Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

So here’s to you 2010…

Hello folks 🙂

It’s with a swing in my step, a tear in my eye and a sigh of relief escaping my lungs that I’m writing this. It’s my last day in the office until we reopen on the 4th January (the office is open until 5pm on the 23rd) and I’ve relaxed right into the year end. Forgive me if this waffles a bit but my brain really has switched out of work mode a bit and we’re all winding down, tidying up and making exciting plans.

WHAT a year it’s been for us. I really don’t think I’m allowed to say ‘I’m setting up a worker co-op’ any more – it’s here, it’s set up. It’s quite honestly amazing. For me, it’s hugely emotional. I say to my friends that whomadeyourpants? is like my baby – it takes all my money, keeps me awake at night and it’s all I think about. And I love it. Deeply, fiercely, protectively. I’m proud if it. Proud of what we do, and of every single person involved in it. I’m scared for it, that it might get hurt, break, go wrong, fall over. But mostly I am hopeful, so hopeful for it. I really believe that it, that we, have the power to change real lives. And when that happens, I am overwhelmed.

The headlines for our 2010 achievements are good reading – after months of struggling with designs and production problems, we’ve a product that works, that makes up beautifully, that women love to wear, and make. We’ve completed a year’s trading. Our income was about £70k, £30k of which was from the wonderful John Paul Getty Junior Charitable Trust ( I keep calling them John Paul George and Ringo, can’t help it) £12k of which was NON grant, which means that we are heading in the right direction towards being sustainable through our own efforts. We’ve a busy team of volunteers doing our admin and a dedicated sewing and cutting team that have stuck with us through what has been, at times, an ‘oh my god will it work will we be able to pay anyone will we ever get paid oh god can we pay the rent argh argh argh’ panic. We’re done events, made sales, we have sales reports and accounts procedures and filing cabinets and list of how everyone takes their tea. We’re a real business.

But the things that stick in my mind, that have made this year so amazing, are harder to measure, and they come under what we might call ‘social and environmental impact’ . Social enterprises are set up specifically to do social good so while ‘regular’ businesses measure just their financial bottom line, we look at triple, or even quadruple, bottom lines – financial, social, environmental. The things I’ll remember and take from this year that two of our workers have their own bank accounts now. They can keep, and use, and save or splurge their own money, for themselves, without anyone else having a say. I love this. One of our volunteers has turned from a timid soul into a proud and amazing women who runs our internal finance stuff (yes Debs, you) and makes us pants shaped cakes and biscuits. Our workers decided, themselves, to upcycle our fabric scraps into cushion stuffing. They also worked out how to amend a knicker pattern by themselves, without our designer even being here. This is awesome stuff, truly awesome. It shows that they were confident in their ability to do it, for one thing. Confidence would never show up on a traditional bottom line but it’s sure as hell what we exist for and measure. Three workers are cautiously showing interest in where we get our fabrics and how we decide on things – this means that they are edging towards team leader levels of knowledge and engagement, and are starting to understand that this is their business, that they can direct. This stuff is hard to measure but it’s why we exist. We’re about empowerment – and we’re doing it.

This time of year is always a mixed one for me and I hope you’ll indulge me for a minute. Long standing readers will know that one of big pushes for me into starting this was the empowerment I gained from having two and a half years counselling with the amazing and wonderful Rape Crisis in Southampton. Well, the anniversary of my rape is coming up – it’s over the 21st and 22nd December, and while every year it’s getting easier, it’s still a bit unknown and troublesome to say the least, and I never know how I’m going to feel or be. But this year, I’m sitting here writing this and knowing it’s coming and I know it’s going to hurt but I am able to look around me and think, bloody hell, all of THIS came out of me getting over THAT. For the first time, I’m feeling Christmassy before then, and it feels like I’ll have a two day drop out, rather than feeling like Christmas can’t even exist until afterwards. I’m not scared to be sad any more, and I’m not scared of it hurting. And while I will never be glad that it happened, I am so glad that this exists. And I am humbled, honoured and privileged to be able to work with so many amazing, amazing, brave and fabulous women. This is my silver lining, my rainbow. I love it, it’s as simple as that.

I personally want to take this opportunity to thank people who have made this year possible. In no particular order…

Allegra, Amina, Della, Joy, Norman, Debs, Aga, Aimee, Julia, Madalina, Margarita, Maryam, Siham, Pratima, Mary, Bernie, Tab, my bro, BW, Jennie, Chris, Dan, Marike and Nynke, Sophie, Rosie and Kevin, Emma, Chris and Janet, Andrea, Chris, Nina, Natalie, Catherine, Rob, Tara, Amanda, Eva, Sarah, Sam, Noelle, Supriya, Clare W… every one of my friends who never lets me go thirsty, and every single one of our customers. YOU make OUR work possible. Thank you.

If I’ve forgotten to mention to you, it’s just that I forgot to mention you, not that I forgot you. I’m sleepy 🙂

Lastly, but absolutely not least, there’s one more person to mention. It’s just over a year since Della knocked on our door and said she’d maybe possibly be interested in doing a bit of voluntary work for few months while she looked for a job. She’s still here, and has made sacrifices to be so. That sentence is tiny but the reality is huge – she has put her faith in this untried venture, with almost no security, and is STILL HERE. Where I am frantic, Della is calm. Where I am uniterruptable and focused on one thing at a time, Della spins twenty plates at once. Where I am the face of the business, Della is the nervous system. I tell her what I want to happen and she makes it be so. Della being here means I can not be I can go selling, exhibiting, talking, playing. And she calms me down when I am so busy I’m in tears, and helps me find my way through it. I’d say everyone should have one but I don’t want to share. And she just walked in with cake for me. Della – thank you.

You’ll have to wait for the January blog to find out what we’re up to next year, so comeback then. It’s going to be great. We’ve new fabric, big plans, possible a pants making tour… Until then, have a splendid Christmas everyone, or Saturnalia, or winterval or whatever you want to call it. If, like me, you plan to over indulge, feel free to buy a bigger size of pants in January.

Thanks to YOU for being here and supporting us. See you in the New Year 🙂

Becky

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Lush Pants!

Well look at me, breaking with tradition. It’s a Tuesday and I’m blogging!

It’s all go here at pants HQ today, we’ve a whopping four volunteers in, and things are getting done! We’re really busy – our sales are trickling upwards so there’s all the associated paperwork to deal with there, and we’re rushing like fury to get ready for a big funding bid, and our fab LushPants event this weekend.

So, what’s the news?

Let’s start with this. Our smasher of a volunteer, Debs, has been officially granted a work placement, here with us. This is totally brilliant for us, and we hope for her too. Debs came to us about a year ago, looking to change her career path. She’d done care work but was tired, as she put it, of wiping bums (well, that’s not exactly how she put it!) as she knew she could do so much more. Already on a bookkeeping course, she came in to do our admin and she has absolutely blossomed since she started with us. Like so many of the women we work with Debs had had a few knocks in life, and so her confidence was really not where it should have been. But now she bustles round the place, knows where more things are here than me, and the other volunteers go to her for help – it’s been a real delight to see her grow and start to shine. Just recently Debs won an award at her college course for ‘person who has come the furthest’ – she really has, we are dead proud of her, and really chuffed that for the next 13 weeks she is with us four days a week. Debs manages our internal finance function, and we’ve got this funny feeling that most of the office management is going to fall to her soon. Fingers crossed. ( I just asked her to read this to make sure she was happy with it. She said I’m going to make her head swell. My answer was that after 51 years, it’s time for a catch up.)

My plea to the internet for some new volunteers has been a bit of a brilliant success, and we’ve new people in who have skills to offer us. There will always be a place here for volunteers who need support, but it’s a huge difference to the smooth running of things to have people who can just get on. One volunteer TBC (nope, she’s not awaiting confirmation, that’s her initials) is a real life friend of mine who’s a qualified medical person but can’t find a job, another, O, came in for one morning and whizzed through getting a bunch of forms made up for us (this is the sort of thing that can take hours with unskilled volunteers, and holds up a lot of other stuff) and B is currently organising my upcoming trips to London. I’ve quite a few at the same time as we expect to be Christmas busy here, so I will be quite tired I think. Our regular volunteers A and S are cracking on – S is supporting the fundraising function, and doing a great job of keeping up with my chaotic workload. And A is back from holidays to fight with our recalcitrant printer and, we hope, get some compliment slips designed soon. Woo, look at us with our grown up stationery!

I’ll not mention the name of the funder we are applying to but we’re building a bid for a hundred ish thousand over three years. It sounds a lot but when you think about it, that’s, say, £33k a year, to contribute to me, Della, rent, training programmes, rates, not to mention worker salaries – it doesn’t go far. We’re applying in what’s called a ‘front loaded’ way – say £50k in year one, £30k in year 2, £20 in year three, as we anticipate sales going up and we’ll need less as the years pass. It’s a balancing act – we’ve got to tell the story of us, why we’re needed and what we do without sounding desperate for cash.

We’re eagerly awaiting delivery of our first Lush funded case studies, which you, you you! will be able to get your hands on if you come and see us at the Lush Southampton store this weekend. We’ll be there from 10ish on Saturday til about 4, and then 11 til about 3 on Sunday, with some pants pieces, a sewing machine and advice – so YOU can have a go at making pants. It’ll cost £7.50 for you to have a go and take away the result, and we’ll be selling the ones we made earlier for £10 – or if you want to compare and contrast yours with our, £15 for the two. Bargain! Plus if you’ve ever wanted to get your hands on our snazzy T shirts, or badges, or even our album (which I’d like someone to mastermind a plan for – can we make it, or a song from it, Christmas number one?) we’ll be there, possibly with bells on, celebrating almost one year of trading. How far we’ve come!

In other wee bits of news, I went to a tea party in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières last week, and was invited to take our pants along. There was a nice amount of interest and plenty of cake! I’ve taken to carrying a sample pack with me everywhere I go, lest I otherwise start flashing mine.. not the best look, I’m sure you’ll agree! Also, we’re scooting ahead into next year and our Valentine pants are taking shape nicely. Let’s get Christmas out of the way first though, eh?

We’re very much counting down to the end of the year and the start of a new one. Our to do list for 2011 is now taking up half a flip chart page, and it’s nice to be able to put stuff there and take it out of mine and Della’s minds! We’re starting to feel just a tiny bit more secure every week, and we’re hopeful that this continues. With your help it will – every tiny bit of revenue we get is a step towards us being sustainable on our own work, not through grant funders. YOU can help US make a real difference to REAL WOMEN – and get yourself some fabtastic pants into the bargain. Go ahead – make our day!

xx

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Parties and purple pants

Well hello hello hello! It’s been aaaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggggesssssssssss.. How have you been? Have you missed me? I have missed you!

As a whole bunch of people have asked where I’ve been, I’m going to skip briefly over what’s happened with me, then tell you what’s been happening here, and then tell you all the exciting things that we’re in the middle of. It’s a very exciting time indeed.

After I went and spoke at a Managers meeting for the fab and wonderful http://www.lush.co.uk in Croydon, I was scheduled to have six days off. That ended up being four weeks as I just conked out. It was pointed out to me that I’d been running on adrenaline for over two years and my body just gave up on me. Being a member of our co-op, I had no choice but to listen to my Committee and I was told, in no uncertain terms, to take some time off and rest. It’s easier said than done sometimes but as it was, I managed it. I soaked my troubles away with Lush Ballistics and read and slept and am now back full of pants passion and fervour.

While I was away, things carried on swimmingly. Della really is quite brilliant at operationsy type work and everything just kept happening. Not only do we have boxes of perfect pants in every colour and size, (I’m going to keep on telling you we have loads of pants – every time I mention it is a hint for you to GO HERE http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk AND BUY SOME) but the offices have been moved around to make better us of the space and people have really taken hold of their work. Who would have thought that removing the control freak would allow everyone else the space to get on? Debs is coming on leaps and bounds with her finance capabilities (and confidence, which is IMHO even more important) and Pratima has come in to help too. We’ve new (wombled) filing cabinets, clothes rails, shelves and stacking trays and everything is getting a lot more organised. Dispatch is so much easier now we have pants a plenty to ship. Even my dear ole Mum has bought some, and she hadn’t told me!

Being away gave me the space and perspective to really see and appreciate how far things have come. I can no longer talk about how I am ‘starting’ a knicker business – it’s here, we’ve filed accounts, we’ve bills to pay and suppliers and rent and products and offices and paperwork (masses) and it’s really here. We’re a real hard core of dedicated workers and volunteers and it’s just a lovely place to be. I’m now based largely out of the office as I’m off at meetings, conferences, speaking engagements and the like, but I can’t stay away for long. I miss everyone! I do love the being out and about though – what I am really good at is talking, and talking about something I love. And I love pants! So getting out to shops, events and conferences is the best work I could be doing. Love it.

Next week, excitingly I have been given a complimentary place at the Media Trust event – we’ve been featured in their Annual Report, with a photo, talking about how great it’s been for me to work with Chris Smith of Swarm Communication. I met Chris, as you may remember, through an UnLtd and Media Trust Media Matching event and he’s been stonkingly brilliant. He has recently introduced me to Janet Awe of Awesome Communication (I love that name) who is sparky and brilliant and has bags of experience, so we hope to get a bunch more coverage soon. Aligned with that, and with my love of talking, we are having a partttttttttttayyyyy with the Southampton Lush store on the 27th and 28th November, and Lush TV are coming to film us! We’ll be making some pants in store and selling them – come along, meet some of the people who make them and have a go yourself!

So, pants, how can I not talk about our AMAZING, SMASHING, COMFORTABLE, EASY WASH, pants?! Our Aimee collection is really beautiful as you all know, and sales are gently ticking up wards – if you’ve helped with this, thank you – if not, you know what to do! We’ve nearly made up all the bright purple fabric, and will be moving onto a darker colour – this is a perfect example of our WIGIG, or When It’s Gone, It’s Gone way of working. We bought 600 metres of the bright purple, as that was all we could get, and then 900 metres of another purple, to make up 1500 metres. This should yield about 1000 pairs of purple pants in total. Simples! However, the bright purple is our biggest seller at the moment, so if you like them.. now’s the time girls!

We’re already sourcing new colours – our faves are basic black and then some cheerful brights as no-one, no-one can feel miserable in happy PINK pants and we’re not about boring beige or grumpy grey. I believe, hard, that one of our key messages to the world is that ethical can be FUN and PRETTY not worthy and dull. What colours would you like? I wonder if we can find an ethical dyer to do a colour match thing, you know, like when you get paint made up to match your, um, well I got mine made to match one of my feather boas. You know the thing I mean 🙂

Anyway, enough of that. Funding is still a big issue for us and we have a new volunteer helping specifically with that. She is halving my work by sifting all the possibilities and telling me which ones we are eligible for, and filling in bits of forms too. We also, hooray hooray, have been awarded just under £6k to fund us recruiting more women, hooray hooray hooray, thank YOU Faiths in Action! There are other new volunteers around but we are still looking for support around our website – if you know anyone who would like to help us with uploading content and testing, please let me know as right now, the burden is shouldered by just one person. We could also do with a free, full time IT/tech support person who knows Linux (ubuntu) as our excellent volunteers are really pushed at the moment. But such is the way of things – we’re good at making do and mending, it’s part of our ethos!

I think that pretty much covers everything that’s buzzing about at the moment. We’re still doing the boring stuff like making sure our policies and procedures are all up to date, and getting reporting structures and routines laid out embedded – but I strongly suspect you’d rather hear the fun stuff. Do tell if not!

Glad to be back folks – more again soon

xx

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Our new collection, Prince Charles’ garden and fixing brakes.

Well helloooo everyobody!

It’s been ages since I wrote and so much has happened – again! My last post was.. blimey, the 4th of August! Right, let’s try and address this in a sensible order

After the Guardian article we had a flurry of orders and activity and contacts, all kinds of things were being suggested and talked about – film people, interviews.. it’s died down a bit now, which is a mixed thing. Good that I can get on with other stuff but less good in that we’re -Ta dah!- launched our Aimee collection and now want to start ramping up the publicity stuff .

Fortunately, the ever wonderful Chris Smith of Swarm Communications and another brilliant fashion PR person called Nicola are on the case. I met both of these great people through the Media Trust Media Matchign event, hosted by UnLtd Between them, they are preparing releases for various publications and we’re hoping to get into some of the Seasonal issues of magazines ( I am not using the C word yet, even though I saw mince pies in the co-op the other day)

Our brilliant designer Emma Kidd has been back and a lovely little twist on our Aimee short has been created. It’s sweet and pretty and we’ll be making a limited Seasonal (dammit, nearly used the C word again) range. Same price as ever, just a bit pretty pretty. More on that soon…

My role in whomadeyourpants? is changing as we dvelop and that’s a good but sometimes hard thing. A year ago, I was managing EVERYTHING and doing bits of almost everything. Now the supercalifragilistic expealidocious Della is managing all the stuff that goes on inside the business, and I’m getting more involved in the public face stuff, which is as it should be. We’re absolutely delighted to have been asked to host a workshop in Prince Charles’ Garden as part of an upcyling fashion thingummy curated by Vivienne Westwood. And we are starting to work with the lovely Lush team in Southampton more. I’m off to a meeting tomorrow to discuss being part of an Alternative Freshers Fair, and we’ll be having a pants party with them on the 27th and 28th of November in the Southampton store – come along! Plus I’ve been asked to speak at their Croydon HQ on the 22nd September and am chuffed to bits to be able to meet their head honcho and talk about how they grew and how it has happened for the. I’m really looking forward to it.

Supporting all this change in my role is tricky – I’m used to having to be the sorting our person and now I’m having to learn to not do that and to point people to other people. I am no longer Ms Fix It. SO I’m hoping to get some mentoring from a woman called Tara who did ace work on our business plan wit me, for nothing, all as a volunteer. There is a fund available to support this so I’m hoping to be successful.

How can I not talk about the photo shoot! I was 34 on the 12th August and did not celebrate by shooting grouse but by getting all gussied up in a corset and having a house full of knickers, pop tunes, cake and lovely kind models, stylists, assistants, designers and photographers. Mikey Palmer really took one for the team by coming and taking the photos, the fab fab fab Heidi from http://www.cherryonthecake.org.uk made us some gorgeous cupcakes as props and the sun even shone for a bit. It was a really great day, we did some inside my house and some in the garden, with a nice little tea party theme emerging. Some of the pics are up online at http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk now, the one on the front page of Leanne is so gorgeous. Other pics will be used for press and still others will go onto the site in the near future. We had great fun getting made up and posing and with comments like, ‘it’s the most fun you can have with your trousers off and your pants on’ from the models, I was very reassured that they’d had a good day. The cakes were delicious and the whole day – though knackering – was a brilliant way for me to spend my birthday.

After the 12th, I was shattered, Della was shattered and with it being Ramadan and the women not wanting to come to training, we decided to have a proper shut down. We were closed from the 19th to the 31st August for a much needed break. I ended up having to work for parts of about half the days I was off, and Della did two full days as well, but it was all about stuff we felt couldn’t be ignored. I think we both feel we had a reasonably good break, and I’m enormously grateful to my lovely PA Madalina who fielded phone calls and emails for me while writing her dissertation!

I’ve had a chance to do a few more ‘me’ things recently, which has been lovely. I went on a bike maintenance course provided by Sustrans http://www.sustrans.org.uk so I can change my own brakes (even though it would be easier with three hands, I can do it) and things now, and went to the lovely Beautiful Days Festival. Last Saturday I also went to the local Pulse Festival. I know Olly who is the bass player in subgiant, the band who headlined – he’d offered us a stall there but we weren’t in a position to accept it this year so I went along to support anyway. I caught up with the Southampton Lush team and Olly and sincerely hope that Sunnyfields host it again next year so there can be another one. It was brilliant. It wasn’t exactly and entirely a non work day – I took pants to show people and spent some time with a colleague from Community Action Hampshire – but pants are my life now and so it was still happy lovely fun times.

Our volunteering team has been shifting and changing a bit recently. A number of our volunteers are students and do the academic year affects availability. We’ve still got Aga, Debs, Madalina and Maryam coming on site regularly, but are about to start advertising for new roles. We’ve worked out that in addition to the above we need…

PA (5 x half days per week)
Office Manager (we need this full time but it can be shared between two people)
Admin/HR/Dispatch/Housekeeping (we need the equivalent of two people full time but this can be made up of lots of people doing various shifts. Minimum commitment 2 x half days per week per volunteer)
Fund-raising prospecting (6-8 hours per week)
Sales/Supplier prospecting(6-8 hours per week)
Web test and content upload (7 hours per week)
Systems Administration (3 hours per week)

there may be more but these are what we know for sure now. If you’ve some time you’d like to offer, we’d love to hear from you! All positions are onsite at our accessible Southampton premises, and there is nearly always cake. Email us at time@whomadeyourpants.co.uk

I think that’s about it for now. We’re building stock levels of our lovely Aimee pants as even through Ramadan, some of the women have come in. The pants really are pretty just look here

I’ll try to write before another month is out but next week I’ll be at Clarence House and the week after at the Lush event. It will be soon, promise!

Hope you are all well and staying dry!

Becky

x

(oh my god – I have made clicky links! Yay me!)

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We don’t want your money. Yet. (New pants, special offer. Woo!)

Right folks, I’ve been excitedly talking about our new collection for a while now and we hope (the red threads are apparently drying after dyeing. We were told to expect them end last week and they are not here yet…) to have some of everything made by the end of the 11th August. It’s my birthday on the 12th so how wonderful would it be if they were all ready and everything was good! Fingers crossed. The collection proper is due for launch during September (the sewing team will be observing Ramadan August 9 to September 11 so we may be down on attendance) but we’ll be building stocks up until then.

We’re delighted to be able to say that we are, from today, accepting pre orders for our new collection. Just like Jasmine, they are £10 a go, and P&P for one or two pairs (two is the most we can get in the box) is £2.50. We’re not taking your money (yet), just your orders. We’ll add your orders to our database when the pants are ready, send you an email and (if appropriate) a discount code, and bob’s your auntie, all you’ll need to do is log in and pay.

My very bad photos below will show you the very first attempts at pants in each colour – they will all be finished with a hand stitched flat flower bow centre front, scarlet on red, pink on purple and purple on black.

Everyone who ordered pants last time will be eligible for a 20% discount, and everyone who orders via twitter or facebook will be too. All you need to do is email pantsfutures@whomadeyourpants.co.uk with the following info

Title
First Name
Last Name
Address
Postcode
Contact number
Size
Choice of colour
How many pairs you want
Have you ordered before?
What was the special secret twitter offer secret code?
What was the secret special facebook offer secret code?

Very bad photos here ravishing red pants, perfectly pretty purple, brilliant beautiful black

Let me know what you think folks. Feel free to pass on the offers to friends.. spread the love

Becky

x

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I’d better just get out of these wet things…

I’ve just had the most fantastic day and wanted to tell you all about it. And I need to remember that my job is about more than stress and work, it’s about brilliant women, empowerment and FUN so I hope writing this and posting it will help me do just that.

Today was our whomadeyourpants? picnic on Southampton Common. It started as a part of some funded work we do to encourage the women we work with to go to places they might not otherwise, but it’s ended up as being so much more than that. It bought together trainees, volunteers, me and Della, and some truly fab children. I’m writing this, still soaked to the skin, after a number of raucous dips in the paddling pools and screaming joyous drenchings under the sprinklers in the pools. It’s a good thing I wore my usual uniform of ‘clothes I can fall off my bike in’ else I’d have ruined something decent. Nothing would have stopped me going in.

My day started with our fab volunteer Deb and a trip to a well known partnership grocery store to buy provisions. I had absolutely no idea how many people were coming as while people had said they would, it was a bit grey and people do often say they will come and then change their minds. So we bought more than our modest little trolley could carry and I had to play grocery tetris to fit it all in. I biked to the common and met Deb and her precious, delicious, grand daughter there and between us we moved the stacks of stuff to a blanket near the play area and pools. It was, by this time, drizzling, and there was a cohort of wasps making welcoming gestures. Perfect. Debs headed off to collect grand daughter number 2 and I was left guarding the stocks.

The plan was that some trainees and volunteers would meet me at the common, and some would meet Della at the office, to walk up together. As I sat, alone on my blanket, rain bouncing off the bags of summer food around me, I spent quite some contemplating what on earth I was doing. The rain passed though and a hasty phone call between Della and I agreed that yes, we would go for it. Even when everyone had arrived, I have to admit I was making the best of it as the rain reappeared and everyone started covering their plates up to keep the food dry. Oh, the stereotypicalness of it all!

Thankfully, the rain passed again and it stayed greyish, but warm, so we had the great benefit of not needing acres of sunscreen and protection from melting. whomadeyourpants? baby number 3 came to meet us, four weeks old and gorgeous, with his 7 year old brother and bigger sister (and Mum, of course), one woman brought her two six year old twins, and Debs brought her two grand daughters. I have to admit, as soon as the children arrived, I was in my element. And when Della suggested we (they?) go to the paddling pools.. well.. I actually ran.

The twins, the 7 year old and his big sister and I made a beeline for the pools and I was delighted that there were none of these silly signs saying grown ups couldn’t play. We had so much fun. especially when boy child and one of the twins shed layers and started properly playing. I made no such change, just waded in as I was and got soaked. Repeatedly. There are two fountains spraying water around and the children were a bit wary of them so I was brave and went though them to make them laugh, which worked ahttps://beckypants.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php treat. One of the fountains was like a big ball with holes in, at a level that children could sit on. So about 7 children would sit on it, block up all the holes, and then jump off at once, catching wanderers past a right ding in the ear with mains pressure jets of water. Much, much screaming, yelling and fun. Can you tell I enjoyed myself?

When we eventually got out of the water, I wrung out my clothes as best I could and we made our way back to the food. It was lovely. Some people stayed for the whole time, others made flying visits, but it was great for everyone to meet some volunteers come in on days when there is no sewing, so never get to meet the rest of the team.

There was plenty more playing after more food, climbing frames, slides (actually, the slides were earlier, I was far to soggy to slide. I’d have squeaked) swings, and singing. The 7 year old boy child and his big sister did some lovely singing in the round as they were attempting to tip me upside down in one of those big flat round bowl swings. I think I was as disappointed as them when we realised the grown ups were packing up. It was a truly brilliant day, lovely for the trainees to bring their kids, big and small, lovely to get everyone together and lovely to have time to spend time with the lovely, amazing and frankly awe inspiring women I consider myself privileged to work with. Absolutely brilliant.

I believe there might be photos from today.. I’ll post if I can find them. And I’m sure there’s more news in general from the last few weeks – of course there is. We’re just about to start production of the new collection, so hands on your wallets folks, we’ll be getting photos taken and up onto site soon, and asking you to support us soooooon. We’re aware that the quality of the last collection was..patchy so will be offering a discount to anyone who bought from the Jasmine collection and said we could mail them as a thank you and ‘see how great our pants are now’ incentive.

As a last bit of news, er, I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say yet, but I’m buying the Guardian tomorrow and planning to read the Society pages first. You might want to, as well.

More soon folks 🙂

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I’ve stopped shaking now.

Hello everybody and welcome to this, possible one of the happiest blog posts I’ve ever written. It’s been an immensely busy and productive few weeks, hence me not being here to write. Goodness, apart from a tiny little post at the end of June, I’ve not written since May! So much to report. Where shall I start? At the very beginning?

On the 31st of May, I opened the door of my house to Emma Kidd, a brilliant and experienced lingerie product designer and developer, who left the trade because of a lot of the ethics and what she saw. She had contacted me in November last year off the back of a blog post we’d had posted on Ethical Junction, saying she loved what we were doing and could she help. We’d talked for a while, and arranged that she would come and visit and have a look around. And so, on the 31st, she stepped off a train and into whomadeyourpants? land.

As you’ll know, we’ve had some issues about production – quality has been inconsistent at times and we’ve had troubles with machines. Emma took one look at the place and our design and with her experienced eye, spotted a bunch of things we can improve in quick step short time to make our quality better and our productivity leap. She’s back again today, and thanks to some Southampton City Council funding can come back a few more times. We have a GORGEOUS new design (look here. http://twitgoo.com/1790z9 You’ll have to lean your head to the right as I can’t work out how to rotate the photo – doh!) and it’s easy and quick and gorgeous and has just the right amount of challenge for the women to be able to really own it. It’s perfect. Emma, we love you.

There’s a whole lot more new going on too. We have some new trainees – so many of our went off to have gorgeous babies or were sick, we had to recruit fast. Some of the new women already have skills, which is ace, as they are showing our existing women new ways to work and inspiring them. It’s fab.

I actually took some leave, sort of, in mid June. Apart from the fact that I came in on the 16th to speak to a broadsheet journalist (the article isn’t out yet so can’t say who) and then went off and chaired a Women’s Forum meeting on the 17th. But I had a fab solstice day, digging up my garden and clearing rubble. It was lovely working in the sun, getting tan lines ( I want to be more stripy. Animals have more than one colour on at a time but people don’t. Not naturally at least. It’s horrifically unfair) and building a fab insect house out of old rotten tree stumps. A bee came and had a look straight away, which made me happy.

The first ever Co-operatives Fortnight started on the 17th June too, and I was invited to speak at Co-operatives South East AGM, which I happily did. On the day of an England game. In a room, with windows open, opposite a pub with doors and windows open. Interesting! I also spoke at a Co-operative Regional Membership event on the 5th July, at the Art House in Southampton, which was fun. I was very very proud to accept a Co-operatives UK 2010 award there – we were recognised by them for our contribution to Innovation, Creativity and Excellence. Sadly, I was not able to attend the Congress Dinner in Plymouth and accept the award in person due to admin error, but the lovely Ian Rothwell collected it for us and a pretty handmade plate has now made it, in one piece, to my office.

On a less glamourpuss note, we’ve realised that we really need some support with and for our admin team of volunteers. They are all fab and enthusiastic people who will all turn their hands to anything, and they deserve more time than I can give them in terms of help. I’m always rushing round at a million miles an hour doing 15 things at once and so it’s hard for them to ask if they just have a quick question. We advertised the volunteer post of Office and Volunteer Manager at both local Universities and through Southampton Voluntary Services, and we’ve had some great applicants. So far it looks like we’ve found a person for that post and also someone who can be a bit more PA type person for me. I generate huge amounts of admin and regularly spend half a day on it myself, and I need to be doing MD work (so I’ve been told) so we’re hopeful. Both women have agreed to come in tomorrow for a trial shift. Exciting! We’re looking for some support on bookkeeping too as our current, brilliant volunteer has to leave us. If you can help, please get in touch.

Let’s finish on a high. The reason for the headline this time round is not a song, nor a Sesame Street tribute. It’s just the truth. We’ve had some good funding news. £2000 from Southampton City Council, £3500 from the Hilden Charitable Fund, and then yesterday afternoon, I opened an envelope containing a cheque for £30,000. Look at all those zeroes!

£30,000. £30,000!

On seeing this, I let out an involuntary scream in the middle of the car park, and ran back into the building, terrifying two poor men in the process. I could barely open the door and just ran in screaming for Della. I was having trouble standing at this point, and when Della took the letter off me and read out that we’d been awarded £60,000 over three years, I actually slid down the wall I’d been leaning on and ended up on the floor. I don’t know how long I sat on the floor and I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or what. I couldn’t read the letter, I couldn’t even hold it I was shaking so much.

When I eventually calmed down (a bit) I cycled into town, via the lovely Allegra’s office for a special Allegra hug, and banked the cheque, and came on back to the offices where I had a mammoth adrenaline crash. It’s not really sunk in to be honest but it’s frankly astonishingly good news. It’s specifically to pay rent and a bit of salary for me – life saving. If I sit and think about it for more than a second I get all shaky again. The fact that someone believe in this, and me, so much that they are prepared to put that in is something I don’t know how to cope with.

But I’d like to learn, so if anyone else has £60k lying around, let me know, eh?

🙂

That’s all for today folks, sorry for the long radio silence but I hope you’ll agree I’m back with a blinking great bang 🙂

More soon

Becky

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We won!

Blimey Charlie, how amazing is this! We’re a teeny tiny co-op, and we have won a splendid award from Co-operatives UK. No category as such but we were recognised for or contribution to innovation, creativity and excellence. Much awesome.

We won!

Ian Rothwell of Co-operative and Community Finance accepting on our behalf

We heard too late to go and so the lovely Ian accepted on our behalf – how very very fab. Thank you EVERYONE who has helped my mad idea for pink pants get this far and for believing in us, and me. I loves you all, I do.

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Power to the Small Massive, 2 Faces and a 52 day old sweetheart

Morning everybody,

Today’s blog is brought to you by the Asian Dub Foundation songs 2 Face, largely because my experience of today has been one of two distinct halves already, and Power to the Small Massive because I feel that we are tiny in a giant sea, and the number 52 which is how many days whomadeyourpants? baby number 2 has been outside his mum and in the world.

I wrote the first part of this this morning, and the second part after 52 day old young man came in. He lifted my spirits and the love and joy on his mum’s face reminded me of why I do this. So while I make no apology for the downbeat nature of the first part of this, the second needs no explanation. I suspect you clever lot will see where the join between the two parts is and where he came in!

Blimey, what a day I am having. I can hear laughter from the sewing room, and I’m glad the women are having fun. But I’ve been having a hard day. I was undecided about whether or not to share it with you but I thought, we’re all about honesty and this is the truth. Today has been, already, very hard.

Out of the 15 women we expected today, 10 arrived. Four let us know they would not be in. They are due in at 9.45 to be ready to start at 10. Four were here before 10, the rest late. We’d dealt with this timekeeping issue, and so I’m really worried that it’s slipping again. Why is it indicative of, I wonder? I had planned to have a talk with a few of the women one to one just to review last weeks meeting and see how they feel about things – I’m aware that we heard a lot from a vocal few and want to make sure the quieter people have a chance to speak. But they weren’t here in time for me to do that. So I couldn’t. And I still have no idea how they feel, or whether they are happy to keep on training. I really want them to understand deeply that they are key to this and that we need them, and they need themselves – we’re not a support agency, we’re one that rewards putting in and once they are qualified and able to work without a teacher, that will mean they are capable of producing enough product to support their wages. Right now that is not the case and I’m entertaining all sorts of possibilities – will they all leave? Are they erally unhappy, are their families? Do they really expect to be paid when they can’t do the job? We can’t support passengers, especially not at this early stage.

Alongside this, on my to do list for today is: prepare our Annual Returns, our AGM, our next Committee meeting, our invoices. Map attendance, fix computers, finalise six policies and associated procedures, find new suppliers and arrange visits, prepare for another co-op AGM I’m speaking at, work on writing four funding bids and trawl for more opportunities. Do the Quality check of all pants made today. Work out how to get the NVQ we have been promising delivered. Find a college partner. Contact our new Sector Skills Council. Task volunteers with getting an answerphone, scanner and computers working. Build a year plan of key dates including training, intakes, sales, production, designs volunteers. Customer Service. Website development issues and planning. Plan some marketing and sales, do some of each. Work on some broad refugee issues and one specific query from one of the women. Send details of people who have approached me as about volunteering to one of our team who collates approaches and arranges inductions. I feel like I am drowning and I have spent much of this morning gripped by panic. I don’t give up easily, and I don’t want to give this up, but there are some days when it feels very very hard and it’s really difficult, lemon difficult, to feel that this is cared about by the people it’s being built for. And then I feel terribly presumptive – no-one asked me to do this, I decided to do it and I’m not in it for glory or fame or money – but I’d like to think people actually wanted to be part of it. And I can;t help but feel a bit hurt when there’s an intimation that it’s all about the cash.

I’m clinging to the fact that I know a lot of this is down to the fact that right now every aspect of EVEYTHING here is hard and do there are no safe and easy areas I can retreat to and reassure myself they are going well. I know it’s would be easier to cope with the difficulties if we were more stable financially. I know I’d be less worried about money if we were producing masses of saleable pants. But we’re broke and producing just enough to cover our current orders. To grow and succeed, we need to get me out selling pants and that’s just not possible right now.

Ooooh… what a lovely interlude! One of our lovely women has just popped in with her little boy, whomadeyourpants? baby number 2. He is GORGEOUS and was doing that determined sleeping that babies do. Mum decided that I needed to see his big brown eyes and so poked him gently til he woke up – in a very loving way, but there was poking. He’s adorable. They were able to stay for lunch and so everyone cooed and looked and congratulated. The women shared stories of what cultural things happen around birth where they are from – in the Sudan, apparently, in both Muslim and Christian areas, the mum stays home for 40 days after birth. Visitors are allowed, but mum stays home. In the Emirates, where some women have lived, this is not the case and mum can go out but often stays home for a week to recover. We had a lovely lunch together again, and now the women are back to work and so am I.

So, let’s think, what’s been going on over the last week. I’m sure there’s been some big story in the news.. oh yes, that’s right, there’s been that small matter of the election. I’m very unsure of how things will pan out, as of course are we all, we’re none of us soothsayers. I have to say though, I am very reluctant to think that Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ idea will clean up all the problems. I found it very odd to hear a Tory campaign talking about worker ownership, and on reading their Manifesto ( I am such a policy nerd, really) I found little to persuade me that it was about anything more than cheap outsourcing of service delivery.

In other news, I had a long weekend and needed it. I cycled to Winchester and back on Friday with a friend, and had vegetarian fish and chips for lunch, which was fun. And I had a smashing day in a bluebell wood singing the teddy bears picnic song at the top of my voice with my niece. We also went to the Romsey Green Fair, organised by Transition Town Romsey, which was fun. I had a day to myself on Sunday, which nearly drove me spare – I cope badly with having nothing to do – and then on Monday I did chores and met someone who has applied to be a Committee Member for dinner. We’ll find out at the next meeting if she is to be elected but I will certainly vote for her – she has a wealth of commercial experiences that will be really helpful, and she ‘gets’ me which will also be fab.

I’m feeling far better now than I was earlier (and thank you my twitter friends for the advice and support) and I’m riding a wave of calming tranquilliser-ish hormones. My wonderful counsellor at the Rape Crisis used to say that tears had a reward, a dose of natural calming tranquillisers. I like them. I’m still worried though. It seems that fully one third of our lovely women have serious hospital related ongoing health issues. This seems hugely disproportionate to me. And, to be very frank, when they have appointments on Wednesdays, as many do today, we really notice that they are not here. As this group only come in on Wednesdays, losing one session really hits productivity and ongoing learning. And it baffles me – how can people say they want more lessons, they want longer lessons – and then not show? We’ve talked about trying to get hospital appointments on days that are not Wednesdays, and we’ve also talked about letting us know about appointments in advance, for example, when the letter arrives. But it’s always last minute and that makes it immensely difficult to plan.

This is all a learning curve for me and for us, and no doubt for you too. I hope my honesty about how hard things can be comes across as it is – a report on the reality rather than a whine. Please let me know. I want to be open about what we do, and how we do it – and I think that means sharing the highs and the lows, the successes and the slog to get there Today of all days I want to say thank you for reading and supporting. Even when the office is full, I can feel very alone here and knowing there are people out there cheering us on really helps.

Excerpt from Power to the Small Massive

This one goes out to the people
Under pressure Under ground
Out to the voiceless to the restless
Stirring the nation with their sound
Can you feelin the vibe generate new energy
Got to rise up from the ashes got to restart history
Power 2 U if you wanna break loose

Until next week

Becky

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Brown eyed girl… (and why we don’t yet do man pants)

Morning all!

Well, spring has put in an appearance and now, by the looks of today, disappeared again. Hope it comes back soon.

I am feeling much, much refreshed after my break and I am pleased to report that Della is back in the office, her flat, partner and animals all safe though shaken since that terrible fire.

In other news. Our first ever whomadeyourpants? baby has been to visit us today! Five weeks old and gorgeous, the prettiest eyes and apparently a joy to the family as her dad is one of seven boys! She and mum are doing really well. Mum is hoping to come back to work in two weeks as long as her husband can look after baby while she is here. It’ll only be for about four hours in total but for a lot of the families we work with, childcare is a huge issue. A lot of the husbands have jobs with lowish pay and long hours and very little security (one person I spoke to works for an agency and told me that days off sick were almost punished as no more work would be give that week. A day off for an appointment or a lesson was the same), so taking time out is a struggle. But it’s great to know she wants to come back to us and it was really lovely to meet the little one.

Lots of other things have been happening, particularly around fundraising. We are preparing for the John Paul Getty Junior Trust visit next week, and the Hilden Charitable Fund are coming to see us the week after. I’m writing bids for about six other funds too, and we are awaiting decisions from two other funders. Let’s hope they say yes! Sophie from Lush came to see us yesterday, as we have applied to their Charity Pot Fund to pay for the development of case studies on each of our women. We want to show people what life is really like for refugees, and explain why they are here. Plus I have a personal mission to get the UK to understand the difference between migrant, immigrant, illegal immigrant, economic migrant, asylum seeker and refugee (a post for another day) See photos of Sophie’s visit here http://www.facebook.com/charitypot?v=wall and we had a great chat. I’m hoping to work with Lush locally as well as they, like us, are driven by ethics.

If you’ve followed that facebook link above, you’ll see that the question was raised there about why we don’t do boy pants. This was also flagged in the comments following Lucy Siegle’s mention of us in her Observer column. We do plan to do pants for men, and children, but not yet. And there are two main reasons why – short version is 1) All in good time… Our women are learning one thing at a time (and we only launched in December 09) and 2)we use upcycled fabrics for our pants, which tend to be synthetics. I’m not, personally, sure how many mens or kids pants are made of synthetics so we’d need to look for another supplier. Again… all in good time.

Here’s the longer story

We currently make three styles in three colours in eight sizes – a total of 72 products. To get to an agreed design we commission a series of designs (which costs money) and then select the sort we like best. Revisions are then done (which costs money) and we then tweak and test and show people until we are happy. The picture is then turned into a design (which costs money), usually in a size 10 or 12, and a mock up pair made (which costs money). This is then tweaked and tested and shown around until we are happy (which costs money). Once the final design is agreed, there is a process called ‘grading’ which is where the pattern is scaled up and down to the rest of our size range. This is a very skilled job (it all is, as I’m sure you can tell) and therefore.. costs money..

Once we have the grading set, patterns are produced for each panel. There are all manner of ways this can be done in industry, all of which.. cost lots of money. And as we are currently new, tiny and poor, we do it old skool way with each pattern piece cut out of interfacing (a stiffish sort of cloth which goes into collars). This means that every pair of pants is hand cut, every pattern piece hand cut.. it is very labour intensive – three women cut every week, six sit at machines, and one hand sews bows on. And regular readers will know that our teams only sew for three hours a week each, and we only have two teams right now. We are aiming for ten teams (imagine, us being able to help 100 women a week!) but.. all in good time.

The second point, on the materials, is something scheduled for investigation in 2011 and launch in 2012. We buy fabrics from people who buy fabrics from lingerie companies at the end of season, or when there have been overruns or, for whatever reason, there is surplus fabric around. We do this as I think it is better to diver materials from landfill than it is to produce virgin materials – upcycling is one of the key principles of whomadeyourpants?

It is relatively easy to get lingerie fabrics this way, but I have not yet looked into the availability of the sorts of stuff man pants are made of.. and I’m suspecting that guys, mostly, don’t want pink lace. I’m guessing most man pants are cotton, so we need to find a supplier of upcycled cotton (and relevant elastics etc if possible) in the quantity we would need.

The overarching thing is.. all in good time. I have grand plans and huge ambitions for ridding the world of sweatshops and empowering women through work, and of course, producing really great pants… but we have to get what we are doing now right first. Our very first employees, recruited December 1st 2009, are still training on the job, and we are still working how to do this thing we call whomadeyourpants? It’s brilliant that so many people want us to expand our product range so, if I might be so bold, might I suggest you sign up to our mailing list (or RSS this blog, or become a fan on facebook) to be among the first to hear about any new products as and when we can.

Thanks for reading everyone, it’s tea break time now so I’m off for a caffeine fix. Catch you next week!

Becky

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