• "Eco-responsible" T-shirts that come straight out of prison. This is the concept of the new brand Populere, created by a former prison counselor.
  • This original project is hosted within the walls of the Seysses penitentiary center, near Toulouse, where the new "professional skills" component convinced the administration.
  • To duplicate the workshop behind other bars, the brand launched crowdfunding.

They have a wire in their paw, and other coils in their "little workshop". Since January, and unless they have an appointment with their lawyer or another administrative obligation, four inmates of the Seysses penitentiary center, near Toulouse, spend part of their Mondays and Tuesdays in front of their sewing machine. They make T-shirts and tote bags in recycled fabric, stamped Populère, the first French brand of clothing made "from A to Z" in prison, with its logo like "code bars". "They had never sewn, never touched a needle in their lives and I am already surprised by their technicality," says Mathilde Cervières, the creator of this label and new enthusiastic boss of these four men "aged 40 to 60".

With a professional seamstress, but also her memories of the needlework taught to her by her grandmother, the thirty-year-old supervises each manufacturing session behind the walls of the prison. Without being disoriented in prison. Because this graduate in clinical psychology but also in criminology, worked for six years as a prison counselor. It was behind bars that the idea of Populère germinated.

"I was stationed at Agen prison in full confinement and I was able to get two sewing machines to create a small sewing workshop in the women's quarter," she says. At the time, it was a question of making cuddly toys and make-up remover wipes but experience convinced the native of Carcassonne of the usefulness of this derivative. She is well aware of the problem of recidivism and "the importance of a professional perspective in terms of reintegration". Beyond creating her brand, she wanted to embark on "a social project", "inclusive" for both prisoners and consumers.

The prospect of a job on leaving

At the Seysses prison, where some 200 inmates work, this "societal" aspect hit the mark. "The arguments that have weighed are the possibility for detainees to develop technical professional skills that will facilitate their return to employment upon release from detention since the garment sector is experiencing a new boom in France with the relocation of textile activities," explains the interregional directorate of the prison administration. However, studies show that access to work in detention and to employment on release are major factors in the fight against recidivism. The manufacture of eco-responsible textiles also has the advantage of valuing detainees and therefore of constituting a very attractive job. »

Mathilde Cervières, already anticipates the criticism. Its employees are in prison, they are necessarily cheaper. "A little below the minimum wage," she admits, "but they benefit from the new prison employment contract." It must accommodate absences, rhythms, constraints that the outside world does not know.

To really launch the Populere website, the young woman opened a crowdfunding. She needs to step back, to know if her solid T-shirts, rather sober, and one could not more "Made in Occitanie", please. His Holy Grail would be to be able to duplicate the workshop in other prisons, and, why not, to recruit in the women's quarter. For shipments, for example, promiscuity is excluded. In the meantime, she is satisfied with the atmosphere of "understanding and mutual aid" that reigns in her small prison workshop. And she is delighted at the idea that an inmate has already inquired about a CAP Couture, "for the future".

  • Society
  • Prison
  • Pret-a-porter
  • Mark
  • Toulouse
  • Occitania
  • Clothing