After going to prison aged 15, this millennial is now learning how to launch his own fashion company

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After going to prison aged 15, this millennial is now learning how to launch his own fashion company
Shaquiel Campous plans to launch his own clothing range after the project.Shaquiel Campous
  • Shaquiel Campous was sent to prison aged 15, now he's learning how to launch his own fashion label.
  • He's one of eight former prisoners running a pop-up store as part of the social enterprise Inside Out.
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Shaquiel Campous was 15 when he was first sent to prison for possession with the intent to supply drugs. When he was released 14 months later, he knew he didn't want to go back.

"I knew I wanted to stay on the right path," Campous, now 27, told Insider, "[But] I didn't know anybody. The only people I knew were criminals."

Campous' experience is typical of the situation many former prisoners face after their release. Left to fend for themselves, without access to proper support services, connections, or funds they can easily become trapped in a vicious cycle and once again, turn to crime.

This was the case for Campous, who reoffended and spent another two years behind bars.

In the UK, 48% of all adult prison leavers are reconvicted within a year of release, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Justice. A US Bureau of Justice study found that 71% of prisoners released from 34 states in 2012 were rearrested within five years.

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But now Campous is eyeing a brighter future as a fashion designer and musician. He's one of eight former prisoners selling clothes, bags, and facemasks at Blank Canvas, a pop-up store in East London.

The initiative is run by the Inside Out Clothing project, a social enterprise working to provide young Londoners who've spent time in prison with career opportunities by helping them to design, manufacture, and sell their own clothing brand.

The store feels much like any other, positioned opposite an Apple store in Westfield Stratford, one of London's busiest shopping malls. At the site, there are presentations from speakers throughout the day. Customers can also meet LinkedIn advisors for career advice and have headshots taken by a professional photographer.

After going to prison aged 15, this millennial is now learning how to launch his own fashion company
The store, in London's Westfield Stratford shopping mall, aims to equip former prisoners with the skills to launch their career.Inside Out / LinkedIn

Inside Out is a nonprofit, and any money from sales goes back into the project, which they hope to run each year.

Fashion was chosen because it resonates with younger people, Inside Out co-founder Zach Fortag, 21, said.

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However, the skills needed to launch a fashion business are universal, he said.

During the seven-week project participants learn practical skills like screen printing, social media marketing, and sales.

The social enterprise has partnered with LinkedIn, which gave them access to its online training and organized mentoring, as well as advice on how to polish their profile pages.

Prison leavers face stigma in the job market

Only 10% of UK prison leavers find employment within six weeks of their release — that rises to 17% after a year, according to the Ministry of Justice statistics.

Of the 73,500 people released from US prisons in 2010, a third didn't find employment within four years, per the latest data from the Bureau of Justice.

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"It's like you're written off in society," Campous said, when discussing some of the challenges he's faced in the three years since his release.

"Maybe they [employers] feel you're not to be trusted, instead of looking at it as somebody who has had a lack of opportunities or made a mistake, you're a bad guy or a criminal," he added.

Multiple studies suggest that when people are given opportunities to find stable, fulfilling careers they're less likely to reoffend.

Amid a tight labor market and calls to recruit more diversely, a growing number of firms are giving more opportunities to those formerly incarcerated. Fortag hopes that projects like Inside out highlight the benefit of doing so.

"They've got entrepreneurial spirit and they're really hungry into work," Fortag said. "Hopefully this project will show people that if they can run a business, why can't you get your company to give them a chance?"

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A lot of the participants already have internships and offers lined up for after the project ends, Fortag said.

After the program, Campous plans to continue with his own fashion brand, as well as the recording studio he's a partner in.

The networking has been the most valuable part, he said. He launched Integrity LDN a few months before enrolling in Inside Out but didn't know any suppliers or manufacturers. The programme has given him contacts, he said.

"There's that saying: 'It's not what you know it's who you know,'" he added.

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