February 26, 2009 / 10:12 AM / 10 years ago

Designer brings haute couture to Philippine prison

MANILA (Reuters Life!) - For inmates at a maximum-security prison in the Philippines, doing time has taken on a fashionable turn since an up-and-coming local designer recruited them to help craft his collection.

Puey Quinones conducts weekly workshops at the New Bilibid Prison to create couture cocktail dresses, bags and belts which are later sold in boutiques for hundreds of dollars.

The prison houses more than 12,000 inmates, with nearly half serving sentences of 20 years or more for crimes such as murder, rape and robbery.

Quinones said he was hesitant to even enter the compound at first. But to his surprise, the prisoners embraced the fashion workshops, with many turning out to be artistic.

“On the first visit, I was really scared because I was thinking these people here are convicts, you know, they might stab me or kidnap me inside,” Quinones told Reuters Television.

The designer initially kept his project a secret, fearing the stigma against convicted prisoners might affect his business.

But when his clients found out about his prison-made couture, they scooped up his designs.

While the inmates are trained in construction, automobile mechanic work, and arts and crafts to give them skills they can use to get jobs when they are released, many never thought they would be passing their sentence making dresses.

Around 30 prisoners from the compound have been working with Quinones in the last year and a half, learning how to paint, bead and embellish fabrics.

Joefry Faderes, who was convicted of robbery and has been in prison for 12 years, said the work he and other inmates do with Quinones has helped give them dignity.

“We’re so pleased. Imagine, we’re in prison and yet people outside appreciate our work. Typically we’re viewed as mere prisoners, people think we’re the garbage of society,” Faderes said.

Quinones’ finished dresses and tops sell for 3,000 to 7,000 peso ($60 to $145) in boutiques, and made-to-order gowns can fetch up to 20,000 pesos ($415).

The inmates receive a small fee for their work, but many say they are not doing it for the money.

James Anthony Uy, sentenced to at least 32 years for kidnapping, homicide and rape, is in his 11th year behind bars.

He said Quinones inspires the inmates to be creative, and the fashion workshops brighten up their monotonous lives.

“We know that we’re not outside, but in a way, we kind of forget that we’re in prison,” Uy said.

Quinones, who gives his workshops for free, believes the inmates deserve another chance at getting their lives back on track.

“These people are also human beings, and they’re creative also, and they deserve a second chance,” he said.

“In the future, if they get out of jail, they have something to look forward to, that they can work for other companies, even if it’s not my company, at least they’ve learned something inside.”

($1=48.13 pesos)

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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