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Last Updated: Friday, 11 July, 2003, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Prison chic hits German fashion market
By Tristana Moore
BBC, Berlin

They call it Europe's largest jail - Tegel Prison in Berlin, home to more than 1,600 inmates.

They have been making clothes at this prison since 1898, but now the inmates are working on a designer label for their products.

Prison's designer label
Inmates are hoping the prison label will take off
We were allowed inside the jail for a sneak preview of the new collection of designer clothes.

From the outside, the jail looks more like a red-brick university - but some of Germany's most serious offenders, from murderers to rapists, are imprisoned here.

Ulrich Fehlau, one of the prison officials, showed us around the workshops where the new designer jackets and shirts were on display.

"We have a unique brand here, these shirts are made by prisoners and produced inside the jail," he said, resting his hands on a large, blue and white striped shirt.

OK, I know it's not Armani - but we're only starting off, so give us a chance
Stephan Bohle
Brand advertiser
"Now, this is for women," he said, lifting up a bright blue jacket. I tried it on and it felt a bit big, despite the fact it was the smallest size. "It's 100% cotton," he said. "And it's a great colour."

The prisoners earn around eight euros a day for making the clothes.

The room was full of sewing machines and ironing boards. The latest pop music blared out from a radio. It was hot and stuffy inside.

The prisoners seemed to be enjoying themselves. They chatted with one another as they worked. The prison guards kept their distance.

At first it's strange having to be with the inmates, locked inside, but it's so interesting
Sascha Spannuth
Master craftsman
The inmates are trained by professionals.

"At first it's strange having to be with the inmates, locked inside," says Sascha Spannuth, a master craftsman who started working in Tegel Prison earlier this year.

"But it's so interesting. You get the impression they're having fun here, which is important."

Matthias, as he wanted to be called, is serving a 15-month sentence.

He was stitching together a piece of cloth as we were talking.

This isn't a dream job, but it's better than staying in my cell
'Matthias'
"This isn't a dream job, but it's better than staying in my cell," he said.

"I think my friends will buy these clothes - you can't get them outside. After all, it's not every day that you can say your jacket was made in a jail!"

He smiled and looked outside the window. In the distance, I saw a prison watch-tower and a glimmer of light.

The prison guards say the real aim of launching the new designer label is to create jobs. There's a 40% cent unemployment rate at the jail.

Motivation

The idea is that more inmates will want to work if they see that they're helping to develop a successful business venture.

Prison sewing machine
Prisoners are making everything from shoes to suits
A world away from Tegel Prison, in the leafy suburbs of Berlin's Kreuzberg district, an advertising agency has been preparing the launch of a new web-site to promote the designer label.

"I'm sure this brand will take off," Stephan Bohle said, showing a few glossy photographs of the designs.

He showed me the buckle on one of the bags - which had the designer label "Haeftling", or "Prisoner" stamped on it.

"People will want to buy these products because each item tells a different story - about the prisoners and their lives. OK, I know it's not Armani - but we're only starting off, so give us a chance."

Unlike other designer clothes, these will be much cheaper. A shirt will cost 30 euros, a leather bag costs around 100 euros. They may not be everybody's cup of tea, but they're definitely original.


SEE ALSO:
Behind bars: Prisoners' tales
18 Sep 02  |  Wales


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