Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Good gifts 2.0

It’s that time of year when Christmas gift guides are falling out of newspapers, and the shops are selling mince pies that have a best before date of the 30th November. There’s no denying it – Christmas is coming. And there are the choices to make. Buy a thing that you’re not sure will be wanted? A voucher in a small envelope that you put in a series of big boxes to extend the unwrapping (it’s like pass the parcel but the unwrapper definitely gets to win). A charity donation? Something edible? Nowadays, lots of people have the things they need, and so presents are more about a little indulgence. But it can be tough knowing what will tickle someone’s fancy.

We’re selling pants, and gift sets and gift vouchers – and of course, we hope you buy them. They’re beautiful things in themselves – if you haven’t seen our STUNNING Pirate Pink have a look here http://s.coop/7gw7, it’s gorgeous! But we want you to know that if you give our pants, you are giving so much more. You’re giving hope, pride, achievement, a job, a future – not bad for a few quid, and a great story to tell over the crackers and champagne.

Charity gifts are great and have been increasingly popular over the last few years. We love the donations to projects that provide roundabouts that pump water and the bicycles to get girls to school and we’ve bought them and received them. But sometimes you really want to wrap something up and see someone glow when they see that gift that you chose just for them. There’s something really exciting about buying gifts from businesses like ours, social enterprises, businesses with a purpose. We think these are Good Gifts 2.0 – where giving and getting come together and kind of come of age. I really believe that business is GREAT done the right way – jobs are great. We all want one – you want one. The women we work with want them too, and by buying our pants, you’re helping create them. Who knew pants could be so powerful?

Buying as opposed to donating is also important because you’re not just giving, you’re getting. And that’s more important than you might think. You’re getting pants that real women made, and are proud of, that they made in a room full of the radio and gentle chat, after we’d had lunch (more cake!) together. You are buying someone else’s achievement, their creation, and enabling them to create more, be more proud, achieve more. You’re buying a sliver of their pride and learning, helping them learn more. You are helping them have a space in the world to achieve. That’s hard to wrap a ribbon round but you can tell the story when you hand over the box.

Food for thought eh – after all, it is lunchtime

Becky
x

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WOW – what a great day. What GREAT women.

Hello again everyone

Look at this, it’s a Sunday evening and I’m writing a blog. I’ve had such an amazing time recently that I’ve just got to get it out of my head and onto , well, not exactly paper but you know what I mean

This is all about my day at the WOW Festival – if I try to cover anything else as well it will be pages! http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/women-of-the-world

Yesterday was a truly magnificent day, though long. The itinerary was…

6.15 Up to get the 7.40 train to London (the alarm was set for 6.30 but my darling cats woke me up at 6.15.. sweet, eh?)
7.40 – train, on which I read about Invisible Cows and telescopes
10-11 set up a stall in Royal Festival Hall
11 Head to Artists Entrance of Queen Elizabeth Hall
12-1.15 WOW Bites talks, 15 minute slot for me to talk
1.15 – 7pm SELL SELL SELL

I don’t quite have the words for how I feel about the day. I really had a lovely lovely day and a day like that has been a long time coming – it felt like my reward for the long slog (back to that on Tuesday). It was amazing. Astonishing. Hugely powerful, inspiring, supportive and validating. The longer I work in the women’s sector (that I had no real idea I had moved into when I started this whole thing) the more I love it, the more I want to be part of it, the more I get angry at the rubbish status quo that accepts objectification of women and abuse of them, and the more determined I get to yell and shout and do everything I can, with every sinew, to Make Things Better. Being surrounded by women yesterday, engaged, conscious women, was a delight and a treat. Selling £840 worth of pants was pretty good too, and running out of gift bags and tissue paper the same! I’m enormously proud that I, and we, are part of this and that we are making changes.

So, I got to London and to the RFH and at ten o’clock we got going with set up.. HUGE thanks to the awesome Laura and Clair who gave up most of their Saturday to help me set up, and sell – payment in Welsh Cakes is unusual but seemed to be appreciated! After a minor incident with a bashed hanging rail pole that needed pliers to fix, we were away and the stall looked lovely, pants and bunting hanging up and doing their job of attracting attention. At 11 I rushed over to the Artists entrance, in such a hurry as it turned out that I had to go back and get pants to show off..

But oh me oh my – Artists entrance! Green Room! Bidisha who’s column I do LOVE from the Guardian! Finn Mackay of Reclaim the Night*, Jess Search of BRITdoc, Harriet Boatemaa of the co-op that OWNS Divine Chocolate, Radharani Mitra, the women behind the condom normalisation programme in India, and Brigid McConville talking about maternal mortality and the bizarreness of hospital units being donated and built in areas with no electricity.. and left to rust… I was sharing a stage with women who I felt frankly, dwarfed by.

I did what I do and talked about me and pants and why I do it and I talked, more than I usually do, abut being raped. That’s not to say I described it but I actually said ‘I was raped’ instead of saying ‘I had counselling with Rape Crisis’. The talks were supposed to be inspiring and I really wanted women to see the proof that there really is life after rape and that it doesn’t have to be the end. The whole talk seemed very well received and even before I’d got back to our stall afterwards, people had been there and said they’d come to support because of my talk. So that was good.

The day was pretty non stop after that. We sold out of a few sizes and had some great offers – a woman who is a lawyer has offered remote legal support, a woman who set up a women’s network in the City has offered to introduce me to it and other groups that would like to hear me talk, and I was asked by a number of people for interviews and the like. I was personally chuffed to bits to put a face to the name Esme, to see the Olivia who loves our pants, to have a huge Tamsin Omond hug and to bump into Emma from Pink Stinks. Very happy fun times.

We were sell sell selling all day long and even when we were packing up the boxes to leave we sold more. And then a friend dropped by and bought me a restorative gin and tonic, before another friend arrived with a car to take me and all our kit the 82 miles back to Southampton.

If yesterday is characterised by anything for me, it’s that friendship and women are powerful forces. The whole event was about women and not just the things that so often get discussed – rape, violence, discrimination. It celebrated success and joy and delight and achievement and strength. Friendships bring those things and women have them by the bucket load.

Women of the world – WOW. What a GREAT day.

x

*If you think a march against male violence against women isn’t important or relevant, ask yourself if you’d happily walk home alone, anywhere, at anytime of day or night if you’re a woman. Or if you’d be happy to hear about your sister or partner or daughter or mother or niece doing so. If the answer is no, ask yourself this next – who do we, societally, expect to change their behaviour. The woman? Should she stay home to be safe? Impose a curfew on herself? Or should we expect people, men, to not attack women? With whom does the responsibility for violence lie?)

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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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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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Do you read the Guardian? We were in it!

Well hellooo everybody!

What a week it’s been! Since my last posts about the picnic, the fountains and the new collection, so much has happened – as always! I find myself saying to people, ‘it’s been such a busy few weeks’ and then I realise I say that every few weeks..

Well, anyway, The last week has been extra specially exciting as we have been in The Guardian! We were featured in the Guardian Society pages last Wednesday, July 28th, and things have been a little bit insane since. We’re getting lots of phone calls, orders and emails, and we’ve had to scramble new procedures into play to cope with it all. We have forms to help our newer volunteers answer the phone and we’re taking on new ones to help out.

The article is here if you haven’t seen it

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jul/28/ethical-knickers-sweatshops-collective-women

and it;s been linked to and references in India, Australia and the States! Exciting times! We’ve even had a contact from a documentary company! No idea what’s going to happen there, but it’s great to have even been contacted.

The publicity on Wednesday and Thursday were brilliant and my twitter habit became all consuming as were getting tweeted and retweeted and mentioned and linked to – it was great. We ended up on the Guardian eco stream as well as the society and main news one, and through the wonder that is twitter, we’ve managed to find a photographer and a fab fab cupcake company to help out with our upcoming photo shoot! It’s planned for next Thursday, 12h August – my 34th birthday! We’re hoping for sunshine so we can have some lovely natural light and the fabulous Heidi from http://www.cherryonthecake.org.uk has promised us some gorgeous cupcakes to set off the shoot nicely. Very very exciting! We’re also launched pre orders with DISCOUNTS – check our facebook page, my twitter feed or archive blog posts for details (you have to work for it!)

Thins seem, all of a sudden, to be a bit settled in the office. Not that there aren’t day to day disasters and hicupps, but that we’ve a constant stream of volunteers, there’s nearly always someone around to answer the phone, and the place is generally busy and buzzing. We’ve also got a placement student, Amy, in this week. She’s studying at Leicester De Montford University with the wonderful David Morris, who gave me my very first proper advice and introduction to the wonderful world or knicker making. Amy is really keen and even took pants home last night to sew bows on by hand in front of the TV!

The pants are looking GORGEOUS and I’ve worn two pairs now, a red and a black. They feel amazing. The lace is really comfortable and the fit is brilliant. THANK YOU EMMA KIDD! There are two women who have walked into whomadeyourpants? Over the last year that I know now have made themselves indispensable. Step up Della Cunio and Emma Kidd.

Della is almost indescribable. I think of us as standing back to bak, me looking out and talking to all the outside people – finders, press, customers – and Della looks in, managing everything inside here. As a big part of that she supports me – my head can go so fast sometimes it’s like a zoetrope, and Della has shown me that it’s better for everyone if I go and talk it out with her. If you ever come to see us and I’m lying on a table talking to Della, it;s because my head is abut to burst.

And Emma Kidd. Our Associate Product Designer and Development. Without her fab new patterns, I suspect we’d be really struggling. These new pants are so pretty, and so easy to make look brilliant. They are no walk in the park to make, there is effort and challenge, but the end result is stunning. I can’t wait for you to have them and agree with me!

I’ve got to rush off now – I’ve had eczema on my face for months and I’ve managed to get a cancellation appointment at the Doctor so I need to be there in 20 minutes.

Have a good week folks – thanks for your continued support, emails and calls. I’m constantly chuffed that my bonkers idea for pants has caught your imagination.

Becky

🙂

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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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X marks the future.

Good morning everybody! And what a wonderful day to go and exercise your democratic right to put an X in a box. Have you been and done it yet? Don’t forget – I did forget one year and still feel the shame and so now get a postal vote so I will never let down Mrs Pankhurst again. Vive those amazing brave women who, LESS THAN A CENTURY AGO, fought for me and every woman here to have the vote. I’m quite humbled by their actions and suffering for the cause – please do read more about it if you’ve time – wikipedia has a very readable article here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragist and I heartily endorse the Fawcett Society and their excellent ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ T shirts’ http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/

Onto matter pants related, before I well up any more. Quality is still improving – when I look at how far the women have come in a few months, I’m thrilled. This does recognise that the pants a few months ago were.. not all great. In recognition of this, we will be offering everyone who bought pants from September 2009 to an as yet not agreed by Committee date, a discount or freebie or special offer sometime in the future to asy thank you for supporting us.

So, what’s happened over the last week. We’ve had visits from the Hilden Charitable Fund, from Alan Whitehead MP, from Jonathan Cheshire of the Wheatsheaf Trust, from my fab mentor Rob Bentley of Wessex Partnerships, and yesterday I had what felt like hundreds of meetings with the women, someone from Serco, and Hyde Housing.

Hyde Housing are interesting me. It would appear that Housing Associations are tasked with providing similar services to those provided by councils/the state – support into employment, debt advice, all kinds of stuff. And Hyde locally have a high number of tenants who are likely to be the same sort of people that we want to support. This is really interesting – from day one, I have wanted to support the women who are most marginalised, the ones not accessing mainstream support services. Right now we are working with women at a higher level, as otherwise we’d have even more problems getting going. But to backtrack, it’s always hard to get to these most marginalised women as most of the access routes are via support services. However, the possibility of access through their housing is a real breakthrough – those women who are stuck at home all the time will be showing up on the HA lists lists of people who they are tasked to support most, so we should be able to offer some really good stuff there. I hope! It’s long term, but a great relationship to kick off.

Serco came along to see me about a personalised employment plan thing they are looking to develop. It was a reasonable meeting but I’m not entirely sure it’s for us. As much as anything I like working with smaller groups and Serco are MAMMOTH. The woman who visited did make it plain from the start that they run places like this http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/managingborders/immigrationremovalcentres/yarlswood http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarl%27s_Wood_Immigration_Removal_Centre which, to be honest, I want us to have absolutely nothing to do with. So we shall see.

We’ve had some good news on funding. £5k from Lush has arrived into our bank account – thankyou Lush! And we have got through the first stage of an application to Ford. And Hilden and John Paul Gettys have had the further information they have requested. And we have been awarded £674 from the Co-op bank customer donation fund for computers, and £400 from local learning exchanges. So it’s trickling in.

It’s not easy though. I am not being paid at all, but am living off my UnLtd award. Which is fine til you do maths and work out that my mahoosive mortgage and having to buy a new washing machine when mine broke (erk) mean I am poorer now than I have been since I started this. I’ve even run out of overdraft. So I can empathise with the few women who, yesterday in our review meetings, made it clear that they want wages. NOW.

Remember a few months ago, I wrote this post https://beckypants.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/rolling-rolling-rolling/ about how the women came up with their own plan about how we’d progress when we couldn’t pay them. Well yesterday, we had a review, two months into the three, to see how things are going. One woman spoke for a few and made it very clear that they think they should be getting paid. She said they think they are good enough to work without the teacher now. The fact that she then went and ran her four thread machine for half an hour without noticing it only had three thread in would suggest that this was not the case. And we are still producing as many pants that need repairs, hand stitching or are seconds as we do ones that are saleable first time round. It’s really hard. I want to pay them, really. I’m no gangmaster, I’m no slave driver. But while we are ticking along with sales through the website, they are not making enough good pants for me to do any sales and marketing pushes and so we are not generating enough income to pay them. We can get grants to pay for training, but we have to show receipts from the trainer so we can’t divert money or use it for different things. We just do not have the money to pay them, and it’s really hard to get that message across. Not all of the women feel like this, and that’s great and wonderful. I do struggle with the idea that, as this woman said, ‘when you pay us we will be better but until then we don’t care’ – that’s NOT co-operation inaction, but something driven by very different motives or perhaps subject to very different pressures. I know that one women became subject to dramatic levels of domestic violence after she engaged with us (and ultimately had to leave us as she had to move away) and so it’s always in my mind that this is a real possibility, even if it’s unlikely. I also struggle with the idea of the women having to leave – it may well be that there are family pressures on them that make going out and earning ok, but going out and having fun less ok. I don’t know quite what to do here and am very glad I have my Committee to go to for help. I’m also glad that we had a very sociable lunch after this meetings, with lots and lots and LOTS of cake.

Think that’s all for today. It’s freezing in our office, again, and we are too poor to put the heating on really. I’m a bit tired of being broke, both here and at home. It seems so barmy to me that something as arbitrary and invented as money can cause such problems. I know it’s relative and that I have a house all to myself (well, I say that. Two cats take up an awful lot of sofa/bed and leave so much fluff everywhere I tend to sit down only rarely) but it’s hard when things like roofs/floors/ceilings/fences/sheds/bikes/heating/showers all break at once and I can’t afford to fix them 😦 And hard when we’ve no money t pay people. Someone find me a lottery ticket or a leprechaun, please.

Goodness me, I’ve written a lot today! Just a last few things. I had a brilliant opportunity to go and meet the wonderful folk of the Mark Thomas Mailing List on Friday night. They have very kindly supported us by donating money and paying for our lovely finance system for a year, It was great to be able to say thank you in person (and drink gin and wiffle at them of course) Big thanks to our smashing bookkeepeer Helen for the ticket and making it possible for me to go, and for the sterling work she is doing on our accounts – we are very nearly ready to have our first ever AGM, nd our first ever accounts. It feels very grown up and totally bewildering but Helen does a very good job of getting me to understand it.

Ooh, those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I have been sadly bike less for a few days. Well, my trusty steed is back with me and riding like a dream. The bottom bracket had failed catastrophically and apparently took quite some effort to remove. My very generous brother paid for the wonderful wonderful chaps at Rock and Road Southampton http://www.rocknroadcycles.co.uk to get the bit and fit it and I picked it up yesterday. We had a joyful cycle together the Common and I feel quite myself again.

Happy voting everyone, more next week… when we’ll know who’s behind the big black door.

Becky

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Just another Manic Everyday

Howdy readers, how goes it with you today? All is bustling here, in anticipation of another funder visit today, and I’m just about to get my heels on.

My day started unusually in that I couldn’t cycle in today – boooo! An enthusiastic footballing child whacked a football at the clever bit of my bike the other day, the bit that holds the pedals and gears and all, and it seems something vital has clonked. So I’m going to have a lesson in bike maintenance from my dear brother this weekend, and work out what to do. Until then, it’s just me and my legs for transport.

So let’s see, what’s happened since last week. As ever quite a lot. The funding visit last week went well, I think/hope. We had a great lunch together with a huge bowl of Somali rice which I love. They’ve asked for more info, which can’t be a bad thing, so just got to sit tight now and wait and see. After they left, I had a huge adrenaline crash and just conked out – I had no idea I’d been so tense. There we go. Today’s funding visit is from The Hilden Charitable fund and I’m really looking forward to showing them around and talking to them about the other work they do.

In utterly brilliant news, the women last week broke through the 50 pairs of pants in a session barrier, and made 55. It was a great confidence booster. Our production forecasts were based on numbers we’d been given way back when and we are having to revise them – we had been forecasting 132 pairs to be made in three hours in January, February and March this year so we’re a bit behind – losing the three weeks in December really put us back as the women just aren’t experienced enough to hold their skills without regular practice. Then the spring that sprang caused more problems. Does anyone know the phrase, ‘for the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost? That’s something that goes through my mind a lot here, how something tiny can have a huge impact – no-one else here has a clue what I’m talking about!

On other brilliant news, we have two fab new volunteers. J rocked up one day last week and just knocked on the door and asked to come and help – initiative like that, was I going to say no? Right now, she can come in every day which is a huge bonus as it gives some real consistency to the admin support, and means that Della and I will be able to hand some stuff over – knowing that there is one person as a conduit for all things adminy will mean we don’t have to go chasing on people or worrying things get lost if someone is in just once a week- we just go to one person. And C came to us through our fab bookkeeper Helen and will be coming in regularly to make sure our finance system is kept up to date and everything is filed. It’s not often that I have what I think of as ‘good’ finance meetings – my head just doesn’t work for numbers over and above arithmetic, but the two wonderful women we have working on it are great. Helen has also, brilliantly, secured not only funding to pay for our finance system for a year through the Mark Thomas Mailing List (who I am delighted to day I will be meeting some of on Friday) but committed to sourcing extra paper and supplies to help make sure we can produce and print everything financey that is needed. It’s daft but we are really very poor so even things like printer paper are an expense we have to consider, not something we can just order willy nilly. We do now have two printers (woohoo!) courtesy of some money we have been awarded through our involvement in some local learning exchanges organised by these people http://www.letstry.org.uk We are already hosting crochet sessions, and plan to do some on IT, particularly things like facebook, as the women here want to be able to share photos with their families across the world. They, and we, are looking forward to these classes starting – just got to do a few tweaks to our systems and then get all the wires connected (not as easy as it sounds – network cables get physically flung through the space above the suspended ceilings, sometimes by me, sometimes by other volunteers. Nothing is fast here!)

Sales seem to be creeping up. We’re actively NOT marketing right now as we don’t want to get masses of orders and stress the women. We want them to be making consistent good quality, not loads of pants that we can’t sell. But every day the orders are trickling in, and it’s a good feeling. I have moments of remembering how I used to enjoy sales jobs. I was never one of ‘those’ sales people, I hope. I always liked to help people solve their problems, and that’s how I saw sales. I’m looking forward to solving some pants based emergencies!

We had a great Committee Meeting last Friday, the last one before our very first AGM, which is to be on the 21st May. It feels so grown up! I might make us a birthday cake. A potential new Committee Member came along, who has bags of commercial experience. I’m really hoping that everyone else took to her as much as I did as I think I need the support on the Committee – I bang on and on all over the place about how social enterprise has to be as much about the enterprise as the social – it HAS to make money else it can’t do the social good – I don;t think the women here woudl feel as empowered, which is what we want to achieve, on a handout as they would on wages drawn from their own labour. But right now, I’m the only one with straight, profit making, commercial experience, and it would be fab to have another voice of experience there. One of the things I think I need a bit of support on is how to cope with women who have unrealistic expectations. Two women in our training class have decided that they don’t want to come any more as we are not paying them. I’m not sure they understand that they are still having lessons, they are not able to work without the teacher, and so we can’t employ them yet. I’m worried that they don’t understand why we’re not paying them as I’d hate to think they felt exploited. But the reality is they are not yet doing the job, they are still learning. And that’s got to be understood, one way or another.

We hosted a lovely visit from The School for Social Entrepreneurs the other day, me and pants as a case study. It was fun to talk it through and show people around, and as a tip top tastic bonus, we sold four pairs of pants for cold hard cash too. Brilliant! I’ve also been invited to be part of a case study for Co-operatives South East AGM in June, and we’re going to be part of Total Coverage’s http://www.totalcoverage.co.uk Greener Together initiative, and an event in Co-operatives Fortnight in June/July which will be great fun. I’m very excited to be going to see Refugee Action in Brighton in May too. The seaside, lovely people, and cake!

It’s clearly election time – not only have the women been asking questions,but we’ve been talking to the local MPs too. We’d hoped that both John Denham and Alan Whitehead, the two incumbent MPs could come in, but things have changed as a particular meeting needs them both. I wonder how keen they will be after the 6th? I do really want to get them in, or at least Dr Whitehead for the constituency we are in, as I want the women to see that MPs are available for them to talk to – they are not just distant figures for someone else.

My timing is perfect – I’m finished just in time for tea break. Then it’s all hands on deck for the funders. Hope you are warm, well and enjoying the weather

More next week

Becky

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Nerves? What nerves.. (a funder is due in not many minutes!)

Good morning, good morning!

And what a glorious day it is, the sun is shining, the ducks were quacking happily as I cycled pas Southampton Common duck pond on the way to work, and now I’m in heels – again – which means it’s a big day.

And it is. The John Paul Getty Junior Trust are coming to see us today. We have applied to them for just over £64k to pay part of our rent and wage bill for our first two years. Applying for funds is a long process generally, especially with big charitable funders. There’s usually a first stage application, which often goes to their board or trustees for shortlisting. Then there’s a fuller application, which is usually to be accompanied by things like our rules/constitution (in straight business this would be the Mem and Arts, the business’ governing document) and financial projections, and possibly extracts from our business plan. They often want a bio of each of our Committee members, and can ask for all kinds of other bits too. This generally all goes, again, to a meeting for discussion. And then, if you’re lucky, they ask to come and visit. It’s my understanding that also after a visit, a report is often made to the Board again, and then a decision taken – so this shows, I think, why applying for funds can take a long long time. We put our application to this fund in way back in September, were asked for our fuller application in early March, and here we are now.

So I’m just a bit nervous. But I’m wearing my lovely jewellery that was bought for me all the way from Afghanistan by one of our lovely women, which always grounds me. The women are all excited by the visit too – one told me she prayed for us last night that we would be lucky, and we have Somali rice and Welsh bara brith for lunch. I hope so. It would be such a lifeline to have this extra breathing space, and to know that we could take the pressure off the production a bit, to know that we could pay the rent.

But enough of that, my stomach is flipping all over the place so, let’s see, what else has been going on. I last wrote last week, after we had a visit from a tiny baby. Apparently whomadeyourpants? baby number 2 is scheduled to visit (with mum) at some point soon. We’ve been as busy as ever here, but it’s starting to be busy – doing the work, rather than busy – setting things up. Which feels great. The more we get our processes and procedures bedded in, the more people can get on with things without us helping them, which frees us so much time. And over the last week, things have been getting much much smoother.

And the pants, the pants! Quality is suddenly rocketing – the women are starting to understand the machines more intuitively, which means they are needing the teacher a bit less. We are really looking forward to being able to let the women get on without a teacher as it means we can run shifts when the teacher is not free. All in good time though. We’re very nearly out of pink fabric and waiting for samples of some new – which is very very exciting.

Also, I have had two great conversations with people who are going to come in and help with our next design, and some efficiency and process stuff. One is a 2nd year student who is going to come and do a month work experience with us in August, and the other is someone who has worked in product development all over the world after getting a degree in contour stuff. Both are passionate about gorgeous undies, and ethics too, so we are already getting along well and I’m really looking forward to meeting them both. In fact, I plan to visit the latter in Totnes, which I will get to with bike and train and make a long weekend of it. Lovely! In terms of timing, we’re hoping to host them both in August when we may be quiet here with school holidays hitting us – childcare is such a massive issue, and there’s no getting away from it.

Over the last few weeks I’ve also realised how much I have now come to rely on others. Della has been off for a few days and Aimee has been away. Both are in today and just knowing they are here makes me feel calmer. I can;t believe that I hadn;t actually planned to take on volunteers really – Della was suggested to me by a mutual friend, and Aimee volunteered after I gave a lecture to her class at Uni. It just hadn’t occurred to me that people would want to actually actively give up days to help, and so I was quite prepared to be doing everything myself. I am inordinately glad I am not so doing, and enormously grateful for their time and dedication. I know now that I could not be doing this alone, and find it quite hysterical that I thought I could . I had no idea!

In case you’ve not seen it elsewhere, we have had some great news – Lush have offered us £5k from their CharityPot after their visit to us last week. This will help us create case studies on each fo the women we work with so we can show people who makes their pants, but also they can form part of a CV, and can be used with work we hope to do with Refugee Action on really helping people to understand what life is like for refugees. There are so many misconceptions, and I really want to do something to break a few down. Half of the women we work with, for example, have no recourse to public funds. They get no benefits at all, so the idea that people are coming here and getting free money and free houses is somewhat flawed. But that’s a subject for another day.

And now, dear readers, I must bid you adieu. I have yet another trip to the loo to attend to(my nerves…) and last minute pre to do. More next week – and wish us luck!

Becky

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