Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

It’s not all ha ha hee hee*

Today has been a really tough day. A day where I threw my phone** across the room in sheer frustration and only then realised how angry I was. A day where not one thing worked easily, where everything I wanted to do needed five things to be done before I could do it. A friend of mine kindly got in touch and asked what was wrong – he may have regretted doing so. But after I offloaded he suggested maybe I share it in a blog post – I normally try to be cheery but really, it’s not all smiles and roses. I hope you don’t mind and I really hope I don’t come across as hugely self pitying – I’m not. I’m just tired, lonely, and in need of someone stroking my head and telling me it will all be ok. I can’t have that but I can write my thoughts and feelings down so here we go. Feel free to leave now!

Today I was working at home and trying to manage updating HR files and contracts to make sure we’re legal, trying to find a way to make updating our website easier and faster so we can get new products listed quickly, trying to prepare financial information for a mentor so we can make sure we’re not selling at a loss, trying to work out a way for me to access our server from my house/out and about so we don’t wend up with a whole bunch of documents that are different, trying to get new and much needed volunteer posts advertised to help us in all kinds of ways, trying to work out how to deal with today’s various random requests and offers and opportunities (even offers of help take time to deal with – nothing is straightforward), trying to get us entered into a couple of awards thingys, trying to set up partnerships with people we can make gorgeous gift sets with… plus of course my ‘proper’ work of trying to make sales, follow up sales leads, buzz up the PR, get attendance at events sorted. All that kind of thing.

Della’s been in the office juggling the hundred and one things she does and doing it brilliantly. Everything relating to managing all the people who come on site, all our supplies and suppliers, all our products, quality issues, waste, security, where everything is, who has access to what – plus Della will have been dealing with a whole bunch of the same stuff as me as we do stuff between us.

When I said we were drowning a few weeks ago I meant it. We are, I am, really struggling. I honestly don’t know how we are going to manage. There just aren’t the hours in the day. We *need* an office manager, someone who can pick up all the admin, all the HR, the legal stuff and we need that person to be someone good. We can’t afford to pay anyone though and we struggle to get that role filled for more than a few weeks by a volunteer which is, to be honest, more trouble than it’s worth as we lose so much time training only to have to start over. My time is best spent getting out there selling, being enthusiastic about pants and our amazing operation, Della’s time is best spent managing people, and instead I’m having to learn about content management systems, file managers, the ins and outs of job descriptions while Della struggles womanfully to learn how machines are threaded and how to stretch test lace. I hate feeling I *have* to do things, especially when I feel they are things I’m not good at – I haven’t the first clue about HR stuff or web development and I really haven’t the time to learn – if I were to understand in depth all the areas of the business, my brain would explode. Finance, payroll, HR, legal, reporting, sourcing, production, waste, postage, returns, events, marketing, sales, funding, funding reports, admin, work scheduling, website, customer database, finance database, crm – it’s too much. This is why people specialise.

I am not for one minute ungrateful for the amazing people who support me, and us, in everything but for once I think it’s reasonable and fair to share with you all how bloody hard this is at times. It is very bloody hard. I’ve been working on this for three years, all but four months of that full time. And it’s still gut wrenchingly, feel like I’ve climbed one sod of a hill only to be faced with a bigger one, hard. UnLtd talk about how social entrepreneurs need to have loads of resilience. I feel like I’ve run out. I’m not sure how many more kicks I can take at the moment. For the first time ever, I had a fleeting thought of, ‘maybe I should just give this up’ today. I’ve been utterly broke for almost all that time, and I am tired of not being able to mend my heating, or even buy a book on a whim. I’m tired of weighing up the guilt of another night out on my friends generosity as opposed to another night in craving understanding, company and affection. I’m tired of having to cycle in the wind and rain because I can’t afford a bus. I’m tired of us having to weigh up every penny at pants and suffer for it – sometimes we need a solution NOW and NOW tends to mean paying and we just can’t, not even a few hundred pounds. I’m tired of having to lean on our volunteers and not be able to pay them anything for the amazing work they do out of generosity and kindness. I’m tired of everything feeling like a battle. And then to have the women we’ve employed asking for more hours, knowing they need them, and wanting to provide them but not being able to explain to my own satisfaction that we can’t until we sell the pants but we can’t sell them until we have the right PR and we can’t do the right PR until we have photos and we can’t do photos until we get a camera and barcodes and decent coat hangers and we can’t do that stuff until we have some money.. it’s crushing. Or at least today it is.

It’s true to say whomadeyourpants? is a brilliant thing. I know that and for once I can say it without feeling I’m bigging myself up. It is not me and I am not it, it is its own thing now and I am proud of it. But I’m scared and tired and tired of being tired. I’m not sure what the solution to this is, but I hope I find one. I know I won’t give up – I just want some time of if being not so hard as this. That’s all.

And if I may be allowed a very personal this in no way represents the view of wmyp comment – Big Society running on volunteers? Really? Where are all these rich people with so much money they can afford to not work but are so public spirited they’ll step in – they’re sure as hell pretty invisible round here and we are *good* at attracting folks. Hmm.

Night all

Becky

*By Meera Syal. Great book.
** Phone is safe. Thank god, That would have been another mess to sort out.

Advertisements

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

Do YOU have a few hours a week to spare?

Yes folks, we’re finally admitting we need some help. There just aren’t enough Della and Becky hours in the week to get everything done that we need and so we are looking for some very special people to come and help us. A lot of the volunteers we have worked with have been people who we have been very happy to support, but we now really need people who are already capable and confident and can help support US.

We’re looking for people to be Committee Members, Office Support, Stylists, Photographers and Press Assistant.

Committee Members

The very basics here are that we are looking for people with professional experience in B2B and B2C retail*, finance, industrial production/manufacture. We need a minimum commitment of six hours work on your expert area and attendance at one meeting a month (last but one Friday of the month in Southampton).

Office support

The very basics here are that we need someone who is office and computer competent, can give time three times a week, who is unflappable in the face of sudden bursts of activity, has excellent professional English and who is not job hunting – we need someone who will stay with us for a good long while and provide stability. Our training seems to be very good – we have found that taking people on for a few months means we spend a lot of time training and then they leave us to get jobs! Great for them, but less so for us, really. Maybe this means this would suit a retired person?

Stylist/Photographer

This might be one role, it might be two, depending on experience and ability. We are looking for someone with an eye for a good fashion photo and, ideally, good camera equipment to take shots of our new products and gift sets and make them look really appealing. This will be ad hoc but will require up to half a day a month. Photos need to be web and print quality. Out of pocket expenses can be covered.

Press Assistant

We need someone to help us build a list of press contacts in both local and national media – TV, Magazines, newspapers, radio – and online. This is primarily a short and focused research role initially but there is scope for it to broaden. We are supported by two fantastic PR companies -Swarm Communications and Awesome Communications – so you will be working with experts and this really will be great transferable experience.

We can offer a fun, busy and unique working environment (come on, how many pants co-ops are there?!), lots of tea, often a free/communal lunch, all kinds of learning – you can join in massage and other classes, and I’ve learned loads about Chelsea football club from Della – free parking and a discount on pants. Reasonable travel expenses can be paid depending on distance and post.

Proper post descriptions are being written up but if you have any questions in the short term, please let me know. We really do need some support and as yet can’t take on paid staff, but we love volunteers and the ones we have seem to love us so please, join us!

Becky
x

*(if you don’t know what that means, it’s business to business and business to consumer. But if you don’t know what it means, it’s probably not you)

Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

Ab Fab darling, Ab blinking Fab

Hello there pants people!

What a smashing and busy time it’s been! How are you all – well? Warm? Happy?

I last write on the 10th January so I’m within a month of my last post but not within a week. I plan to write more often as we move into this year, but at the moment we are still deep in the planning and sorting. There’s so much to tell!

We’ve had a wonderful visit from Emma, our lovely designer recently. She and I went out to dinner and talked and talked (well, I did) and we came up with lots of exciting plans. It seems that I jumped the gun a bit with our ivory and pink lace – it’s so different from all our other aces in width and stretch that it won’t be ready for Valentines day but we are building a realistic and achievable plan of what we can make and sell when and I’m looking forward to being able to share that with you.

I’ve been out of the office in London quite a bit recently and it’s been brilliant fun – tiring but fun. I actually met, albeit briefly, Lynne Franks! (google her if you don’t know and then feel your jaw drop. I never expected to live in THIS world!) There’s some hugely humbling news on the cards but I want to stay a bit quiet about that at the moment. I had a lovely lovely time talking to this years intake of UnLtd Level 2 award winners. Part of me is really jealous of them – they have whole year of support ahead. But the joy of UnLtd is that the connection doesn’t go away and I am still feeling part of their family. I was filmed for a little video piece which I hope we can share soon. My mum would be amazed, me in front of a camera, smiling! They did this thing where I had to stand sideways on so they can show a profile shot of me and then my stats. And I had to do funny things, imagining I was dragging photos on a giant ipad. Fun

I’m starting to talk to more people about wholesale stuff recently, people and shops are interested in having our products and I am interested in helping them do so! If you’ve a local shop you think would like to sell our pants, do let me know – the more the merrier and personal recommendations really are the best.

In the office and factory, things are good and busy busy. the Committee has, brilliantly, agreed a salary level for me and agreed that we can actually employ Della – albeing part time – and pay her through the business too. We’ve been paying me what we can, and Della has been paid as a self employed contractor so she’s had no security from us in a long while. This is a huge milestone and I am proud we’ve made it and ever grateful to Della for her faith and support all this while. VERY glad we can officially have her now! We’re both still earning way less than our payscales say we should but it’s a very good start.

Della and the workers love it when Emma come in, she is so full of knowledge and passion, and I know Della’s brain bursts a bit with all the new stuff but it’s great. Plus we got to finally open the biscuits Emma brought us from Italy! We may be losing one of our volunteers, at least part of the time, which is a shame but the way things are at times. Oh, and we plan to take on a sales person – just a little bit. Two half days a week. I’m out and about generating buzz and interest and then haven’t enough hours in the day to sort all the stuff out back in the office, which is Not Good Enough. So – if you’re a woman in Southampton (we’re covered on this legally, we would not be able to operate if we had mixed staff as women may not be allowed to attend), want 2 x half days a week work and have sh1t hot sales experience, drop me a line!

I’m going to end here for today and do my best to write another shorty this week. I’m working from home as I’m having some tests done on my skin and am a bit immobile. Nowt unexpected or to be fearful of, I hope – mad mad eczema has to be resolved – it just means I’m confined a bit. So I may ramble with the stircrazyness!

Hope you’re all very well

Becky
x

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

2011 pairs of pants on the wall, 2011 pairs of pants…

Good morning good morning good morning! Well, I know it’s not really morning but January is like the morning of the year, isn’t it?

So, here’s my first proper blog entry for 2011. I’m going to tell you all about or exciting plans and hopes, and then ask you if there’s anything you’d like to hear about that I don’t talk about.

Before looking forward, I need to look quickly back. 2010 was hard. Very hard. I always tried to pull the good out and into my blogs but there were times when it was tough, times we thought we might not be able to move on, or even continue. We are now streets ahead of that – we have a product we know works, and we have £50k committed funding for 2011, and £40k committed for 2012. That makes a huge difference to everything, including my personal stress levels (which themselves make a huge difference to everyone else’s in the office… ) This means that we have a really strong and solid base to plan from. And that feels good.

So. 2011. Our plans fall into two main areas – external (raise our profile, sell more, communicate with funders to report on progress and raise more funds) and internal (tighten up on what we have started to do well; formalise all our admin/finance/HR/legal procedures; begin to monitor and measure the social impact we are having, build on co-operatives training and encourage active membership of the co-op itself) Doesn’t sound much but I think it will keep us busy!

The external stuff falls mainly to me. I’ll be working with the wonderful Chris Smith and Janet Awe on PR, working out how to get us good coverage and encourage people to support us. I’ll also be out and about at events, maybe festivals, selling pants and spreading the word. We’ll be looking for a few more retail outlets, and will be asking you to help us – which shops would you like us to be sold in? Another thing I’ll be doing is working with our fundraising volunteer on a proper fundraising strategy (our current one has evolved quite a lot from the ‘go for everything. EVERYTHING! model I started with but it’s still not what I think of as a grown up strategy) , which I am, nerdily, enormously excited about.

Regarding products…We plan to build on the strong foundations and high levels of confidence the team have developed in being able to make our Aimee style for women for the whole year (introducing a second women’s style in 2012), and will introduce variety by introducing loads more colours and gift sets. We have some scorching burnt orange, laced through with bonfire night yellow and red threads; a gorgeous petrolly blue; a forest green lifted by a touch of reddy orange here and there; some icy ivory with pink, and blue; a new red… We’re planning gift sets themed to occasions – imagine, for example, a lovely ethical Valentine’s Day gift set of our red Aimee trimmed with sassy black lacking down the back, nestled in a pretty box nest to a black Aimee with red lacing, and an ivory and pink Aimee, all pretty, wrapped by us, with a little something extra thrown in. Being a Welsh girl, I’m already thinking that the green with reddy orange that I mentioned above would be a fab St David’s Day knicker! We’ll be launching men’s pants by Christmas 2011 (all being well, we are starting design in spring, will be making up samples for wear tests in summer and producing in autumn)

We’re going to introduce really simple ways of measuring how much social impact we are having as it’s hugely important to be able to show that we are doing a good and useful thing. WE know we are, the women we work with know we are but it’s nice to have some proof. (To that end, by the way, I’m going to be asking supporters for quotes that we can use in publicity materials – if you’d be prepared to give us a quote, we’re looking for short things, two sentences, about the impact and value you think we have – email me?) . Traditional metrics are a bit tricky here but Steve Coles of http://www.intentionality.co.uk has given me some brilliant advice and support and we’re also hoping to work with http://www.globalactionplan.org.uk on assessing environmental impact and looking at how we can maybe do more.

Internal processes may sound dull but for a policy wonk like me they are fascinating and, of course, critical. So much of everything we did last year could come under the rubbish business term of ‘fire fighting’ – we developed stuff when it was needed, not before, as we had no time to be strategic. This year we are going to start with a review of pretty much everything – legal, HR (this is huge for us as our employees are, and will be, refugees or wives of refugees, so we have to be certain every bit of immigration paperwork is totally correct) suppliers of everything from our fabrics to our paperclips, production processes including how to predict when we will need to buy new stuff, reporting.. it goes on and on but I’m ecited by it. It feels to me that we have a big thing to tidy up and organise and that makes me VERY happy (Della may have a different feeling about my excitement, I know! Della, I won’t try to DO it, I’m just looking forward to us planning it!)

Anyway – you probably get the feeling, correctly, that I could go on about this for ages. So I shall stop. I am hugely happy and optimistic at the moment and I hope you agree with me that 2011 looks set to be a lot of fun. Now we are properly up and running, please, do tell your friends. My twitter feed is where breaking news tends to break – http://twitter.com/beckypants – maybe see you there.

A very happy new year to you all – let’s make it a good one, without any fear

Xx

Becky

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,