Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

What shall we make our pants out of?

tl;dr – We need to buy ‘new’ fabrics instead of just reclaimed fabrics as we can’t get enough of the right stuff to sustain us. Sourcing fabric that everyone agrees is ecofriendly is impossible. We’re doing our best to find something we 100% believe in and we hope you come with us on the journey.

We’ve been talking on facebook for a while about the fact that we need to start buying ‘new’ as opposed to purely reclaimed fabrics. This is a long post but I hope those of you who have been part of those conversations enjoy it and understand why we are doing what we are doing. We care about what you think – without you supporting us, what would we be? So we want you to know what we’re up to.

This is a big shift for us. We made the decision, before we even started, to use reclaimed materials because we felt that giving a second life to old stuff rather than demanding the creation of new – with the energy and water consumption that entailed – was right for us. We’re not keen to have people irrigating land to grow crops to be spun into cloth to clothe our bottoms when people living nearby might not be able to grow food to eat or have good water to drink. We’re not keen on being part of a system that chucks out dye and manufacturing effluent into rivers in developing countries where there are few regulations about it. And we’re Wombles at heart – our tables, chairs, even some of our machines are reclaimed, reconditioned and given a second life. It echoes, too, the idea that our team – capable women who have travelled half way round the world in search of a better life but who absolutely could contribute if they were given the chance – are marginalised in Britain by a society that can’t see past language barriers and certain forms of clothing. It’s just waste. And we hate waste.

We LOVE using reclaimed fabrics to make our pants and we know that lots of YOU love our use of reclaimed fabrics. But the reality is we need to start buying ‘new’ fabrics very soon. We cannot get hold of jersey of a high enough quality to make man pants – or pants for women who want jersey. The jersey that’s available through our end of line purchasing is perfect for gussets but doesn’t have enough stretch to make a whole pant.

The pants you, collectively, like best are our Aimee shorts – they make up almost half of everything we sell. You can think of it as our ‘bread and butter’ product. Without them to sell, *poof* we’d disappear – or even if we stayed, we’d stay small. We’d help a small number of women. We want to help A LOT. In 2014, no galloon lace was available to us for a whole six months. Six months. And we have jobs to sustain, wages and rent to pay. That was hard.

We absolutely remain committed to sourcing as much reclaimed fabric as we can. But we have to be realistic.

If we refuse to bend on fabric sourcing, we fail to achieve our fundamental aim which is to create jobs for women and to empower those women through work.  We have always been about people before anything else – we’re about worker rights and security before we’re about eco fabrics.

So.

We’re looking at fabrics now. I was at a Textile Trade Fair in London yesterday and we’re off to Interfiliere soon to look at more fabrics.

We are never going to get a 100% perfect solution that makes everyone happy. But we know who we are and what we are for. We exist to create great jobs for women, marginalised by their status as refugees and/or associated language barriers, who need them and to empower those women through work. 

Fibres we like the handfeel of are primarily made from cellulose (often extracted from wood pulp) and include

Tencel – sometimes called Lyocell

Modal and Mini Modal

Viscose (did you know viscose can be made from bamboo?)

We’ve looked at cotton, bamboo and even fibre made from coffee too. We’re not mad keen on cotton and so are not pursuing it – it’s a hugely land and water intensive crop, often grown as a monoculture which isn’t great for biodiversity. Bamboo we like, especially for its vastly reduced need for water against cotton, but where once it was being lauded as a great crop to grow on marginal land and thereby make use of wasted space, it’s now often a cash crop grown in vast monocultures. We’re still considering it. We’re probably not considering coffee fibre

Now. We’re not academic researchers and we’re not scientists. ‘We’ are two women in an office joined onto a tiny factory where we are still teaching and supporting and, as well, doing everything WMYP needs to exist – processing holiday requests, managing invoices, juggling money, labelling boxes, packing pants, collecting timesheets, loading products onto our website, serving customers, explaining what a ‘wedgie’ is (all part of cultural learning. We have very entertaining conversations over lunch)  planning production, checking goods in, ordering paper, buying bows, tweeting and facebooking, analysing sales data, answering the phone, naming pants, trying to get our name out there, making sure people know where fire exits are… We’re pretty busy and it could easily be a full time job to come up with a definitive ;’Which Fibre has the Least Bad Environmental Impacts” and we’re not going to do that. We’re going to do our best to create good jobs for women, marginalised by their status as refugees and/or associated language barriers, who need them and to empower those women through work – and make pants that you want to buy to pay those wages.

We’re going to make our decision based on what we feel comfortable with and what you tell us you like. We’re going to talk to an organic chemist and textile expert who can give us a completely unbiased opinion. We want to source from the UK ideally, but that’s PROPERLY HARD if not impossible now, so we’re looking at Europe. We have found what looks to be a great place in Portugal and two that look good (so far) in Turkey. We want to visit the places the fibres are made and we want to talk to the people involved in making them and look at certification.

This is a long journey and a big step forward. It’s a big change for us. We want to know what you think so please tell us in the comments. We hope you can understand what we’re up to and why – and we really hope you come with us. 

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26 Responses

  1. Harry Harris says:

    Seems absolutely fair to me. Your priority is empowerment, that’s what I think of when I see the brand. The reuse/recycling bit is the icing on the cake – but the cake is the important bit!
    I guess if you can source fabric without disempowering people then that would be good, but as you say, you can’t please everyone 🙂

  2. I can understand the pragmatic need. I must admit that the reclaimed fabric is one of the attractions for me. My next priority would be fairly traded fabric and ensuring that the workers in Turkey or Portugal or wherever are paid appropriately for their labour. I trust you to source appropriate fabrics for the pants which are made in the most environmentally sane way possible – and accept that we are all consumers and it’s always a balancing act. You need us to buy pants in order to create jobs.

    • beckypants says:

      Thanks Marion – we feel exactly the same! It feels very much like we find treasures and we love that feeling of stumbling across something gorgeous and giving it a second chance. I’ve *literally* just spoken to our main supplier and he’;s told me he’s got a new supplier himself, so it may be that he does start getting more of the fabrics we need – I’m wondering if we might, for example, just use ‘new’ manufacturers as an emergency back up. That would be lovely!

  3. Nothing will be 100% perfect regarding sourcing material but I have to agree with has already been said, that empowerment of women lies at the core of what makes WMYP a really brilliant and upstanding brand. I don’t know much about different fibres but I do like the properties and feel of bamboo, so anything similar to that with minimal negative and social impact would have my vote.

  4. sarahjasmon says:

    Hi there, only just stumbled across you today, but what you’re doing sounds great! On the fabric front, there’s a scrapstore near us that always has loads of knicker lace (edgings and panels) in stock. They get them all as offcuts from a local company, I think. Is that sort of thing of any use? I appreciate the fact that you probably can’t get up to Blackburn, but it’s tragic how much is chucked out.

    All the best, shall be following you!

    • beckypants says:

      Hi Sarah – nice to meet you! Blackburn is definitely do-able if it means we can find treasure!

      That scrapstore sounds *really* interesting – do you know what sort of quantities they have, and/or have a weblink or phone number for them? We buy whole rolls of fabrics rather than cut pieces, and we’d buy a minimum of 30metres of 150cm wide fabric and a minimum of 500m of 30mm-160mm stretch narrow laces…

  5. Ruth McFarlane says:

    Very glad you are having this conversation and asking all these questions. I love your integrity and that’s why I’m happy to pay a bit more for my beautiful pants. Good jobs for good women, using good working practices and good fabrics. Sorry for boring repetition of “good” – but I do feel it’s the combination of all these elements that is important.
    Recycled fabrics are part of the appeal, but if you can’t get the right ones it’s more important that you keep other factors in mind, such as the production process and fair trade for those who make the fabric, which you are obviously taking into account. Would be great if the above mentioned scraps tore is able to help with sourcing, but if not, I have no problem with you exploring options in Turkey or Portugal as long as you retain the integrity of the company, which I know you will do.

    I am in awe of how you manage to juggle so many issues on a daily basis and still make such beautiful pants which make me happy every day. I can’t tell you how much simple pleasure I get from choosing which pair of your lovely pants to wear each day. Yours are now the only ones in my knicker drawer and my washing line is colourful and glamorous.
    Thanks to all the team and here’s to great times in 2015.

    • beckypants says:

      Ruth – thank you so – so – much for taking the time to reply to this today. I really appreciate it as we are doing a lot of that juggling right now and it *is* hard. I am delighted – and the team will be too – to know that you have such a wonderful washing line and knicker drawer. THANK YOU Ruth. Much obliged to you x

  6. I think that whatever you can do to continue to help as many women as possible, whilst minimising the impact of buying ‘new’ is the best thing to do.
    I think being able to positively impact the fabric trade by creating or encouraging fair trade, ethical wages and minimal ecological impact can only be a good thing.
    I trust you to do good things, and I think that branching out into ‘new’ could give you an opportunity to do even more good out there.

  7. dirtmother says:

    The name is “who made your pants”, not “what’s in your pants” so that’s the order of priority, just as everyone has said.

  8. Bethan says:

    Hallo, a friend sent me your link so I’m afraid I’m a newcomer but I work in a large clothing company and I’m very interested in fairtrade and/or recycled clothing. I wondered 2 things that might help (or might not but might be worth researching!). Firstly Peopletree.com could advise you perhaps on good places to source fairtrade fabrics. They make a large range of clothes and a lot of cotton jersey and bamboo-based products so they must have a good sourcing base.
    Secondly would it be worth asking the sustainability departments of large commercial companies if you could buy old stock off them (or even better they could donate it!)? The company I work for buys up large quantities of denim fabric (unfortunately not cotton jersey as they source all products made from that ready-to-wear) but at the end of each season there are large quantities sitting around some of which does not get adopted into the new season. I wonder if they would not be able to either donate or sell at a markdown that fabric to you? I would have offered to try to negotiate that with mine except as I say they’d only have denim to offer.
    Good luck with your sourcing decisions, whatever way you choose to go!

    • beckypants says:

      Hi Bethan and welcome!

      Thanks so much for this. You’re the second person who has suggested talking to People Tree which is really interesting in itself – thanks! In terms of asking the sustainability departments of commercial companies, that is a great idea and something we’d love to do when we are bigger. The supplier who we buy from actually does do exactly what you say = he deals with those companies direct and we know from talking to him that they way they want to work is to ship out containers stuffed with *everything* that they have left over – they don’t want to sort it. He has shipping containers arrive stuffed full of lace, lycra, elastic, net, hooks, rings, sliders, underwires, rigid fabrics, – we can only use about 20% of the *kinds* of things he has – we have no use for rigid fabrics for example – and of that 20%, only about 10% is stuff we like. We are *tiny* at the moment – far too small for them to talk to YET! And yet is an exciting word. The future is a big and exciting place!

  9. Tegan Jones says:

    Hi Becky, I think that whatever you choose, people will want to know the story behind the fabric, i.e.: which ones are reclaimed fabric, which ones are organic cellulose, etc, as this is what people love about the brand I think: all the transparency in all your production and sourcing, and in your discussions about them. I think we customers will trust WMYP in the decisions that you will take, and will find all the new products and fabric information very interesting to learn about! Keep making beautiful and sustainable pants 🙂

  10. Go for Modal if you can it’s one of my favourite fabrics, it’s so soft and holds it’s shape so well. I’m all for WMYP growing, and if that means no longer using reclaimed fabric then so be it!

  11. Pippa says:

    To me the main concern is the way people are treated so knowing that the fabric sourced was fair trade would be the number one priority and I think that can be hard to track. Large companies have struggled with this and have been lied to by middle men (although it’s never clear how hard they have actually tried to check facts!).
    I do think the idea of talking to People Tree is a good idea as they will have ideas on traceability. You can’t do everything and trying to verify working conditions is hard but it would be such a shame if the women you empower end up making pants from fabric that is sourced from sweatshop type conditions.
    I wonder if any fashion/textile students would be interested in doing a bit of research to help you? There could be a dissertation in it!

    • beckypants says:

      What a great idea Pippa! Love the idea of that dissertation! Thanks for the third vote for talking to People Tree too – good to know there is a broad agreement 🙂 Thank you!

  12. […] You may have read about this, and you may be aware that we’re considering our sourcing policy … […]

  13. Roobeedoo says:

    Have you thought about using a mix of woven and stretch fabrics? I just used a knicker sewing pattern from Ohhh Lulu that uses stretch fabric for the side panels and woven fabric cut on the bias for the back and front sections. That would increase your options for sourcing fabric.

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