Lazlo Hires Former Prisoners to Create a More Sustainable ShirtBy Amanda Lewan on August 15th, 2015 /
Christian Birky always had an interest in social and environmental justice. The Princeton grad grew up on the west side of Michigan, but after college moved to Detroit to launch his new company Lazlo.
Birky’s thesis in college was an in-depth analysis of prison policy. He learned that there was a tremendous crisis within the criminal justice system. America has about 5% of the world’s population and 20% of the world’s prisoners, according to Birky. This inspired his business model for Lazlo, hiring former inmates create an innovative t-shirt called the Heirloom Tee (below).
It was driven by the desire to create an impactful model, and to create a better t-shirt.
“I didn’t want to feel guilty about putting on a shirt. I wanted to feel great,” said Birky. “A lot of shirts are made by exploiting women and children in developing countries.”
Birky spent a year developing a high quality organic fabric that is extremely soft and lasts. It’s a t-shirt with a lifetime guarantee, and a higher quality price ranging $120-198 per shirt. Right now there are five prisons in the state of Michigan that have some level of garment production. Lazlo will partner with these systems to hire formerly incarcerated inmates to create the product.
“I committed to doing a sustainable fashion company that creates access to guys getting out of prison,” he said. The startup is currently raising funds on Kickstarter and working to build a production facility in Detroit’s ponyride makerspace. Money raised will go to kicking off production and hiring employees.
It’s another example of a growing trend of social entrepreneurship in Detroit. One that will hopefully help an often displaced population.
“Over half of men who get out of prison end up back in prison. They cite that a job is a key factor that would help them stay out of prison,”he said. “Beyond a job, there are things like housing and transportation and child care that are very important. We’re partnering with a couple nonprofits to provide services.”