Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

It’s not all ha ha hee hee*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Night all

Becky

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

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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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Where did that come from?

You know how some days nothing happens, at all, and that’s ok? And some days nothing happens, and you’ve been trying to make something happen, and that’s not ok? And other days, the stuff you’ve been working towards happens, and that’s great? Today was a sort of, ‘oh crap, another day of panic and muddles and I don’t know what to do-ness’ which has become, ‘oh crap, how did all THAT happen?!’

It’s been ages since I wrote, and that’s been because I’ve been madly busy, and then after I was busy, I was cold, desperate and hiding under the duvet.  This is a hard, hard job, and setting it up in my cold, cold house has been very tough for the last month or so.  The project was really stuck. I feel as though I’ve achieved nothing much over the last few weeks, but in reality, a lot has happened. whomadeyourpants? now has a bank account. The first chunk of the grant we were awarded last year by the Co-operative Fund has arrived, and I have finally been paid (mortgage company, thank you for not kicking me out yet, thank you).  Two trademarks have been applied for. Donations are coming in via the website. The competition for designs is up and running ( If you know anyone who can design pants, please direct them to http://whomadeyourpants.co.uk/compy.html) We are registered as an employer, so I am now an employee again, and today, almost by accident, it would appear that I have found some premises.

Working in my house has been really hard. The heating has been busted for ages, (Mister Plumber came today, and the house is currently hot hot hot – fingers crossed the fix works), so I’ve been wearing gloves, two or three pairs of socks, boots, and four or five layers under my hoodie, plus whatever trousers or skirt I have managed to get over my injured knee (I took a tumble on New Years Day and it’s still healing) and still been cold. It’s really hard to focus on work when you’re worried about pipes freezing and your breath is visible. And when the garden is just outside the door, and is a mess. And when the internet connection keeps dropping out. Procrastination and hiding under the duvet become ever so appealing. So anyway, I was getting into a right muddle, and decided that I’d take a few days off and just think about what was going on and see if any solutions presented themselves.

One idea I had was that I needed a workspace away from home. I’ve masses of paperwork and nowhere decent to store it or access it – it’s all in a box under the stairs. And I’ve no desk, so everything has to be packed away at the end of the day and then set out again in the morning, which becomes massively frustrating when you set everything up to find the internet has died – again. It occurred to me that some sort of business incubator might be good. There was one where I used to work at the University of Southampton.It was called SETsquared, and was a big open plan room with about 25 desks, that start up businesses could rent a desk in. They shared faxes, photocopiers, admin support and meeting rooms etc, but it means they had somewhere low cost to use as a base.

I rang around a few places, and it was suggested I contact one particular one. I won’t name them in case it all falls through but one place near here said they didn’t do incubation space, but they were interested in the pants project, and they would be interested in talking about  the business as a whole locating there, and if I liked that idea, and could commit to a reasonable period of renting, how would a few months free use of an office be to start?

After the feather knocked me down and I picked myself up, I went to see them yesterday. The premises are ace. They are right in the heart of the area the women whomadeyourpants? aims to work with are. Other social enterprises/charities/mental health/translation service organisations are in the same building. There’s a giant roller shutter to the area we are looking at. It’s secure but we can go in 24 hours a day. The service charge includes two handy men and their screwdrivers and building skills.

I came away feeling hesitant. It might sound strange, but even though I quit my job to do this, which some people might think was insane, I’m quite risk averse, and I like to have time to think about big decisions. All I was looking for was a desk somewhere not my house, for now, and I explicitly was not looking for premises – I had timetabled that in for a few months time, after a planning (ie – ‘let’s separate the urgent from the not urgent and work out a critical path’) meeting with the tremendously sensible and supportive Robert from Wessex Partnerships. And I tend to believe that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  So I faffed, and wondered, and worried.

Then today, I had a meeting with one of my mentors, the splendid Roopa from the local Enterprise Gateway. I did a massive brain dump of everything that has been stopping me from moving the project on, and she, like the angel she is, helped me see a way through it.  Among other things, we talked about the premises, and the more we talked, the more I realised I was never going to find anywhere like this again. There couldn’t be more than one place like this, in this place.  So I came home, and called the people, and we have a verbal agreement that I will gratefully take their offer of a vacant office for free,  and as and when we are in a position to set up, we will set up there. And the lovely Roopa has already promised me a plant for my office.

Right now, I have a lovely feeling of achievement, and for once I am going to relish it. I know it’s easy to notice the bad stuff and not the good, and so I am going to make an effort. I could sit here and worry that things will fall through, but it looks good and so I’m going to take the advice of (I think, but I might be mistaken) Marilla from Anne of Green Gables, and not borrow trouble ahead of time.

whomadeyourpants (nearly) has a home! And my home is warm!

Hooray!

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