A unique prison rehabilitation programme has established the UK’s first clothing brand created by young ex-offenders, as new data highlights the challenges that people with criminal convictions face in finding work.
The initiative from social enterprise, Inside Out, and supported by LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, brought together recent prison leavers aged 18 to 27 years old. The group, who have all struggled to find employment, received training and mentoring as they look to secure career opportunities. The programme has helped the group to create and market the UK’s first clothing brand created, designed and hand produced by young ex-offenders.
The group were taught technical skills, like screen printing and design, and were also supported to develop their business skills, like sales and marketing, and build essential soft skills - including teamwork and problem solving. They were also supported to build their professional profiles on LinkedIn, and learned about best practices on networking and applying for roles.
The clothing range which consists of a thirteen-piece collection of branded hoodies, hats, T-shirts, facemasks and bags is available for purchase at pop-up store, ‘Blank Canvas’, located at Westfield Stratford, London, from 19th to 28th April. The initiative has been created by Inside Out founder Greg McKenzie in collaboration with Zack Fortag - who first met on LinkedIn - in partnership with LinkedIn.
The project launches as new data from Cebr (Centre for Economics and Business Research), commissioned by LinkedIn, estimates that just two in 10 prison leavers are able to find work in the first year of their release. The data also shows that the unemployment rate for ex-offenders is 89% six weeks after their release, with analysis by Cebr on prison leavers from 2020 forecasting that this only improves to 44% a year after their release.
Tashan Lane-Pierre, Project Ambassador, Inside Out Project, said: “I started my own clothing line in 2017 before I went to prison. Now that I’m out, I want to learn the business of fashion, how it’s produced behind the scenes in the hope that I’ll be able to run my own label one day. The skills I’m learning through this project will help me in business and I’m excited to be a part of it. I just want the opportunity to be treated normally and not judged for my past actions.”
Janine Chamberlin, UK Country Manager at LinkedIn, said: “This group is full of ideas and it’s been amazing to see their drive to go on and make a positive impact in the world. Ex-offenders have a lot to offer potential employers and I really hope the skills they’ve learned and the networks they are building through this programme will help them find a fresh start and a new role.”
James Timpson, CEO of Timpsons, said: “There are around 13 million people in the UK with a criminal conviction. It seems crazy not to consider these people for employment, particularly when so many employers are struggling to hire. We know that providing access to job opportunities reduces the rate of re-offending. For employers, it’s about making a simple switch away from what candidates may have done in the past, to instead focusing on what they can do in the future. The majority of ex-offenders we recruit are loyal and hardworking. Many get promoted to bigger roles. We think they make excellent colleagues.”
Inside Out project founder Greg McKenzie, said: “Unemployment rates for former prisoners are much higher than among the wider population, even ten years after release. But there is a positive correlation between employment and reduced reoffending, which shows the need for proactive policies to ensure more prison leavers are able to access job opportunities and the tools and training they need to succeed. This is what Inside Out is all about.”
Inside Out co-director Zack Fortag said that more needs to be done to help young people who have been through the prison system: “Our research shows a real lack of opportunity for prison leavers in the entrepreneurial space. With Inside Out we have a long-term vision to solve this mainstream issue.”
The skills I’m learning through this project will help me in business and I’m excited to be a part of it. I just want the opportunity to be treated normally and not judged for my past actions. Tashan Lane-Pierre, Project Ambassador, Inside Out Project