Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

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



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Ain’t fashion funny? or… A fish out of water…

Last week I went to a conference on Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion (LCF). I was delighted to be invited, it’s just great that such a prestigious college is championing this new face of fashion, and it was a great opportunity to meet new people and talk about new initiatives.

But… I’ve never been a ‘fashion’ person. I love clothes, and I love how they can help people feel good. There is no doubt that clothes can affect the way a lot of us feel about ourselves. I love the way good underwear can make you feel taller, not to mention stop backache. But ‘fashion’, or at least my understanding of it (a merry go round of styles invoked cyclically by designers that tend to stick to wearing lots of black) has never done much for me. I like clothes to express something about the person wearing them, and I’m not sure mass produced (particularly, fast) fashion expresses anything more than a desire to fit in and follow the crowd. I don’t need to be told how to dress – I can manage that fine by myself. And I find it strange to be told that I ought wear this shoe or that skirt or this trouser length. Why? What will it achieve? I like difference and individuality and innovation. And I wear things I’ve had for fifteen years because I love them, and the way they make me feel.

So it was strange to be at a conference on fashion for me. A fish out of water would describe, pretty accurately, how I felt. It seemed to me that a lot of people there wanted to ethic/green up fashion, whereas I was coming from the other end and starting with ethics and not thinking of ‘fashion’ as such but thinking instead just of ‘clothes’. I was dead chuffed to meet some like minded people in the midst of the fashionistas, and hope to stay in touch with them. But it really opened my eyes and made me see that whomadeyourpants? might have a harder battle on it’s hands than I’d thought in some ways. I don’t want it to be part of the ‘fashion’ industry. I don’t want to have to use teeny tiny cake hungry models to be accepted. I’ve been to fashion shows before, but I am always stunned by the size of the models. (I’d had a piece of cake in my bag earlier that day, given to me as I left a meeting with a group of women here in Southampton. I’d eaten in the park next to Bethnal Green Tube, while watching squirrels run and adults rustle joyfully through the leaves, all the while thinking how lucky I was to live in a world where there is cake and freedom. But looking at the girls who opened the conference with a fashion show, I couldn’t help but feel I could have kept the cake and shared it. They looked so hungry!) I want to use real women, all sizes, all colours. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

The show before the conference was amazing – truly. Some really innovative approaches had been taken by designers, interesting use of fibres and it showed, happily, that at the cutting edge of fashion study in the UK people are really aware of the impact of sweatshops and child labour and want to make changes. This is all good news. I’m not sure how effective the goodwill will be at making changes – for as long as people want to buy as many clothes as they currently do (and this number is increasing – research shows that growth in the fashion industry over the last few years has been largely due to volume increases, not price rises. This means that people are buying more, cheaper clothes. One source suggests women now buy an average of 71 items per year as opposed to 51 a few years back) and think they have the right to low, low prices, exploitation in the fashion industry will continue. There can never be much left over for the worker out of a t shirt costing even a fiver, let alone under two quid after the retailer, distributor, transporter and manufacturer have taken their cut.

The conference itself was really interesting. There were loads of people, perhaps 250, and it was the culmination of a long period of hard work by the LCF and they deserved the praise they were given for achieving it. There were buyers, designers, retailers, journalists… but as one person pointed out, no workers. We talked, in the group I was in, about responsibility and it was interesting to hear the differing viewpoints about what changes might be made, what barriers there are to change – it was pointed out that manufacturers are already subject to a barrage of forms and policies and as they become more burdensome, they stop engaging with the UK. Tricky. But I had some good conversations with people who are interested in maybe selling pants, and will people who work in recycled materials. It was absolutely worth going.

Some of the lasting impressions I’ve been left with will take a while to shake out of my head. I don’t think I’ll be wearing my tights over my shoes, or wearing anything made out of wallets, but I will be reading up on the designers that exhibited, and following up on contacts I made over the two days.

I keep thinking – how can ‘fashion’ EVER be sustainable when it encourages people to change and buy more and new every few months? I’m just not sure it can. Unless the clothes are all compostable. But more so, I keep thinking ‘what do these people eat?’ I know it’s the College of Fashion but really… four lettuce leaves, eight pine nuts, twelve slivers of beetroot, a disc of bread and about an inch cube of cheese do NOT a lunch make. Not for this Ms UK Average size anyway!

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