27-year-old Diego dos Santos, once known as “Mister M,” was the head of a powerful drug ring that controlled the vast Complexo do Alemao slum in Rio de Janeiro. The Alemao shantytown, home to 65,000 people, was once a no-go zone for police and was ruled by a trafficking gang notorious for its brutality.
“When you live inside a community like mine, with no conditions to pay for things, I started noticing my friends involved in drug trafficking – what they were eating and wearing,” said Diego. “I thought…’I want that.'”
Diego had been the drug kingpin for over a decade but handed himself to police in 2010 when the military invaded the city’s favelas in an effort to clean them up. He was photographed surrendering to soldiers wearing a shirt from the popular Brazilian clothing brand Reserva.
His mugshot gained national attention, including that of Rony Meisler, the owner of the label. Meisler teamed up with one of Brazil’s biggest social organizations, Afroreggae, and hired Diego as a model upon his release from jail. Diego became the face of a new social campaign aimed at promoting peace.
“Fashion isn’t only about clothes, it can also be a tool to transform society,” said Meisler. “Everyone deserves a second chance.”
Diego cites New York rapper 50 Cent as his role model.
“His story is similar to mine. He lived a life of crime, but he decided to change his life.”
Credit: Pedro Andrade, Joanna Suarez, Carlos Navarrete