Knitting Towards Freedom: High Fashion and Prison Labor in Brazil

Incarcerated men in Brazil are knitting high fashion clothing pieces to receive reduced sentences.

As reported, when her knitted fashions became popular, designer Raquel Guimaraes sought an alternative source of production to fill her orders — she contacted a maximum security prison in Brazil.

Guimaraes originally proposed that incarcerated women could knit her designs. The prison’s warden, however, suggested that the incarcerated men would be better suited to produce the high fashion clothing.


As one journalist writes, Guimaraes and the warden were gambling on “whether men imprisoned for offenses such as armed robbery, drug trafficking, and murder, could learn to knit tricot.” And indeed, MSN News reported the story with the headline Your expensive handmade cardigan might have been knitted by a murderer.

But the ‘gamble’ seems to have payed off for the two.

Guimaraes has so far taught eighteen prisoners to work on her clothing line. As a ‘reward’ for their labor, the incarcerated men receive ‘extra money’ and their sentence is reduced by one day for every three full days of work.

Though the program is touted as a reintegration tool, the underlying point is for Guimaraes to sell the pieces as ‘handmade’ high fashion knits across the world, including in New York and San Francisco, for a profit. The prices do not reflect the inexpensive and often exploited labor pool from which the knitted designs were produced.  

A photojournalism piece of the prison labor program can be found here.

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