The limits in place during lock down have exposed many fragile supply chains, but with necessity being the mother of invention, there have been some hugely positive side effects. DAME is delighted to announce the launch of a special Covid project to make our travel wallets from waste fabrics, by prison inmates... that could be here to stay.
Our cotton zip bags, an essential ingredient in our Reusable Applicator Set, are made in India by a women’s empowerment charity. Strict Covid restrictions prevented the women going to the warehouse to sew the bags together, and separately, our metal zips from Japan had also been held up. We found ourselves with a bag-shaped hole in our supply chain. We had three challenges to overcome:
- DESIGN - How to make a pouch that could hold our applicator and tampons without using a zip. It also had to look good.
- MANUFACTURING - How to make the bag in the UK by reliable manufacturers at a price that was sustainable for the business.
- MATERIALS - How to find natural breathable materials suited for the job that aligned with our ethical and sustainable values.
We’ve always been fans of the ‘Reduce Reuse Recycle’ model - already put to great use with postal packaging made from surplus products - and so we channeled our Elvis & Kresse and looked for available waste streams, and local manufacturers.
This country used to be the home of cloth making, and our appeal to domestic fabric manufacturers for off-cuts and end of line stock had a hugely positive response. The amazing Claire de Quénetain and the team at de le Cuona both offered up several rolls of beautiful surplus fabric to support. We then called out to our community for seamstresses.
Much to our delight, a small army of DAME sewing machine owners came forward (love our community!), including a brilliant charity called Fine Cell Work. They employ inmates in UK prisons (mostly men) to stitch soft furnishings, and provide an apprentice scheme for them after they get out to help with their rehabilitation, often going on to employ them full time. Sewing is a purposeful activity for their prison workforce and apprentices, and the work they sell brings context in the world beyond prison walls.
To date, the reoffending rate amongst FCW’s post-prison trainees is only 3% compared with a national average of 48%. We're proud to help support such an amazing organisation.
It has nice ring to it, that the new DAME bag made from off cuts, helps those cut off. What's more, by using waste material, rethinking the design without a zip, and localising our supply chain, we have also reduced the carbon footprint of our bag by 87%.
Do you remember the Orange advert from the 90s that showed residents helping each other during the New York City black out? Scenes of people giving the homeless food, neighbours laughing together, children dancing with torches in the street - with the voice over saying in a soft Scottish lilt, "sometimes things need to switch off for people to turn on". This mantra has never been more true during the current crisis, and hopefully out of a bad situation we will see much good.
The items being made for DAME would differ slightly as they’re being completed in their workshop by their volunteer apprentices (ex-prisoners) rather than by prisoners. However, generally speaking – their prison stitchers receive a third of the retail price of each product they make. They get paid upon completion of the piece, regardless of whether they have sold it or not. A third of the retail price covers their expensive production process (each item goes in and out of prison three times) and the remaining third goes into the charity pot so that we can keep running the programme. There is a video on the FCW website which explains their production process – https://youtu.be/jN6n7WEcgg8. The incentive is to improve the prisoners’ skills so they can be given more complex pieces and thus have greater earning potential, as with any workplace.
When addressing exploitation, it is important to highlight three key points – there is a cap on how much can be earned in prison and within this system Fine Cell Work is a well-paid job – particularly for their more skilled stitchers who produce their more complex and expensive pieces. The benefits of carrying out FCW reach far further than the financial perks – therapeutic benefits, learning new skills and being part of a team to name a few. And finally, but most importantly – every single stitcher that they engage with both inside and outside of prison, has chosen to be part of their programme. No-one is participating against their own freewill.
I hope this helps! But do feel free to contact FCW or email@example.com email address if you have further questions.
Absolutely fantastic initiative. We’ll done! I hope it lasts beyond lock down. I also hope the ladies in India also find a local supply chain to join after lock down.
Great work team
This is brilliant!! You guys are awesome! Xxx
This is fantastic! Can we buy these new bags? Would love to support the effort…
There is a deep history of exploitation of labour in the prison system. Could you please clarify how much you will paying these inmates?
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