An Essex entrepreneur, who counts Lord Sugar among his fans, has partnered with LinkedIn to launch a social enterprise that helps ex-offenders to get back into work.
Zack Fortag, 21, is the co-founder of Inside Out, a fashion label he established with BBC television reporter Greg McKenzie to give disadvantaged young people employable skills in business, fashion and retail and help them create and market a clothing brand.
The hand-produced Inside Out range recently debuted in a pop-up store in Westfield, London, and was supported by LinkedIn, which provided the training and mentoring through a mix of workshops, equipping the young offenders with the skills needed to find permanent employment. The clothing line, which has been endorsed by LADbible among others, will be on sale there until June, with proceeds going to support similar future projects.
Fortag, who has also received messages of support on Twitter and email from Lord Sugar, explains: “I have always been entrepreneurial
and passionate about business and feel that there isn’t enough being done in schools and beyond to help people get into the world of work, particularly when it comes to those who have come out of prison and typically struggle to get work.
“Inside Out is the UK’s first clothing brand to be designed and run by ex-offenders. The pop-up went really well so we are now looking at what else we can do.”
Fortag says he spent several months trying to secure funding for the venture. “We had loads of rejections, but I contacted the brand manager of LinkedIn, who agreed to sponsor it.”
The initiative was created in response to data from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), commissioned by LinkedIn, that found around 20 percent of prison leavers are able to find work in the first year of their release.
CEBR also found that the unemployment rate for ex-offenders is 89 percent six weeks after their release. Analysis in prison leavers from 2020 revealed that this only improved to 44 percent a year after their release.
Zara Easton, head of brand marketing, UK, at LinkedIn, said: “By giving these young prison leavers a second chance to demonstrate their potential, we can start to remove some of the barriers they face and empower other young ex-offenders to make a fresh start.
“Together with the founders of Inside Out, we wanted to develop a campaign that brings to life their new beginnings, and shows how we can help create that opportunity through the power of connections.”
Chigwell-based Fortag, a board member of Sandys Row Synagogue in London, started his first business at school (West Hatch High School, Chigwell), aged 14, selling sweets.
“I read Lord Sugar’s books, which inspired me to start selling wholesale goods, from toilet paper to batteries. I would wake up at 4am to do boot sales and also go door-to-door.”
Fortag left school at 16 and launched motivational clothing line Ahead of Time, helping more than 100 young people have a chance to work within fashion and business and also offered networking events and opportunities.
“I felt there was a real lack of options out there for young people to network, support each other and learn from successful people and in terms of what’s on offer in schools
for children to learn about business and employment.”
Ahead of Time sold in more than 12 countries, three continents and worked with companies such as ASOS and Boys Base in the UK and stores in America. Fortag also founded Cozmos Hospitality, a leading provider of VIP sporting travel packages for travel agents.
A big moment came when Lord Sugar tweeted, promoting Ahead of Time. “I got in touch with his team through LinkedIn and told them what I had done and was doing. His team replied with advice from Lord Sugar, which basically said to keep going, working hard and pushing certain things. And then he tweeted about us and I got a lot of media interest.”
Fortag was approached and interviewed by Forbes, The Guardian and BBC Radio London, which is where he met McKenzie and Inside Out was born.
Fortag’s focus now is Inside Out. “The dream is to get thousands of ex-offenders across the UK into work and do bigger fashion projects and also in other industries, teaming up with big companies that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to.”
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