Rikers inmates learn to examine societal issues through the lens of fashion.
Anna Lynett Moss, the designer behind bag line Chiyome (and a Project Runway alum) is bringing her fashion knowledge and concerns to the women imprisoned at Rikers Island as part of the Prison Education Initiative.
Moss, believes that her creative disposition gives her the tools to approach societal concerns such as racial diversity, appropriation of ethnic culture and paradigms of beauty from a fresh angle. She told e-commerce site Of a Kind:
People with creative training are in a unique position to envision alternatives to some of our deepest social problems.
She asks her students to question the very things that she questions herself daily as a designer. One class discussion centred around cultural identity and ownership in the context of the Burberry Prorsum Resort 2012 collection, which used Ghanaian-inspired prints.
I think it is something my students dwell on: where they come from, what traditions they maintain – it’s something I think about in my own work all the time.
Rather than focus solely on aesthetics, Moss uses fashion theory as a sociological study that provides context for a wider array of issues and gives her students a more nuanced understanding of deep-rooted concerns. They examine the all-white runway of The Row Fall 2012 collection to consider how the industry deals with racial diversity as well as an image of a Masai woman in wedding garb to initiate discussion on what beauty is, and how it is expressed through fashion.
We reminded ourselves that our notion of beauty are inherited and often reveal more about the values of our culture than our individual standards. It didn’t seem as if many of my students had conceptualized their personal standards of beauty in a larger context, so our conversation was very rich.
The class has proven to be one of the most successful in the program, regularly filling up with 30 inmates, while other courses normally consist of 6-20 women.
The Prison Education Initiative, provides incarcerated women with educational experiences so that they may engage in discussion and recognize their own personal and academic potential. Moss’s course provides a creative subject matter to engage women in conversation and think about deep-rooted social concerns in a way they may have never considered.