Pietà is a fashion label born out of the prisons of Lima, Peru. The founder of the project is Thomas Jacob, a 27 year old French guy who moved to Peru a few years ago. It was by chance that he visited a prison in the capital. A friend of his, from the French Alliance, invited him to a workshop day play of "Notre-Dame de Paris" performed by prison inmates. He went there not knowing what to expect, and the experience was inspiring. The inmates were welcoming and open-minded; and wonderful people with a desire to make use of their time in a productive way. To help with their rehabilitation, Jacob created a project to produce something strong that transcends their confinement.
Pietà is an independent project that refuses to submit to the standard of society's mass consumption and social norms. It offers an alternate concept of fashion; it has no logo, no standard sizes or a studio outside the prison. The main battle is social segregation. Their garments represent a way of life and a counterculture to the system. Pietà's garments are for everyday wear and it is composed of hard life's inspirational phrases such as "hambre, violencia, muerte, silencio" (hunger, violence, death, and silence). Another phrase associated with the garments is "I don't mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence." It is mostly menswear, but has some womenswear pieces too. The look is minimalistic, with simple lines and cuts. Each piece is unique with a limited edition; numbered and signed by the craftsman who made it. It is made by inmates and the models are the inmates themselves, with no external aid or investors.
The project operates in three prisons of the capital. One in Santa Monica (Chorrillos) with women inmates only, one in San Pedro (Lurigancho) and the other one in San Jorge (Lima). The last two are men inmates only. San Pedro, also known as Lurigancho, has been referenced as one of the most ferocious prisons in the world.
In the prisons, there were a few sewing and weaving machines with limited use. Therefore, with the authorization of the National Penitentiary Institute, Jacob created a workshop by using these resources. He started with sewing and cutting and successively moved into embroidery and knitting workshops. In work teams, they spent one year developing and testing samples until the level of quality wanted was achieved. Pietà only uses natural, organic and recycled materials, working with the most noble and rarest fibers such as alpaca, cashmere, pima cotton, silk and simili leather.
Inmates benefit from this project too. Through this program, they can generate revenue inside prison; they receive 25% of the selling price of their creation. With this profit, they can buy commodities not provided by the prison. This includes toilet paper rolls, toothpaste, as well as snacks outside their meals. Also, this allows them to earn money and help pay their civil suit. In addition, they can learn skills and gain work experience for a faster reintegration into society when they are released. Furthermore, it can also help them get out of prison faster as they can benefit from remission. Each working day decreases the prisoner's sentence by a full day.
The project was named Pietà in reference to Michelangelo's masterpiece, in which Virgin Mary cradles the dead body of Jesus; accepting the divine will, without lamentation or pain. This is the mindset of the project Pietà - the redemption of the prisoners. They accept serving time with dignity and faith; and showing good behavior and humility in the process. Lastly, Pietà is the final step before the Resurrection.
For more information visit Pietà's homepage www.projectpieta.com.
Courtesy images by Pietà
Photography by Alexander Neumann, shot at San Pedro, Lurigancho.