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Prison Couture Mainlines Eco-Ethics

Source: Photo: Ken Oja

Estonian prisoners serving hard time will be spotlighted (by proxy) at a London fashion show next week, thanks to their jail-themed t-shirt designs.

The Estonian fashion company behind the project is called Heavy Eco.

The marketing concept that charmed trade-show organizers at London Edge - a London-hosted alternative fashion exhibition, running from September 4 to 6 - involves the marriage of two seemingly disparate themes: the eco-conscious mindset with the brutal daily reality of post-Soviet prison life.

Heavy Eco's mission, as articulated on the company's website, sounds more idealistic than profit-driven:

"Bad, ugly, dirty, hard, unethical, heavy... these are things that come in mind when we think about Eastern Europe & prisons," reads the company's self-promo. "But does it have to be? Can something good and ethical come out of an Eastern European jail? We believe so."

The t-shirts are made from recycled and organic materials. And they are exclusively designed by prisoners. The company's convict designers also make stylish hand- and shoulder-bags from old promotional billboards. They also do men's underwear.
Many of the designs are inspired by motifs, images and tattoos from Soviet and Eastern European jail life.

As Heavy Eco Manager Toomas Plunt told online zine last November: "These bags are durable and as tough as old nails, like people who make them, so they come with lifetime warranty."

Plunt hastens to add: the prisoners are paid for their creative work, and 50 percent of the profits go to charities aiding street children and orphans.

Andres Kahar
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