Designer Abhishek Dutta loves wearing his signature fedora hat. But in reality, he is quite a Mad Hatter, who loves wearing many hats at a time. And the one hat that he is wearing now is that of a social entrepreneur. The designer, known for his quirky, bespoke leather creations, is the first couturier in the country to open a full-fledged production unit in a prison.
The ready-to-wear garment production workshop set up on the premises of Presidency Correctional Facility at Alipore in Kolkata is training about 41 jail inmates, mostly lifers, to help them become employable.
It all started when Director General-Prisons Arun Kumar Gupta got to know that Dutta is working with the state government to uplift the underrated weavers. “He contacted me to do something for the prisoners,” says the 39-year-old designer.
Earlier, the workshop was set up in an old hall, but it has now been shifted to a newly costructed building in the prison complex. The prisoners work in the unit that has 24 sewing machines, from 9am to 4pm every day.
“They are under supervision right now and it will take another month to train them, so they can start producing articles for sale. Some of them are learning things very fast,” says Dutta, who turned around handloom in West Bengal that benefitted 250 weavers of Shantipur and Phulia. “Seventeen prisoners have tailoring experience. I will extensively train them in cutting and stitching clothes, so that they can make garments for my brand. They will initially make simpler apparels such as Nehru jackets, palazzos, kurtas and dhoti pants. I will also teach embroidery to the women inmates since it requires finesse and more patience.”
Nazmul Sheikh, the 32-year-old who is in jail for the past seven years, used to make readymade clothes. He is now a women’s wear specialist and wants to open his own unit when he gets released after two and a half years.
Mohd Alimuddin Reza, 42, who has spent 11 years in the prison, says, “I was a construction worker with no prior experience in tailoring. But now I am a skilled tailor and I make Nehru jackets and pants. I wish to join Dutta’s unit after coming out.”
The embroidery as well as the leather shoe and bag sampling unit was started just a week back. “The production hours will also increase, giving them an opportunity to earn more,” says the designer, who has now been entrusted with the task of revamping the age-old Baluchari silk by the government.
“The profit from production will go to the jail welfare fund. Incentives will also be given to those who will work well or overtime. Upon completion of their jail term, interested candidates will get job in my workshop,” says Dutta, who has just finished designing outfits for the cast of a Bollywood movie.
“I just wrapped up designing Irrfan’s clothes for Tanuja Chandra’s Kareeb Kareeb Single. In fact, Irrfan has been wearing my creations for five years now. He loves comfort styling,” says Dutta, whose designs have been worn by stars, including Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Jaqueline Fernandes.
For quite some time now, he has been planning to showcase customised cars for a specific clientele. “I have been working on two cars—Honda City and Opel Astra for a couple of years,” says Dutta, who is planning a show with the products created by prisoners, in June. Hats off to the designer for donning so many hats with equal elan.