Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Rolling, rolling rolling…

Hello again everyone. As ever, it’s been an age since I wrote last – I’ve blocked out Wednesday morning in my diary for things like writing this, but we always seem to have some sort of emergency befalling us. It’s amazing how much time tiny problems take to fix, let alone the big ones.

Let’s think where are we up to? As ever, money is tight – we are waiting on a grant payment, but it’s not here, and so we are having to plead with people to wait for us to pay bills for a bit. Our production rate has been hit by, variously, a collapsing ceiling, set backs due to the weather and having to stay closed, and two of our six machines conking out and the replacements being in containers on the way from Japan. Eek! They were both sorted last Tuesday, and the proof in the pudding is that by the end of today’s session, we should know if they are working well. The women are producing about 40 – 60 pairs of pants per session now, and we expect them to be up to over a hundred in a few weeks. The quality issues we had a while back are mostly gone, so we are getting far more perfect pants made than seconds now, which is a huge relief (even though I am buying quite a few of the seconds, I’d be happier to pay full whack for the perfect ones)!

There are a few more volunteers in place now, and so admin cover is much better. This has a huge knock on effect – if I’m answering the phone, opening the post, opening the blinds and writing letters, I’m not talking to funders, or making sales calls, or doing marketing. We have, regularly, Aimee, Debbie, Janet, Jo, Li and Maryam coming in and doing all the admin support, and Della is still volunteering full time. We’ve managed to find some funding to pay her to do some freelance training, which is great, and supports the volunteers specifically. Excitingly, we realised that we have just as much to offer the women who want to volunteer here as we do the women who learn to sew – most of them are looking to get back into work after as break, or change direction, and so are looking for office experience which will really help them get a job. It’s lovely to find things (I’m not going to call them win win) where we benefit and so do others.

Alongside all my usual work, I’ve been a busy bee, up to the House of Lords with Skillfast for an event on the Women and Work funding stream we have been supported by, and I spoke yesterday for the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) on use of new and social media. I really enjoyed both of these events, and as ever, met some amazing women. At the Skillfast event, a woman spoke of her experience of how accessing training funds allowed her to get a job as a bus driver, which she loves, and how much difference this made to her life. It was very emotional and real, and a very good example of how providing an opportunity to learn allows people to unleash their talents. At the WRC event yesterday, I met their new Head of Communications, Sarah Brown, and others that I have spoken to only by phone or email. I spoke about using twitter and facebook and this blog, and how I really enjoyed being able to keep people up to date on what we do, and how supportive it is to get replies back supporting our work. I hope you appreciate how much it means when you comment or email – it’s honestly fab.

The women are still working hard, and learning, but we’ve realised that our initial training plans have been a bit skewiff and we are still training three months after we thought we’d finish. Our trainers are brilliant professionals, with the associated cost, and we just cannot afford to pay them and the workers. I’m not drawing a wage, and nor are any of the volunteers, but we have to pay our trainers. We explained this to the women (and I’m always terrified that they won’t understand and then be confused) and they came up with a brilliant plan. They said that we should train two women to be supervisors, to take over from the trainers. And they also said that they understood that new business had to start slowly and that perhaps they could take no pay until the end of May, to give us some breathing space. I’m a bit gobsmacked by this to be honest, I had no idea that they would be so supportive. I’m also utterly humbled that they are prepared to do this for the co-op. We talked a bit about what co-operating means, and I hope they understand how much their decision means to me, and to the future of this business, that they are prepared to be flexible. Supervisor training starts today!

In essence, things are just rolling along as chaotically and fast as always – it’s almost March! We’re all running about like headless chickens, trying to put procedures in place and work to them at the same time. Two of our women are about to have babies (one rang in, in what we think are the early stages of labour, to say she couldn’t come to work today, and said she hoped to be back within three weeks) and we’re all very excited for them. We had a fab shared lunch today, with some vibrant green chilli relish – it was so popular, that the recipe is being shared next week. I’m being featured in a whole bunch of International Women’s Day stuff, and we’ll have stalls at the upcoming Women’s Health and Well-being day http://www.southamptonwomensforum.btik.com/calendar/25275327565.ikml . I’ve also been asked to run a workshop at Solent University’s Social Enterprise conference in March. I’m lecturing at the University of Southampton next week, and we have a whole bunch of students coming to do placements here and see a real social enterprise in action. We’re having a web and technology strategy meeting this afternoon to try and establish how we can bring all our systems together and get things working well. It’s all go.

My personal feelings today are a bit mixed. I’m really sad that we had to tell the women we can’t pay them, and really pleased that they were supportive. I’m really pleased to be being asked to go out and speak, and really wanting to be in the office. I’m really glad we’re getting excellent quality pants through and really sad the women have struggled with so many problems to get them.

All in all, I know things will work, and I know this was never going to be easy. I still want to do this, and I’m thrilled so many people support it. I just can’t wait for it to get a bit easier.


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9 Responses

  1. angela says:

    Well done for getting this far! Don’t ever forget what you have already achieved. It is hard getting a co-op started and tough when you can’t achieve your rightly high goals, but you are talking to each other and working on solutions and hopefully all learning from this.

    Someone once said that the only time their co-op had real problems was when they stopped co-operating with each other. So true.

    Here’s to that money coming in soon, so you can get down to business. And if slow coming grants prove a long term issue, see if you can’t find away round it. Many’s the good co-op that got strangled by those who were supposedly on side! All the best!

  2. Noel says:

    So, when are you starting the men’s pants? šŸ™‚

  3. sarahsfleeces says:

    Hi Becky,

    You guys are all SUCH an inspiration to me and my ladies who sew with me! šŸ™‚

    In our business it’s me and 4 ladies sewing with/for me and I can’t wait until I’ve got people doing stuff for me like you have – where did you get all your volunteers from? I’m very jealous šŸ˜‰

    Keep up the good work – and yes your blog posts are just as important as the other ‘stuff’ šŸ™‚


    • beckypants says:

      Thanks Sarah! It’s really kind of you to say that.

      Volunteers are from Southampton Voluntary Services, the local volunteer service. Is there something like it near you?

  4. Allegra says:

    What fabulous news about the women coming up with such a great solution to the financial situation! Natural co-operators or what – they are stars! Warmest greetings to them all and to all of you from us at CLEAR.

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