Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Who Made Your Pants? responds to Mary Portas’ ‘Kinky Knickers’ launch

On the 9th February 2012, Mary Portas launched her ‘Kinky Knickers’ range at Liberty, London, and ‘turned the lights back on’ for Great British Manufacturing, after four months in development and training apprentices.

It’s fantastic to see someone with the media presence and impact of Mary Portas tackling an issue that so many of us have been involved with for years. UK Manufacture is a hugely important issue, for all kinds of reasons. It’s important to keep skills alive and to have jobs for the crop of talented and creative graduates coming through courses like Contour Design at Leicester De Montford every year. I’ve had a personal concern about labour rights and standards overseas, as well as unnecessary ‘clothes miles’ and waste in the lingerie industry and it was this led me to set up Who Made Your Pants? In 2008. Based in Southampton we create jobs for vulnerable women who need them by turning end of line fabrics into new knickers and training, and then jobs, whilst also challenging the bigger brands to be open about their supply chain. It’s been a tough four years but we are incredibly proud, not just to be supporting traditional industry in Britain, but to be able to provide women with valuable skills and rewarding work making gorgeous, comfortable, quality underwear.

And we are not alone. Despite headlines to the contrary, the lights haven’t quite gone out on British Industry. In fact it’s quite a thriving scene Mary is joining. There are scores of independent brands out there, struggling to compete with the multinationals yes, but together making a significant contribution to British manufacturing, British brands and the British economy. Brands like Ayten Gasson and Kiss Me Deadly have been steadily doing their thing for years, building a loyal following and producing gorgeous, wonderful things.

Saying that, it’s true that there’s almost no-one who can shine as big a light on the scene as Queen of Shops, Queen of Frocks, Retail Tsar Mary Portas. She is the ‘go to’ person for this stuff because she is good at it. And now Mary is bringing the story of UK made underwear to our TV screens. Speaking in the Guardian on Friday 24th February 2012, regarding the programme that will hit our screens soon, she said,

“Should we compete with the sweatshops who can make knickers more cheaply? No. That’s not what we should do morally as a nation…. But we can compete with the Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Boots [market]. That’s where I believe we can genuinely compete.”

I spoke to Mary about just this subject, price and competition, in June 2011. Mary was the keynote speaker at the Co-operative Congress, and we, the audience, were asked to put forward questions for her. I asked ‘How can small producers with higher costs make it onto the high street? There are certain mark ups demanded by retailers which might be hard to achieve without compromising the business model’. And my question was selected and answered by Mary herself. ‘You have something they don’t have. Your story. Tell it loud and unashamedly’ she said directly to me. It was good advice. Independent brands in Britain indeed have our own unique and individual stories to tell. But we also have to tell our story collectively. We have strength in our numbers and we must support each other.

Mary’s skill in drawing attention to British industry in the lingerie category is an opportunity for those of us already in the industry to share the spotlight. We need to celebrate our combined efforts and show the public that they already have lots of opportunity to ‘Buy British’ every day. Whether high end or everyday, lace or cotton, ethical or just plain pretty there is a lot of choice being produced by people who would love to come out of the shadows and share their stories of UK manufacture with the public at large. We are many small voices but if we sing together we will be heard.

I really do hope that Mary Portas, champion of the independent and the underdog in retail, uses her formidable strength and enviable media presence to celebrate all UK manufacturers. I’m sure I speak for many of us when I say that if her TV crew want to visit other UK manufacturers they would be most welcome. I’m sure that all of us, who are keeping UK manufacturing alive, would appreciate a little of that light.

Responses to Kinky Knickers Launch

http://www.thefullfiguredchest.com/2012/02/why-we-should-support-indie-lingerie-brands-and-accept-no-imitators/

http://www.aytengasson.com/news/Lates_News/British_Designer_Supporting_UK_Manufacturing_43.html

http://franticaboutfrances.co.uk/2012/02/05/mary-portas-turning-the-lights-back-on-for-uk-manufacturing/

Use of training

http://www.lingerieinsight.com/article-1875-lawyers-help-recruit-mary-portas-apprentices/

Press re Kinky Knickers Launch, some with comments

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/24/mary-portas-big-plan-smalls

http://www.lingerieinsight.com/pics-1830-mary-portas-launches-kinky-knickers-at-liberty/

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Pants! whomadeyours?

Hello! This is my first foray into the world of blogging so I hope I can work out what I’m doing.

I’m Becky and I’m in the process of setting up whomadeyourpants? a worker co-op empowering marginalised women here in Southampton. We’re going to make fabulous pants, for women, men and children (we hope) and all the while, provide some opportunities for women who have had them taken away.

The idea is to try and get a few people (or a lot of people) asking questions about where their clothes come from. Who made them, where, how far have they travelled? How much did they cost to produce? How much did the workers get paid? How many hours do they have to work? Are the conditions good? Are the fire doors locked or unlocked? How old are the workers – under ten? Do the workers have to take contraceptives to keep their jobs? Do they have contracts of employment? These things all happen in various parts of the world – they won’t happen in this business.

For more information we have a website here http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk and there will be a mailing list soon too. Things are coming on well, and there should be plenty to write about soon. For now though, I shall leave a few bits of information and come back another day.

whomadeyourpants? a new workers’ co-operative, based in Southampton, will empower marginalised women by providing flexible work, education, and a social and community space. It will, in time, provide childcare, space for meals to be eaten, access to community advisors, and (eventually) access to computers and a small garden space.

What is a co-operative business?

It is owned and run by it’s members, working together to achieve their common aims;
It is based on values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity (fairness) and solidarity;
It is a sustainable solution for businesses and community groups

Worker Co-operatives

are businesses owned and controlled by the people who work in them. The workers share the responsibilities and rewards, and a co-operative often provides a safer environment than self-employment.

What is whomadeyourpants? all about?

whomadeyourpants? aims to tackle two problems.

One is that there are a lot of women in Southampton who are ’marginalised’ through no fault of their own, and who would like to be able to be involved in work. The project understands that many of these women may not speak much English, and so may find it hard to get into ‘normal’ jobs. English language training, and sewing training, will be provided for free. It also understands that many women cannot, or do not want to, commit to many hours of work. For this reason, there will be lots of flexibility in how many hours, and at what times, workers can work. The project will be located within a safe walking distance of St Mary’s, Newtown, Northam – premises are being looked at at the moment.

The second problem is that of ‘unfair trade’. Lots of clothes are made in very bad conditions in poor or developing areas of the world. The workers are treated badly, they might be forced to take the contraceptive pill, or subjected to internal examinations and sacked if they are pregnant. They are made to work very long shifts for very little money, and are sometimes made to take narcotics so they can work longer.

whomadeyourpants? wants to show that trade does not have to be unfair, that workers can be in good, safe conditions, and good products can come out of it.

The project will be democratically controlled by all workers who choose to become members of the co-op. All workers will be able to be members of the co-op if they meet certain ‘entry criteria’ which are not yet set but will be agreed by the founding members in consultation with the groups whomadeyourpants? engage with and the Co-operatives Assistance Network

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