Making It: Stripes Clothing

“Made in prison, inspired by freedom” aptly describes the founding concept of Dutch-based apparel company, Stripes Clothing. The company consists of three founders and one designer living in Rotterdam, all guys in their mid to late 20s who had been looking for a way to fuse their entrepreneurial and creative spirit with a means for spreading awareness of ex-inmates’ societal reintegration. Apparel production (and some designs) come from prison inmates and are sold worldwide. The upshot is that inmates earn a profit and production skills in order to build a base for self-sufficiency and job marketability once they’ve been freed.

Stripes Clothing is looking to expand to stockists in the U.S. and to cool boutiques worldwide to spread the word of their company. Contact them at info@stripesclothing.com if you’re interested, or check out their website to stay up-to-date on their latest developments.

Where did you get the idea to start Stripes Clothing?

We wanted to set up a brand with a strong social vision and a well-told story. We were brainstorming about possible concepts, and one of our family members came up with the idea of producing in a prison, since he works for the Ministry of Justice. After a tour through prison we became aware of the value of freedom, and the first lines of our concept were shaped. We are not the first brand that uses freedom as its message, but with the production in a place where freedom is not that evident, I think we found a unique way to bring this message to our fans.

Furthermore, we didn’t want to set up just another streetwear brand. With Stripes we want to contribute to a social problem as well. We believe that prisons shouldn’t be just punishment centers but also help rehabilitate inmates in order to decrease possible relapse of old behaviour. We contribute to this problem by teachinginmates skills to be used outside of prison, which increases their chance of reintegrating into society. Everyone is better off when ex-inmates live normal lives after detention. We contribute to this ideal, and our ambition is to give further support alongside the growth of our brand.

What’s the inspiration behind the logo and the graphic design for Stripes apparel?

Our advantage is that the story around inmates, prison, and the production in prison gives enough inspiration to build a solid concept that never gets boring. Furthermore, the stories that we tell through our concept are real, raw and genuine. On the one hand, we have the raw prison edge. From this edge, designs like Make S*** Happen and Young, Broke & Talented are originated. On the other hand we want to inspire people to use their freedom to the fullest by showing them there are people without this valued freedom. “Made in prison, Inspired by freedom” was born.

The keys are evident. They are used to start or end one’s freedom. We think we could be the brand that creates this awareness.

How did you make connections with Dutch prisons to get this business going?

At first we discussed all our ideas with the head of labour of two different Dutch prisons. The Ministry of Justice was enthusiastic about our concept and our views on this social problem. In collaboration with the head of labour we figured out which products could be made according to the current skill of labour. Our focus lies on broadening our collection so we have ongoing meetings with prisons to produce new items. Our last two products are zip hoodies and crewnecks, 100-percent handmade in prison.

How do you plan to select and train prisoners to work with you?

At the start, we discussed the production with a few inmates. After our first production batch, prison personnel picked up this process. A prison workshop has skilled personnel with silk-screen printing and confection backgrounds among them. They select prisoners who are suited for the job and have the right attitude.

For prisoners, we offer a production assignment that is challenging. They gain skills in sewing, silk screen printing and other confections. Also, social skills such as finishing something in a team and having responsibility give self-confidence, which is beneficial to inmates when they enter into freedom again. Furthermore, they like the fact that we communicate the production in prison outside of the walls. They are proud of the products – they can show the world that they’re capable of doing something good!

Stripes wants to support outside the walls as well.  That’s why we set up a line in which we involve inmates in the creative process of designs, the Stripes Conscienceline. We organized a design contest in prison and got a lot of responses! We printed the best illustration on a shirt, and profits will be donated to Slachtoffer in Beeld (a victim support initiative) and Exodus, (a reintegration initiative). We will continue setting up more design contests in the future to expand the Stripes Conscience line.

How are inmates compensated for their work?

Inmates are financially compensated for the work they do, just like you and me. The salary is wired to their prison account by the Ministry of Justice, which enables them to buy cigarettes, books or telephone cards in the prison shop.

Who makes up the Stripes business team? How did you select these individuals?

All three founders didn’t want to have an ordinary job at a big company, so we decided to start one for ourselves. We aspired for a company with a positive and a social aspect toward society, as we missed those values at previous companies we interned for. The brand consists of three founders and one designer: Dave Geerders, Roy Oosterbaan, Sascha Oosterbaan, and Said Lechheb. 

We are all close friends and wanted to have our own business for a long time. That it would be a brand with this social impact is something we could only have dreamed about. Around us there are more people involved with the brand. They are true friends that also support the idea and want to help out with their creative skills such as filming and photographing.

How has word spread of your business?

In the Netherlands we were featured on two big radio stations and were discussed in several papers. Furthermore, we were covered on several blogs with backgrounds in business, lifestyle and fashion. Thus far, everyone has been very positive and has had cool reactions. Furthermore, we have eight (boutique) retailers across the Netherlands that give exposure to our brand. Its owners are as enthusiastic as we are, and they promote our brand offline as well. Outside the Netherlands we are sold through a couple of online stores in the UK, and through one boutique shop in Abu Dhabi and Vienna.

In April, we featured the first festival of the season in the Netherlands. We took mugshots of the party people – a fun way to bring across a serious message. This is the way to go for Stripes. We want to talk to people when they feel free and enjoy life to make them aware of their privileged position.

Do you sell online, or also in-store? What’s your largest customer base?

We ship worldwide. Furthermore, you can check out our stockist page for Stripes dealers near you. Our biggest fanbase is located in the Netherlands and is very diverse. Our concept gets positive responses from skaters to students, and from sneakerfreaks to surfers. They all share the love for something creative with a social vision, they are young, and they have progressive thoughts on achieving something in life and in the city they live in.

What elements do you consider most important for your business to be able to call it a success?

Our fanbase is very enthusiastic. They support our thoughts on society and therefore are inspired by our brand. For us, we’ve succeeded when our positive message comes across well to our fans. Another element of success would be the measurable positive effect our brand has on inmates and, more importantly, ex-inmates. As we are small, these effects are hard to quantify now. Alongside the growth of our company, these effects will be more sizeable and measurable.

Another success element is to see the growth in skill in the workshops we are working with. It feels good when we’ve achieved production of an item in the future that they can’t produce now. Furthermore, it energizes us thatinmates enjoy their tasks for Stripes Clothing. Challenging labour lets them escape the prison life for a while. Furthermore, they love the fact we say it’s made in prison. That feedback counts as an element of success for us as well.

Identify some significant breakthroughs or obstacles you’ve faced with creating and running Stripes. What are some memorable lessons, from the ups or downs, that your team has learned as entrepreneurs?

Setting up the production in prison was not easy. We went through a whole process of silk-screen printing before the shirts were of the quality we wanted. The extreme cold weather in the Netherlands this year was also a challenge at first, since we were starting off with only T-shirts. Also, getting the word out to people is harder than you think. Getting traffic to your website takes hard work and patience before you see any result. Everything takes longer than you think. Plan well and leave room for mistakes; nothing runs smoothly the first time. Be prepared for high ups and low downs – it’s all part of entrepeneurship. Be positive and have persistence everyday, and believe in your concept. The satisfaction of positive response and growth of your concept makes up for all the obstacles you will face.

Any advice for budding entrepeneurs?

We think the real strength of new brands will be their content and the story behind them Everyday new streetwear brands are born, so try and be different from everyone else. In the end, streetwear is basic and converges. You won’t make the cut if you do what everyone else is doing and if there’s no real message in what you tell. I’d say you really have to spend a lot of time working on the concept until everything comes into place before you start designing your clothes.

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