Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

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

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Who wants some NEW PANTS?!

Hello everybody!

Just a very quick note to say we are in the middle of a huge pile of fabric and thread as we are excitingly in the middle of making up our NEW COLLECTION! We’ve not got a name for it yet, we’re taking suggestions from everyone here and going to have a vote, like a good co-op. But it’s GORGEOUS. We’re making fab fab fab stretch lace shorts, like the ones sold in most of the shops on the high street. They are comfortable, they wash and wash and wash, and the are altogether brilliant.

Have a look at some very bad photos – I’m an enthusiast for pants but no photographer!

The very first mock up (ie, the first rough pattern pieces cut, before any fitting or tweaking had been done http://twitgoo.com/1790z9 – isn’t it lovely? We’ll be doing this in black and purple too.

Purple bows for black pants, red for red, pink bows for purple pants http://twitgoo.com/19xoqp
Our first black lace – not many leftovers from trade as black sells so we’ll be getting different designs http://twitgoo.com/19xopz
A close up of the black stuff http://twitgoo.com/19xoqb
900m of this pretty floral purple http://twitgoo.com/19xop5
We’re getting 600m of this gorgeous two tone purple http://twitgoo.com/19xoo9

More soon but I just had to share!

Becky

(and if anyone can tell me how to make links clickable in wordpress, please do!)

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Some set their hearts on a rocking chair..

… the better to sleep out the days,
but I’m looking for a reason to kick and scream,
I don’t want to fade away.*

This weeks blog is again brought to you by the numbers eight and four (the numbers of women sewing, and volunteers in) and the amazing Chumbawamba, and their song, ‘Fade Away (I Don’t Want To)’ which accompanied me through almost every day of the the last few weeks of my last job. Seeing them again the other night was breathtaking and inspiring as ever. This song never fails to stir me, and makes me remember there are masses of other people striving for change and fun and laughter rather than just huge pots of cash.

So, what news since last week? I had a fabulous and much needed day off on Thursday last week, and just conked out on the sofa all day. I hadn’t realised how tired I’d got. I don’t think of myself as working evenings or weekends but I have done a few Saturdays recently, and have a few more to go, and the internet and my clever phone mean my email is always in my pocket. Some stopping time is vital.

Friday was a mixed day – I came in to an email saying the VAT man wanted a whole bunch of invoices to back up our claim, so I had to rush around sorting that out – he is one person I don’t want to make a mistake with! But then the day ended with some GREAT news! We have been awarded just over £10k by Community Action Hampshire/Community Grants to pay for us to develop support for our ever increasing number of volunteers. This means that (woohoo!) we can pay Della to do that work, as she will do it brilliantly, and she should be able to afford to not have to do other work and can be here full time, worry free, for six months! Break out the cake – this is a fab, fab thing. And another great thing – we had a teeny tiny mention in the Observer Magazine on Sunday http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/14/lucy-siegle-not-easy-being-green-buying-underwear and a flurry of interest and orders as a result. I’ve been trying to keep a lid on press and publicity until we are producing a surplus of pants (right now we are covering our orders not having spares) but it’s great to see our name in print and the interest it has generated is brilliant. I’m being interviewed shortly by a Welsh magazine – I suspect I’ll get my accent back after the phone call!

March’s fundrasiing theme continues and I was busy writing bids on Monday. We’re putting in a bid to the Southampton City COunil Runnig Costs Fund, and are preparing for our John Paul Getty Junior Trust visit. There are a few smaller bids going on too including one which we’re really hoping to get, from the Hilden Charitable Foundation. We’re asking for a whole bunch of stuff for craft and relaxation sessions as we want the women to be able to come in for non work reasons. They’ve really enjoyed the massage sessions so it woudl be great if we could offer things like mendhi (I can’t spell that – hand painted henna tattoos) and and just bring them together in our social space. I love mendhi and have a beautiful design on my left hand, done by Sacdiya’s friend at an event last week.

An ex colleague, my lovely desk buddy Clare, popped in yesterday with a slightly bashed flat screen monitor for us. It was great to see her here, and see our progress through her eyes. In a non eye swapping sense of course. When people come in every few months or so, I realise just how far we’ve leapt forward – being here day to day it’s easy to lose track of the progress. The Tuesday group are doing well, and lookign more relaxed here every week. Which is great.

Sadly, we’ve yet another problem with one of our machines, a tiny spring sprang out and is proving hard to trace or replace. I think we need a box of spare everything just in case. But aside from that, production is going well. The quality now is getting really good. We’ve realised that a few of the we sent out at Christmas, while good then, would fail our QA now. So if you bought then and found that the leg elastic was tight, I promise you things have got better! You have a collectors item there though, some of the very first pants we ever made. We’ve also effectively sold out of white pants. The white fabric works and handles slightly differently from the others and is both prone to catching in the machines, and hard to handle. We’ve gone through a lot of it making pants that aren’t anywhere near good enough to sell, and so have decided that until we can get some more, better fabric, white is off the menu.

Anyway, what’s happening today. One of our Tuesday students has swapped into the Wednesday group today. Z has a college class on Tuesdays now. I’m hoping she settles in well – she is apparently an excellent seamstress, has picked it up really fast, so she should keep up and do well. I’ve made some lunch to share, and I saw Samia bringing in a bag of something too. Mmmm… H is now off, we suspect with a brand new baby very soon – she’s not been in for a few weeks and is due any time. Today, the women are we are sewing, some University students on placement are policy writing, I’m doing this, and will be shortly working out some media stuff with Chris Smith of Swarm Communications who kindly volunteered to help me via an Unltd/Media Trust Media matching event. He’s very knowledgeable and I’m looking forward to getting some strategic plans in place, they make things work much better. It’s the lovely Janet’s last day of volunteering with us. so we are sorry to see her go, but making the most of her today.

But now it’s time for tea break, and then an interview with The Welsh Compass, a Cardiff University magazine. Hope you’re enjoying the gathering springtime, it’s getting warmer here and I’m now cycling hatless and without waterproofs, and most days, without lights. Lovely!

* Fade Away ( I don’t want to)

Some set their hearts on a rocking chair
The better to sleep out the days
But I’m looking for a reason to kick and scream
I don’t want to fade away
Fade away, fade away
I don’t want to fade away
We think that the power is in our hands
‘Cos we’re holding the remote control
Pile up the lot and what’ve you got?
Bitter-sweet nothing at all
It’s a mighty long way from my own front door
To the world we were going to make
We got bloodied and bruised for the old excuse
That it’s hard just staying awake
Wake me up if you catch me falling
Gently into the night
Shine up my shoes ‘cos I can’t get used
To the dying of the light
Some set their hearts on a rocking chair
The better to sleep out the days
But I’m looking for a reason to kick and scream
I don’t want to fade away
Fade away, fade away
I don’t want to fade away

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We have designs!

Hello everyone!

It’s been another frantic week or so here at pants HQ, but there is some great news. After extensive market research, we have settled on final designs for the pants we are going to make. Of the 150 Ria drew, one style was tops and  they are beautiful and were the overall favourite when shown to various groups of people.

Next step is to get a mock up made so we know they look as good as we think they do, then confirm the order for materials, get some samples made and send them off to potential distributors. Hooray!

So I’m now sourcing labels and elastics and trims and bows and things, and trying to find ethical suppliers. It;s pretty tough – even ethical companies seem to struggle with these bits, so we may have to compromise, but if it’s compromise or produce nothing, we’ll compromise. When we are selling, the website will tell you all about where we got each component, so we’ll be as open and clear as we can anyway.

As well as that, I’m preparing to go and see John Denham on Friday, to lobby against the proposed closure of the Sector Skills Council for Fashion and Textiles. They have been so amazingly helpful, not just in providing funds for accredited training, but by putting us in touch with people and knowing what works and what doesn’t. It would be a crying shame if they were to close, so I shall put my best persuasive voice on and try hard.

It’s been a bit of a week for press type stuff too. We were featured in http://www.newsector.co.uk on the 9th February, so a copy arrived for us to keep this week, which is lovely. And I was interviewed yesterday for a piece in the Solent Mind newsletter, as they were massively helpful in setting up initial contacts with the community we’re now working with.

The website is getting some overdue love and attention too, now, and we’re aiming for an update, a shop, some clever pages and photos, over the next few months. We’re aiming to start trading on the 1st December (English training underway now, sewing training to start 1st September, we should be producing good quality knickers by mid November with luck)

I’m dashing off now as we have been donated a flat screen monitor and I’m off to collect it. As part of our business planning, the lovely Tara from Wessex Partnerships helped me work out that as well as the £44k we’ve received in money, we’ve received about £50k in donations and benefits in kind – mostly stuff like people’s time, but also our very comfy sofa!

News to follow shortly on where you can but T shirts!

Oooh, and before I forget, we are now the proud owners of two trademarks! Our logo, and our name in the font as on the website. Hooray!

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I know what your pants will look like, almost

Well, what a week it’s been!

On Saturday, the gig in support of whomadeyourpants? happened at the Half Moon in Putney. All the bands were amazing, and I’m hard pressed to say which I enjoyed most. For all I had to do nothing, I was really nervous before it started, but had a great time, and it was lovely to chat to people, notably an enthusiastic guy from New Zealand who bought a Tshirt, put it on straight away, and insisted on asking me who made MY pants. I had to say Marks and Spencer, but I hope that won’t be true for much longer. It was great to meet the bands in person and say thank you. scarlet/blonde and Nigel from madbouncydogs/electropuppy have been absolutely brilliant in setting it all up and I was really pleased to be able to say thanks with hugs to Dawn and Ditch – shame Nigel couldn’t make it, but there are hugs (and a pint) on tab waiting for him when we do finally meet. All in all we took about £680 quid from ticket sales and merchandise, which is a fine result. Suzerain, scarlet/blonde, The Blowups, VAHN, Nigel, all at the Half Moon, and everyone who came, danced and had fun – thank you.

I then had two days completely off work and cycled miles and miles with my friend Mark – over 60 miles in two days, it looks like. Beautiful weather, deer in Richmond Park and plenty stops for ice cream made it a really refreshing break before coming back in ready to rock on with work. Travelling must be a theme this week as on Wednesday the 27th, I drove 400 miles, to Macclesfield and back, with the excellent and wise June and Ria to meet a supplier. It took probably about ten hours driving all told, but the land up there was beautiful, we had plenty time to chat and get to know each other better in the car, and when we got there, we found some delicious fabrics. So, all being well, I now know what the first whomadeyourpants? pants will be made of. I’m meeting Ria tomorrow to look at designs, and then we’ll be able to work out accurate costings and, with luck, prices too. Hooray!

There have been some ongoing negotiations about our premises but even for someone like me who hates to count chickens, things are looking really promising. Currently, we are based at Fairways House in an office upstairs, but the plan has always been to move into a bigger complex of offices and spaces downstairs, next to a giant roller shutter door, which will be perfect for getting big rolls of fabric in and out. The current tenants of that space, sadly for them and their brilliant work, look to have to get smaller and take less space – but, for us, this means that we should have the space ready for when we start the actual sewing training in September. This fits with our plans to start selling on the first of December – so mark it in your diaries, pants for everyone’s Christmas present! In the meantime, I’m moving to the room next to the one I’m currently in next week (the neighbours want to expand and so it makes perfect sense), and so will be leaving the very first pants HQ. I’m quite sad about it, it’s been lovely to work here and it was the first place I really felt ‘ohmygod it’s really happening i’m in a proper office ohmygod’ type of thing, but a move feels like progress. To know that we’re in a temporary office because we’re waiting for the permanent one is a good feeling.

In a funny way, things are pretty quiet for me at the moment. The training is in hand, the business plan is being reviewed, the latest funding bid is being reviewed, the premises seem sorted, we can’t do much about starting sales and marketing til we have some samples, materials look sorted. I keep on finding filing cabinets and chairs that have been donated outside the office, so it’s a bit Christmassy every day! There are always a million and one details to complete – ethics and environment policies to write, more flipping funding bids to put together, a pile of stuff from the Health and Safety Executive to read – and there are some urgentish things too – find more women to replace the ones who dropped out because of childcare issues, finalise my job description and contract, find money to pay me (if you find any down the back of your sofa, may I direct you to our giant penny jar here ) but it all feels…under control. I’ve been told this feeling won’t last for long so I might as well make the most of it. We’ll see!

As well as the gig I mentioned above, Nigel has also, with the help of scarlet/blonde, Gothwin and others, put together a simply stunning album called whomadeyourmusic? Every artist (and there are some real crackers, old favourites of mine and new talent too) who donated a track has donated the royalty too, and if you want music for your ears before you can have pants for your rear, you can get it here here for just £6.50. Tracks have been donated by… in no particular order, just the order I remember them in…

New Model Army

Joolz

Howard Jones

Subgiant

ScarletBLONDE

Miserylab

New York Anxiety Attack

Kajagoogoo

Electromagnetic Impulses

Fisher

Victoria Conn

Katie Ellen

Sara Spade

…and I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of them. When I was listening to the big haired Howard Jones and Kajagoogoo as a wee kiddie, and the awesome NMA and Subgiant as an adult, I’d never expected to have them hear of me, or my work, let alone support it, so it feels a bit weird!

We’ve some Tshirts and badges with the whomadeyourpants? logo on too, T shirts in mens XL, and S, M, L for women – not that that’s mandatory, you can have whatever size you like. They’re 100% ethical, supplied by the fabulous http://www.footprinters.co.uk, another worker co-op, and are ready to go too, all fundraising to get money together to keep the project going before – I’m working out how to sell them best online and will be in touch about that shortly.

Til then, enjoy the lovely weather everyone! And thanks as ever to everyone who has helped us along so far. Pants are getting ever closer!

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