February 21, 2018

From left: Professor Michelle Adams; Daniel Friedman, Bindle & Keep Founder; Professor Barbara Kolsun; Carlos Sanchez, Jr.; and Karen Wolff of the Innocence Project 

February 21, 2018 - A former architect-turned-tailor and businessman and an Innocence Project client came together Tuesday, February 20 for “Fashion with a Conscience,” a panel hosted by Cardozo’s Fashion, Arts, Media & Entertainment (FAME) Center. What brought them together?

A suit. A custom-made suit, by Daniel Friedman’s company Bindle & Keep, which is embracing groups who often have a hard time and a lack of financial resources to find clothing in the mainstream fashion world – including the LGBTQ community, the formerly incarcerated, and veterans seeking to re-establish themselves after military service. 

Bindle & Keep designs and manufactures bespoke suits, customized for each individual. The company is the subject of the HBO documentary Suited, produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner.

Professor Barbara Kolsun, director of the FAME Center, hosted a panel discussion during which Friedman and Carlos Sanchez, Jr, an Innocence Project client, talked about their personal journeys and their relationship after connecting through Sanchez’s visit to Bindle & Keep’s shop to choose a custom-made, free suit.

Professor Kolsun noted that Bindle & Keep’s outreach to marginalized groups and open-door policy is a stroke of kindness in an industry that can be cruel.

“This interconnectedness between you and the people you make suits for is remarkable in this industry at this dark time,” she told Friedman.

Friedman’s own struggle with searching for a job, after experiencing health issues back in 2008, led him to a greater understanding of how important clothing can be to one’s self-confidence. His world changed dramatically when neurological issues forced him to abandon his architecture career. He recalled spending time walking around the city in a nice suit, giving off an impression he had a job. But he didn’t actually have a job and he knew the power that a nice suit could offer someone.

“Clothing isn’t vain,” he said. “It’s access.”

Sanchez is an Innocence Project client who served over 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The son of immigrant parents, he was arrested for murder in 1995, after being questioned without the presence of a lawyer. While he was incarcerated, Sanchez enrolled in Bard College’s Prison Initiative, through which he earned an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree and he graduated with a 3.85 GPA.

The Innocence Project began representing Sanchez in 2006 and after his lengthy legal battle to regain his freedom he was paroled in 2017. Sanchez re-emerged back into regular life. His social worker knew about Bindle's program for formerly incarcerated prisoners and asked him if he wanted a free suit. Despite his parole restrictions, which required him to stay in Suffolk County, his parole officer allowed him to make the trip from Suffolk County to Brooklyn to shop for his suit.

“Sitting there and having all the choice was overwhelming,” Sanchez said. “In prison, you don’t get many choices.”

Friedman noted that he wanted to reach out to groups who often feel uncomfortable with their bodies and are looking for clothing that they can feel comfortable in.

“50 percent of what we do is making the people feel like they can trust us, and 50 percent is making them feel good about themselves,” he said. “We had a client who chose a salmon-colored suit for himself. He chose salmon because he could; it made him happy.”

Bindle & Keep’s success, Friedman said, is in great part due to their openness to all clienteles. “If you’re open, there’s so much opportunity," he said. “If you open your business, it will pay you back tenfold. It’s capitalism at its best."