Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

The factors of production.. or why we make one colour a week

Hello folks,

A shortish post from me today, I’ll update on news next week (couldn’t write on Wednesday this week as I was in the Houses of Parliament. In heels. And for a few minutes, getting thoroughly searched by a policewoman next to a policeman with a big big gun) but I just wanted to write a bit about why it can take us a few weeks to get your pants to you. I’ll talk you through the lifecycle of a pair of pants here.

It all starts in the cutting room, where five or so layers of the same fabric are stacked on top of each other and individual pattern pieces pinned on. These pattern pieces are just like the ones you might use at home if you are making a dress – a template to cut around. As you may imagine, each template gets nicked and so can’t be used for many cuts. We are looking into making this more efficient but right now, that’s how we do it. The pieces are then cut out either with scissors or a special multi layer cutting tool.

Each pair of pants incorporates three fabrics – cotton jersey for the gusset, lycra for the front and back, and a mesh for the side panels. So three stacks of fabric have to laid up and pattern pieces put on and cut out, for us to get to having all the right pieces ready.

The relevant pieces are then sorted so you have, eg, size 12 fronts, backs and gussets together. These matched sets are then ‘bundled’ – and these bundles go through to the machine room.

Our machine room has six machines and the plan is that the pants will travel from machine one to machine six, each machine doing it’s own special and individual job on the way. The machines are different from each other – some have fed tools to feed the elastic through, some have blades to trim off excess fabric (look inside your T shirt at a seam, see how the stitching goes right to the edge of the seam? It might not have originally but as the stitching was being done, the excess was being trimmed off) Sadly, we are having technical issues – a spring popped out of one machine and put it out of action, and so the neat horseshoe of knickers travelling from machine one to six isn’t quite there yet.

As you may well imagine, if you have six machines involved in each pair of pants, each machine has to have the same colour thread. And it is most efficient to do one colour all day, as the changeover to rethread is immense. These machines are really not like domestic ones – the people we bought our machines from have this photo http://www.solentsew.co.uk/images/Sailrite%20thread/H-747-F.jpg on their site. See? I call them Optimus Prime’s Brains. Weird looking things.

So anyway, hopefully that explains why we only do one colour a session. Now add in the fact that, right now, we only run one sewing session a week, of three hours. We aim to give a lot of women a small opportunity, rather than a few women a big opportunity, so everyone starts on just three hours a week. (We are aiming to get a second session up and running very soon.) so we have one three hour session, and it;s one colour.

So let’s say that this week’s session is on black. We offer three styles in black, a brief, a short and a thong. And we offer eight sizes. That’s 24 individual products. It’s most efficient to get people doing the same job for a whole shift, and the jobs differ given the differences in the shape of the pants. Seams in a thong are shorter than in a brief, and in slightly different places. We want to get to a place where we can have a session on just, eg, black thongs, or pink shorts, but that would mean a massive wait for our customers. This means that, right now, when we are doing black, we do all 24 products. In three hours. Even at industry standard rates for experienced machinists, we would only be looking at producing 20 or so of each item each shift. Due to the recent mention we had in The Observer, we are still dealing with a huge upsurge in orders and sadly this means that people are having to wait.

I’ve written this as I want people to understand what goes on here – and I want you to know that we are doing our best. We’ve had long conversations here about how we produce more, but now that the quality we can produce is so good, we want to stick with excellence rather than quantity.

What do you think?

We are a very small and new organisation. Our workers have only been employed by us since the 1st December, and they are still honing their craft. They are not yet expert enough that they can cope with changes or problems, so any little thing can unsettle them.

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4 Responses

  1. sarahsfleeces says:

    Hi Becky,

    I SO know what you mean on this one, except on a much smaller scale of course. I say on my site to allow 28 days for delivery and regularly people ask basically why so long – for the same sort of reasons as you’ve just described but again slightly different šŸ™‚

    Thank you for saying “it’s ok” to not turn stuff around like a sweat house may do šŸ™‚

    bfn Sarah

  2. beckypants says:

    Hey Sarah,

    My pleasure!

    We do aim to get to a position where we have a stockpile but right now, we are selling as fast as we make (which is good!) so yes, there will be a delay. I want people to understand what happens to make pants, and anything else – so now is the time to tell

    Becky x

  3. Nina Lambert says:

    Hi Becky:

    Have you ever thought of inventing a successor to the brassiere?

    For example, a panel from waist supported at back of neck which allows a view of sides of breasts but not nipples?

    Just a thought.

    Nina

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