as Timpsons, invest quite heavily for onsite training facilities within the prison service.
I am sure you've already considered all of this in much more detail than me, but I would instead focus on NOMS rather than HMPS if you haven't already considered this. It will be much more in tune with the Ministry of Justice business objective of reducing reoffending, and your great business idea will have a much stronger story to tell - that you are directly offering employment and training to an individual who otherwise would be unemployed with a criminal record. Just think of how much more powerful your website would look with case studies of released offenders, a photo of 1 or 2, and they share their story about how Goalhouse helped to turn their lives around. THIS is what people will be buying into, the direct and visible success stories, showing the face of the individual.
I think another excellent place to start would be the prisoner charities - they would bite your arm off to be part of this initiative. They pretty much all work and have key contacts with NOMS, so they would most certainly be very helpful in getting this under way. Charities such as these Ex-offender support services
Ok so released prisoners cost more to employ than inmates, but you can offer the training at a lower cost and I'm sure there must be schemes, perhaps via the princes trust, to fund this.
10-02-2014 10:23 PM
The use of prison labor for the benefit of the private sector is an extremely unethical practice, regardless of the work they carry out and regardless of the conditions they work in. This is why 99.9% of businesses stay away from such practices. At least in the countries where such practices are outlawed.
In countries where they aren't, it's a different story altogether - manufacturers thrive on the fact that they don't have to pay unemployment benefit, sick benefit, pension contributions, holiday pay or insurance. To them, the prison labour force is a pot of gold.. a pot which has zero bargaining power and zero guarantee of employment once they are released from prison.
To me, I see no difference between this practice and what Gaolhouse is currently doing - which is using the prisoners talents and labour to develop a product for minimal return and offering no long term rewards. A long term goal of Gaolhouse might be the intention to "diversify and create jobs for released prisoners" but that - it would appear - isn't a driving principle of the company, when it really should be at the fundamental core of what they do.
In the meantime the owner seems to think that even despite having a now very tentative link with both the prisoners and the prison service, that it's fine to use them as a marketing tool to keep the brand image alive. It may well not be a crime, but it is certainly a fairly dubious practice.
To me, the whole ethos of this company is poorly thought out. It was naive to think that using prison labour for commercial gain would not go unnoticed as an ethical issue. Even more naive to think that the promise of a "possible" policy of taking on released prisoners somewhere down the line might get them over this hump.
Quite simply, this is a company profiting off the back of the incarcerated - a group of people who if it weren't for the protection of human rights laws - could quite easily become a work force, ready for exploitation by profiteers - an ever present for workforce, always subduded and compliant... and above all, cheap as chips.
Gaolhouse may be a step away in their intentions from going to this extreme, but once you start out on a road like this in any shape or form, it's a very slippery slope indeed.
I have read everything published on the Gaolhouse website and everything the owner has posted here. He seems very quick to rubbish those who question the company as cycnics. This is either a defense mechanism or a poor debating tactic, but either way I don't think I am being cynical in my viewpoint on this - I vehemently oppose the use of prison labour for profits by private companies.
It may well be the case that Gaolhouse can evolve it's business model to become a company that provides training for inmates and employment for released prisoners, but for the minute that really is only a possible good intention of theirs and as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
11-02-2014 10:06 AM
I think it's fairly clear that I'm not going to be able to change your mind and I'm OK with that. You clearly have very strong opinions about it and you are fully entitled to. I respect them in their entirety. Apologies if you think my previous words have condemned you as a cynic. Not my intention at all.
I am not 'naive to think that using prison labour for commercial gain would not go unnoticed as an ethical issue'. I am fully aware that it is a taboo subject. I've known this since day dot and still saw good reason to go ahead with the project.
Have a look here: One3one solutions - Justice working for you The sole purpose of this organisation is to provide products to the 'private sector' in exchange for them providing paid work to inmates.
I am by no means the first person to work with prison industries to create a product which will be used by or sold to the general public. The only difference with what I am doing is that I am explicitly telling people about it. With the product being clothing, it's something I feel is very very important.
Say for example I had still done all the development work with the prison service and then tried to hide it and tell no one. If you bought a pair of my jeans without knowing, and then found out the story behind them you would be absolutely appalled. Even I probably would. That's why I am being crystal clear and completely honest about the story behind our jeans. This way people are able to make there own informed decisions about the idea. You can accept the idea, or steer well clear. At least you have the choice. I am sure that in your lifetime you will have come into a contact with a product that was assembled in prison, a brochure that was printed or an item that was packed in prison. Only you didn't know it.
I agree, the prison story does work as a marketing angle, but it's also an informative story. Perhaps I haven't struck the balance quite right just yet in the copy on my website, but that is something I will have to adapt over the coming weeks/months as I digest the opinions and thoughts of people such as yourself.
Some people really love the idea, think it's an inspiration and have been very quick to tell me. Others such as yourself have not seen it that way and have also let me know. As I said, I'm happy to take the rough with the smooth. I never expected everyone to support the idea.
Unfortunately you don't know what I know. You haven't met and formed relationships with some of the prisoners as I have and so of course you are not personally attached, as I am. I never thought that this project was going to change the course of 10,000 prisoners lives, but if it could change the course of just one then I would consider it the greatest of successes.
At the end of the day it boils down to opinion and it is my opinion that this is not an exploitation of labour. I genuinely believe that the design and development work to date has been of huge benefit to the prisoners involved. Physically, mentally and financially. After all, they were paid for work where beforehand there was none. I don't see that as a bad thing.
11-02-2014 03:50 PM
Thanks for the response. It seems more apparent to me now that what you are aiming to achieve is being done with the best possible intentions, however, I really think that you are going the wrong way about it.
I have no doubt that the whole collaborative process with the prisoners was of benefit to them but in reality it was only a short term distraction. What is really needed in the prison systems are education and support services. Then following release, a chance for prisoners to gain employment because with employment, the chances of being re-incarcerated drop significantly.
What you are offering really provides none of this, so the fundamental driving ethos of what an enterprise like this should aim to achieve, is completely missing. Without providing any long term services to prisoners, you are leaving your company wide open to allegations of exploitation & profiteering and the only thing you have to offer in defense of this is your word.
You only have to look at the USA to see how their prison systems have gone to know that the use of prisoners purely for producing goods for companies to sell is a very dangerous road to start out on. Effectively what has happened there is that after spending so many years & long-fought battles ending the slavery system, they have re-introduced a modern version of slavery back into the country via their prison systems.
I am not saying that what you are doing is akin to slavery, but the principles are comparable - you are using prisoners to develop and produce goods for you without providing to them any of the normal protective and social benefits that you would need to provide to workers outside the state prison system, such as contracts of employment, employer and employee state contributions and most importantly, the right to collective bargaining.
My advice is that you would do well to seriously consider revising your business model and to examine the ethics behind prison labour in much greater detail. This is not simply about a difference of opinion - I simply defy you to come up with any logical argument that prison labour systems such as this do not raise anything other than major moral and ethical issues. The belief that what you are doing is right simply isn't enough - I'm sure they think the same thing in the USA, China and Germany (among others) but the reality is a starkly different in contrast to this belief.
11-02-2014 05:06 PM
I think this initiative does offer one very important benefit which can't be underestimated, and that's confidence. For the inmate to feel that someone is willing to take a punt, listen, treat them as an individual, recognise skills and allow the prisoner the opportunity to do something potential worthwhile can do wonders for helping them change their mindset and look at life more positively. Will should be applauded for that.
A lot of the public don't actually care about prisoner welfare and just want them to be doing a role in prison / probation that gives something back to society - such as painting public buildings, litter picking, making public sector uniforms etc.
However the main issue will always remain - when someone gets released from prison, it often makes no difference what prison training they have, as a 'normal' employer will not offer a job to someone with no actual employment experience, who doesn't have a fixed address, who doesn't have a bank account, and who isn't presentable - and who has a criminal record. It's sad but true, and goal house can't really influence any of this - unless they themselves offer the released inmate a job.
I remember when I was doing my offender mentoring, this man was released on probation and I had to try and find him a job, he'd been in prison for fraud and money laundering. He had a HUGE folder full of industrial specialist cleaning certificates, all gained in prison. These were the top level qualifications in the field. Not one company of maybe 20 we applied to even replied. Very demotivating for him!
Once someone is stung with a criminal record, the absolute only way out is for a company to take the gamble and give them a job, no other way round it. Setting up an own business isn't that easy either as often a bank will not offer a business bank account to a convicted criminal. It's a very bad situation to be in.
11-02-2014 08:22 PM
Sorry for not replying to your earlier post. I've taken on board what you say though.
Re: your latest post, I think you have hit the nail on the head. It is the opportunity afforded to prisoners that is oh-so-important here. The feeling of worth and appreciation that they receive can be incredibly important. It is the sense of achievement and completion that can change a mind set, a mind set which might change the direction of a life.
That said, I do of course agree with both you and DorianGrape that the problem of finding work outside the prison system still remains. After all, as you say, it is finding work on release that will do the most for reducing the chances of re-offending.
So, with that in mind I would ask all to judge the concept (and me)on where we want to be headed. I can totally understand your concerns at the moment, but I would ask you to track our progress over the coming months and years. I hope (and I say this in the best way possible) that I can prove you wrong by creating jobs for ex-offenders. Coupled with UK production and UK design, I would hope that would tick all the boxes.
11-02-2014 08:31 PM
Can ppl stop calling it Goal House pls