Slow Fashion, Zero Compromise: A Conversation With Carcel Creative Director Louise van Hauen

By Landuo Yuan

This year, the Copenhagen Girl receives her long-deserved ode from the fashion world. Editors rave over her effortless combination of style and comfort while buyers worldwide gush over fresh designer talent exhibited at Copenhagen Fashion Week. Dazed by Spring runway looks an ocean way, I was beyond thrilled to speak to Louise van Hauen, an original Copenhagen Girl and Creative Director of the Danish slow fashion brand Carcel.

Even before launching its first collection at Copenhagen Fashion Week, Carcel gained incredible momentum for its innovative approach to sustainable apparel. The brand name, meaning “prison” in Spanish, represents the incarcerated women who receive fair wages and skills for making Carcel’s product from locally sourced, high-quality materials. Each handmade alpaca wool sweater from Carcel’s first collection is not only socially and environmentally sustainable, but also extremely well-made and beautifully designed. To fulfill this zero-compromise brand mission, a visionary female duo is the mastermind behind the collection’s elaborate creation process – founder Veronica D’Souza manages supply chain, and van Hauen oversees design.

Louise van Hauen, Creative Director, Carcel

Blush Magazine (B): Congratulations on Carcel’s launch at Copenhagen Fashion Week! We’re very honored to be one of the first publications to interview you after the launch. How was Carcel’s first collection received?

Louis van Hauen (L): Fashion Week was hectic but wonderful – we received a lot of momentum and press. We felt that people were able to understand our brand, our culture, our mission, and we’re very excited.

B: I love the simplistic, Scandinavian-style designs of Carcel pieces. Could you tell us about the core aesthetics and inspiration behind your designs?

L: We wanted the collection to look slightly street, but with a certain elegance. Since we were working with such fine materials like the baby alpaca wool, we wanted to embrace its full potential by really focusing on texture, quality, construction, and fit. And of course the colors, which look extremely polished on the material. We are so blessed to have these colors, these materials, and just so happy to work with them.

B: A lot of publications are saying that the more down-to-earth Copenhagen Girl will soon replace the Paris Girl in fashion. When you were brainstorming for designs, did you have a Carcel Girl in mind? And how would you describe her?

L: We actually talked quite a few times about the “Carcel Girl”. We do have a certain target customer base – women in their late 20s, conscious consumers who value the quality and fit of their garments as much as the design. Buzzwords aside, I’ve been trying to create an image that is a smarter, cooler version of myself. The Carcel Girl is to some degree very much like the Copenhagen Girl – fashionable but functional.  

B: Our readers, who are primarily fashion school students, are very interested in your own journey as a designer. Can you tell us a little bit about your education, your experience, and how you became Creative Director at Carcel?

L: Sure – I studied in London. First I did a BA in London College of Fashion in Accessories Design, which is leather goods. Then I did an MA at the Royal College of Arts, which were the best years of my life, but also the hardest years of my life, until Carcel.

B: I’m sure a lot of our design students resonate with that.

L: It’s a really cool fashion school that has all kinds of subjects – it’s a design school in total, from car design to fashion design, and so on. Then I worked for 6 months at an Italian company as a stylistic consultant in accessories and womenswear. Then I moved to Paris, worked for Louis Vuitton for half a year, in their show department, which was really exciting. I’ve been all over the places, as you can hear… Then I moved to Kenya.

B: Wow.

L: I lived 2 years in Nairobi, where I was Creative Manager of a Kenyan luxury brand, specializing in leather and canvas bags, which was really interesting. I ended up being both Creative Director and Production Manager as well because we had in-house production. Then I moved to Copenhagen a year ago, because I started a family. I had lived with Veronica in Nairobi earlier, so we had talked about this idea a couple years back, planted a seed. Veronica continued working on that, just as I came back to Copenhagen. And so a couple of months after I was back, we decided to join forces. That’s just over a year ago, so it’s been pretty jam-packed. Before I went into design school, I worked in retail and did some courses in pattern-cutting, stuff like that. I’ve always been in that sort of field.

B: A lot of experience. It’s still amazing that you just met up with Veronica and manifested the whole brand.

L:  Yes. Veronica had the idea three years ago, but at the time it wasn’t really a fit for where we were, or where she was in her life, but she did go visit a prison when we were in Nairobi. I think the idea for her really manifested at that point, because it stuck with her that women were in that space everyday, producing without an actual outcome or output. So for her, the idea manifested. I didn’t think much about it after that, to be honest, not until a year ago. She revisited the idea in the spring of 2016 – she did a map of the world, a mapping where you have high rates of female incarceration due to poverty, and natural materials. Peru was one of those places. So she went, knocked on the doors of the prison system, got a footing and visited five different prisons, decided on one to work with, and returned to Copenhagen to do market research. That’s when she asked me if I wanted to look at it. So I looked at it, then I looked at it some more, and then I couldn’t leave it. I wanted to join with her, so then I went to Peru – that’s a year ago. So I went to Peru for the first time.

B: So it was actually a very elaborate process.

L: Yeah, haha, you can say that.

B: I learned from Carcel’s website that the brand’s next collection will be silk clothing based in Thailand.

L: Yeah! Right now we’re at the studio, and next door is Ida, who is super talented at pattern-cutting. Across the table from here is Kristina, who’s about to jump on a plane and go to Thailand. We’re already working on it – we’ve already reached the Department of Justice. It’s very new for the Thai government, so we’re going to do a trial project with them in the fall. We’re working on the designs right now, and Kristina is going to Thailand to do the preparations – find a tailor, get all the paperwork, and contact all the people to team up with. We’ve found the silk!. We’re at a point where we’re very excited, we just don’t know what’s gonna happen yet, because of the nature of the project – it can change from day to day.

B: And hearing about this whole process, I can imagine it would get customers really excited too.

L: Hopefully, yeah!

B: More and more consumers are choosing to invest in slow fashion. What do you think Carcel’s role is as an independent brand in the global movement towards building a sustainable apparel industry?

L: I’m not sure that we have a role yet. I wish we do – that’s our goal, of course.

B: But Carcel is a very standout brand!

L: We do things differently because we think it should be done differently, but the dream scenario would be that we become mainstream. We would like to help enforce somehow, by joining a movement in that direction. Our ambition is to show that it is possible to do something that is good to the people, good to the planet, and is of high quality. So far, [we’ve proved that] it can be done. Our goal is to set an example and hope that others will do the same. I think for us, we don’t want to stand out in terms of social responsibility. We want to be mainstream. We want this to be the least you can do in the future – to not be shitty, haha.

B: You guys are pioneers, for sure.

L: We definitely felt like there was a gap. There was a gap in the market for something that was both sustainable and of high quality and was designer-focused. For us, we tell our story because it’s important and interesting, but [we also place] a focus in designing something that makes you feel beautiful, and is of high quality.

B: Creating a balance.

L: Yeah, and not compromising. Creating a sustainable business that has a positive impact shouldn’t be a sacrifice, even for something of designer quality. We have these amazing resources available to us. We’ve got there amazing materials and these really talented women that would love to join the team and are just looking for a well-paid job, a way to spend their time, and to learn from it. It feels like a sensible fit.

B: So that’s the mission and the concept – I love that, no compromising.

L: Yeah! Thanks.

B: Is there anything else you would like to speak about, especially to our audience?

L: We’re at a point where we’re just so honored and happy with how we’re received. Every time people compliment our brand or our story, it’s still very emotional for us, something that we feel very proud of. And of course, I would encourage everyone to go visit our website and read the stories of these women, ask questions. We don’t want to preach to anyone, that’s the thing. We don’t want to be preachers. We want people to buy into Carcel and be a part of our universe because it’s cool, and not because of guilt or anything else. I’d just like to encourage everyone to visit our website! Spread the word, buy a sweater.

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