Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

There are some days when I go through almost every emotion and today is one of them.

There are some days when I go through almost every emotion and today is one of them.

From 5.38 this morning when I woke up dreaming that our green lace and our blue lace were, in fact, the same colour, to just now when I’ve been told that meeting me is someone’s best memory of this building it’s a very mixed day! I’m wear testing our July ‘Strawberry’ lace. We have new business cards – mine say Pantrepreneur, Della’s say Calminator. I’ve just been interviewed and told that, because of what we do here, someone is changing the way they live and shop; some amazing volunteers have gone above and beyond to help us with entering some awards, we’ve been approached by a potential new volunteer who has industry expertise, I’ve priced up all our gift sets and scheduled photography for the year, we’ve worked out when we’re going to run out of fabric, we’ve found a single eye glass lens on the floor, we’ve agreed to be in a publication by NESTA and CABE, I’ve fought with pdf forms and given up on one grant, I’ve drafted another…sworn at my computer, laughed with delight at my new cards…

There are days when I go through every emotion, and today is one of them,


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So here’s to you 2010…

Hello folks πŸ™‚

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 Β£70k, Β£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) Β£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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚


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I’ve stopped shaking now.

Hello everybody and welcome to this, possible one of the happiest blog posts I’ve ever written. It’s been an immensely busy and productive few weeks, hence me not being here to write. Goodness, apart from a tiny little post at the end of June, I’ve not written since May! So much to report. Where shall I start? At the very beginning?

On the 31st of May, I opened the door of my house to Emma Kidd, a brilliant and experienced lingerie product designer and developer, who left the trade because of a lot of the ethics and what she saw. She had contacted me in November last year off the back of a blog post we’d had posted on Ethical Junction, saying she loved what we were doing and could she help. We’d talked for a while, and arranged that she would come and visit and have a look around. And so, on the 31st, she stepped off a train and into whomadeyourpants? land.

As you’ll know, we’ve had some issues about production – quality has been inconsistent at times and we’ve had troubles with machines. Emma took one look at the place and our design and with her experienced eye, spotted a bunch of things we can improve in quick step short time to make our quality better and our productivity leap. She’s back again today, and thanks to some Southampton City Council funding can come back a few more times. We have a GORGEOUS new design (look here. http://twitgoo.com/1790z9 You’ll have to lean your head to the right as I can’t work out how to rotate the photo – doh!) and it’s easy and quick and gorgeous and has just the right amount of challenge for the women to be able to really own it. It’s perfect. Emma, we love you.

There’s a whole lot more new going on too. We have some new trainees – so many of our went off to have gorgeous babies or were sick, we had to recruit fast. Some of the new women already have skills, which is ace, as they are showing our existing women new ways to work and inspiring them. It’s fab.

I actually took some leave, sort of, in mid June. Apart from the fact that I came in on the 16th to speak to a broadsheet journalist (the article isn’t out yet so can’t say who) and then went off and chaired a Women’s Forum meeting on the 17th. But I had a fab solstice day, digging up my garden and clearing rubble. It was lovely working in the sun, getting tan lines ( I want to be more stripy. Animals have more than one colour on at a time but people don’t. Not naturally at least. It’s horrifically unfair) and building a fab insect house out of old rotten tree stumps. A bee came and had a look straight away, which made me happy.

The first ever Co-operatives Fortnight started on the 17th June too, and I was invited to speak at Co-operatives South East AGM, which I happily did. On the day of an England game. In a room, with windows open, opposite a pub with doors and windows open. Interesting! I also spoke at a Co-operative Regional Membership event on the 5th July, at the Art House in Southampton, which was fun. I was very very proud to accept a Co-operatives UK 2010 award there – we were recognised by them for our contribution to Innovation, Creativity and Excellence. Sadly, I was not able to attend the Congress Dinner in Plymouth and accept the award in person due to admin error, but the lovely Ian Rothwell collected it for us and a pretty handmade plate has now made it, in one piece, to my office.

On a less glamourpuss note, we’ve realised that we really need some support with and for our admin team of volunteers. They are all fab and enthusiastic people who will all turn their hands to anything, and they deserve more time than I can give them in terms of help. I’m always rushing round at a million miles an hour doing 15 things at once and so it’s hard for them to ask if they just have a quick question. We advertised the volunteer post of Office and Volunteer Manager at both local Universities and through Southampton Voluntary Services, and we’ve had some great applicants. So far it looks like we’ve found a person for that post and also someone who can be a bit more PA type person for me. I generate huge amounts of admin and regularly spend half a day on it myself, and I need to be doing MD work (so I’ve been told) so we’re hopeful. Both women have agreed to come in tomorrow for a trial shift. Exciting! We’re looking for some support on bookkeeping too as our current, brilliant volunteer has to leave us. If you can help, please get in touch.

Let’s finish on a high. The reason for the headline this time round is not a song, nor a Sesame Street tribute. It’s just the truth. We’ve had some good funding news. Β£2000 from Southampton City Council, Β£3500 from the Hilden Charitable Fund, and then yesterday afternoon, I opened an envelope containing a cheque for Β£30,000. Look at all those zeroes!

Β£30,000. Β£30,000!

On seeing this, I let out an involuntary scream in the middle of the car park, and ran back into the building, terrifying two poor men in the process. I could barely open the door and just ran in screaming for Della. I was having trouble standing at this point, and when Della took the letter off me and read out that we’d been awarded Β£60,000 over three years, I actually slid down the wall I’d been leaning on and ended up on the floor. I don’t know how long I sat on the floor and I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or what. I couldn’t read the letter, I couldn’t even hold it I was shaking so much.

When I eventually calmed down (a bit) I cycled into town, via the lovely Allegra’s office for a special Allegra hug, and banked the cheque, and came on back to the offices where I had a mammoth adrenaline crash. It’s not really sunk in to be honest but it’s frankly astonishingly good news. It’s specifically to pay rent and a bit of salary for me – life saving. If I sit and think about it for more than a second I get all shaky again. The fact that someone believe in this, and me, so much that they are prepared to put that in is something I don’t know how to cope with.

But I’d like to learn, so if anyone else has Β£60k lying around, let me know, eh?


That’s all for today folks, sorry for the long radio silence but I hope you’ll agree I’m back with a blinking great bang πŸ™‚

More soon


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We won!

Blimey Charlie, how amazing is this! We’re a teeny tiny co-op, and we have won a splendid award from Co-operatives UK. No category as such but we were recognised for or contribution to innovation, creativity and excellence. Much awesome.

We won!

Ian Rothwell of Co-operative and Community Finance accepting on our behalf

We heard too late to go and so the lovely Ian accepted on our behalf – how very very fab. Thank you EVERYONE who has helped my mad idea for pink pants get this far and for believing in us, and me. I loves you all, I do.

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We’ve come a long, long way together

Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should
(Praise you,

Gooood morning everybody!

This seems an appropriate song to be thinking of this morning, as we are now officially passed our first birthday and have had our very first AGM. It’s strange, we have so many firsts – the day I started work on this full time (1st July 2008), first day in premises (February 2009) first training session (May 2009) launch (1st December 2009) and first AGM (21st May 2010). I like that our AGM was on the two year anniversary of the day I left Rape Crisis – anniversaries are important to me and it’s nice to link an end and a beginning.

I didn’t write last week as I was out due to an important family thing, so I’ve quite a bit to catch up on with you. Let’s see, what’s happened since the 12th May? Loads! I’ve been busy almost every day and night, what with work, family support and events, and am very much looking forward to the bank holiday weekend to get back in touch with my house and garden. Things are running pretty smoothly here, though we are starting to lose volunteers for a wee while due to the exam season and might lose more over summer if people go home. You may have seen my wee blog post yesterday on this, and we’ve already had a response so it looks like we might not have any gaps of coverage. We are so reliant on our amazing volunteers here – they do so much and let me and Della just get on with what we need to do. Maryam is back from Iran, as glamorous and cheerful as ever. She’s one person who always looks like a smile is just waiting at the corner of her mouth. Maryam is working on some internal database stuff for us, records of all our worker, volunteer and other contacts. She’s built the database and is also doing bits of systems administration, or at least is learning to. We’ve a visit from another IT volunteer BW on Thursday night, hoping to get the computers we have here all finished and labelled up so we know what we have. We have about 12 machines in total, some bought, some donated, some in bits, and we want to get them turned into about 8 really decent machines. So thanks Maryam, Gareth and BW for all your work on that stuff.

In other news, yes, let’s talk AGM! How exciting, eh? Last Friday we had three meetings in one afternoon, the first to accept our accounts, then our AGM and the our regular Committee Meeting. I am delighted to report that our newly elected Committee is

Me – Chair
Joy Conway – Secretary
Norman Rides – Treasurer
Allegra Carlton, Della Cunio, Amina Osman – Committee Members.

We’re going to have some training or work done on roles and responsibilities of Committee members as Allegra, for example, is a trainer by DNA it seems, and we’d like her to have a Role title that reflects that. But there we are, a shiny new Committee! We also have an Annual Report and (very nearly) accounts, which I will be posting up somewhere for you to read once final agreed amendments have been made. It was a real push to get all the business done, but we did it, and thanks to Della and Aimee for bringing the supplies (triple choc cookies featured quite highly) and to the fantastic Andrea Allam who stepped in with 40 minutes notice to present our accounts when our Treasurer was unable to.

Last night I was in London for an UnLtd Celebration event and it was absolutely brilliant. I did a bit more elephant hunting on the way there and saw three on the South Bank. When I’m not with UnLtd people I forget how brilliant it feels to be so supported by them. They talk about the entrepreneur, the person in the middle of everything, with such passion and caring, and when they say it to my face, I can’t deny that they mean me. I find it very easy to circumvent praise and then feel unsupported just because my own brain has been silly and pushed it all away. But anyway, it was a joy to be there last night and to see the heartstoppingly amazing http://www.choirwithnoname.org (made up of people who have experienced homelessness) sing. Please do check them out – Marie, their Musical Director was an UnLtd award winner at the same time as me, and is doing a really wonderful thing. Seeing the choir sing, and seeing them relax into it and enjoy themselves was absolutely thrilling – I was almost in tears throughout it all. THAT is what social enterprise can do, that’s what it’s for. Its a way of running a business that makes a real, tangible, demonstrable difference to lives. Power to Marie and the Choir and do, please, if you are free on the 19th June in London, go along to their 2nd birthday,7.30pm, The Drill Hall, 16 Chenies Street, London WC1E 7EX. Go!

We were also treated to a recital from Leanne (apols if I get the spelling wrong) from the http://www.hiphopshakespeare.com, led by another Award winner, Kingslee Daley. When he told me that iambic pentameter (basically, a way of writing where each line has ten syllables, in five pairs, one of which is stressed, eg, shall I comPARE thee TO a SUMmer DAY) is the rhythm of the human heart, I was hooked. Such a great idea and a side of Shakespeare that I’ve never known. Lovely. They’ll be at camp Bestival this summer – check them out if you’re there. And finally, we had a goody bag including perfect cake and cereal from http://www.foodworksuk.org run by Kelvin Cheung, another award winner. He asked me how I was, as a person, and it struck me that I rarely think of ‘me’ – I think of me, as pants. This has to change!

It’s time for a break with the trainees, so I’m off. I think it’s about time I did another round of thanks, actually, to the people who support me to allow me to do what I do, not just the pants team. Without them, as well as the people who do work here, I’d be lost. Mr Stuff feeds my cats when I have to be away in London, or work late. My cats bring me dead things and give me something to think about other than pants. There’s someone very kind who sent me a cheque. My parents, who surprise me with their pride.
UnLtd, always UnLtd, who I should lean on harder.

And now, to break. More next week, when hopefully I will be less tired!


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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


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I know who made my pants…

There probably aren’t many blogs (at least not, er, you know, respectable ones) out that there tell you much about the underwear of the author, but today, three years and eight months after I first settled on the name whomadeyourpants? I am delighted to report that today, I know who made the pants I am wearing right now.

They were made on the 9th December by Roshna, Samia, Hani, Zakara, Batol, Hajera, Sacdiyo, Sarah, Hamdi and Emine. They are made from fabric that we bought from KLS Fabrics in Cheshire http://www.klsfabrics.co.uk who themselves buy up the stuff that gets binned at the end of a season (yes, there are fashion seasons in lingerie). They are stitched together with thread from the Lancashire based http://www.empressmills.co.uk (even though the threads are made across the border in Yorkshire. They are held up with elastic made and dyed in Wiltshire by http://www.stretchline.com

I am quite tickled by this, so much so that I actually woke up excited about that pants I was going to wear today. It’s been a long time coming (especially as we sold out – you may well have had whomadeyourpants? pants before me!) but I’m really pleased. It’s quite amazing. Remember whatsisname, I liked it so much I bought the company? I prefer my version – I wanted them so much, I started a co-op.

But even though we are quite a lot about pants, we are also quite a lot about empowerment, and I think we have started taking some steps towards that in a broader sense this week. We’ve been having some production issues- machines not working, and teamwork being.. a new concept and the fact that we lost four weeks production due to the weather and the building we work in being inaccessible. We are capable,now, of a good level of production, but we’ve been struggling to achieve it. Something had to be done.

So yesterday, we had a big meeting with the women we employed in December and told them a bit about how many pants we need to sell to pay them and the bills. It’s hard to know how much detail to go into as there are still very mixed levels of English, but we are a co-op and it’s right that everyone shares the responsibility. In my mind, taking responsibility is a step to becoming empowered – if things are always someone else’s fault or choice or decision, how can anyone feel they have a responsibility over anything?

The meeting was great – the women told us about a few problems they were having and they suggested some solutions, and we’ve now set it up so that Della (who, I’d like to point out, is a full time volunteer. This whole operation runs on volunteers at the moment) will be the women’s manager until we get to the stage where we have team leaders trained and in place. She will be in the machine and cutting rooms with them to see where issues arise and see how we can help sort them. It feels good and all the women said they felt good about that too. Which is what we’re aiming for.

Since I won the Level 2 UnLtd award in December, my diary is starting to fill up with London based meetings which is going to be really useful. UnLtd don’t just give money but loads of support and access to their prop bono network of experts who want to help social entrepreneurs. Loads of people want to help, mentors, legal people, marketing people – nice. I’m trying to find a way of getting there cheaply, Β£35 for a train fare twice a month is just too much for me. And I’m even off to the House of Lords soon, which feels a bit odd. That’s with Skillfast, the sector skills council for fashion and textiles. They have funded part of our training under a scheme called Women and Work and we’re hoping to get government support for the continuation of the project.

There are loads of other things going on.. off the top of my head, we now sell T shirts and badges and albums online – and the album is set to be on itunes and amazon soon. We might be on a local radio station soon, and I’ve been in the local paper talking about my time with Rape Crisis – http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/features/living/4858726.Life_after_rape/ We’re starting to offer some broader training on stuff like saving money, computers and things. Della held a volunteer induction day, and we’ve more volunteers lined up – brilliant stuff.

For once my brain doesn’t feel like it’s going at a million miles an hour, which is sort of nice, but a but odd. I’m not used to it. I’m not used to handing work over – it’s been such a long time of me doing everything. It’s really quite brilliant to be able hand stuff over and it get done – looking forward to more of the same! The aim is that I have time to do sales, marketing, PR, and the bit that I am really good at and really enjoy – telling people all about our FABULOUS PANTS! With luck we will be restocked to a sensible level within the next three weeks.. and I plan to write a bit more regularly, so I will keep you up to date.

Hope you’re all keeping well, warm and happy!

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5,4,3,2,1 – we have lift off!

Hello world,

Well, we did it – pants are go, our new website is up and running (go look, go shop!). I had huge amounts of fun at both of our fabulous launch events on the 1st December and I am thrilled to be able to say that I also received a phone call during the day which meant that I can eat for the next year – UnLtd have awarded me a Level 2 award of Β£15,000 – just for me, not the project. For me and my living expenses.

Let’s run back over the launch day and what led up to it.

On November 25th, the women in the sewing class had their last lesson with June and Ria, and I was delighted to be able to offer every single one of them a job. At the end of the lesson, we had a paperwork session – we had letters printed up making a formal job offer, and also forms to say they had finished their training for one of our funders and what seemed like a hundred other things. I was really pleased – the women have absolutely brilliant English compared to my ability in Farsi or Arabic or any of their languages, but the written word can be challenging, and when it comes to legal stuff, people have to understand before they sign. But we got through the lot, and the women even started teasing me about it all, which made me laugh.

Up til now, the women have just been coming in on Wednesdays but I have been saying to them for weeks that Tuesday the 1st December was a really important day – our launch day, and I wanted as many of them as possible to be a part of it. The plan was to have a sewing session 12-3 and then an evening reception from 5-7 at the Civic Centre in Southampton. That way, all our friends and supporters could have the opportunity to come and see us. whomadeyourpants? is all about showing people that factories can be fun places, not sweatshops so we are going to be open and invite people in – but the 1st was particularly about celebrating.

I’m writing this at 19.38 on Thursday 3rd December – and I have finally recovered. The 1st was utterly brilliant. June and Ria came in to supervise the session (they will be coming in for a while as the women really settle their skills) and they and three fabulous volunteers, Della, Maryam, and Aimee, were all in by about 9.45.As everyone set about making everything work, my adrenaline and I were left to make cheese and pineapple sticks in the kitchen and all of a sudden, it was 11.30. The women were on time, a fantastic event in itself, and then our first visitors arrived at 11.45 just as the finishing touches were being put to everything. Wine and juice poured, snacks arranged – and whoosh!

Between 12 and 2.30, about 60-75 people came through our doors, and I spoke to three groups of students from a local secondary school, was interviewed by the BBC South Today (it went out that night and will be up on our website soon) and Unity Radio and another film company too. Most interestingly for me, I had the opportunity to speak to so many people who have helped. I’m not sure how people feel about me mentioning names so I shan’t but, the chap who helped me with Β£600 before we existed legally – it was amazing to show him what his faith early on has helped to build. It was non stop but really thrilling – I loved it. The women were great, they had fun, and we’d managed to sort a way of keeping the camera shy our of shot. All the volunteers were stunning – I’m so glad they were there and part of it, and that they can see what we’ve been working towards.

One of the big moments of the day was the signing of the contracts – the women all came together and I went through what contracts mean, and then they signed and the BBC filmed it – the creation of ten jobs (the 11th woman was away). A truly awesome moment that I’ve not had time to reflect on until now. I do struggle to be proud of myself but I think I can manage it for that.

At about 2.30, I finally spoke to someone who had tried to call me and who I had called back, and we’d kept missing each other. It was someone who I had asked not to call me on the 1st with bad news – but I’d forgotten asking that so as soon as I knew he’d called I was terrified. The call was from Stuart from UnLtd who had been trying to get hold of me to tell me that I’d been successful in achieving a Level 2 award. That means Β£15,000 for me, just for me, for my living expenses. This means that pants is so much more secure – I can work full time for a whole year, and any other funding we apply for will be backed up by the fact that we have already been invested in. We can also start asking for salary for other staff – I want Della to be paid for the work she does, and we need to pay our bookkeeper. This money means so much more than just my salary.

Launch day continued with me being whisked off to the hairdressers (which makes me sound so much more girly than I am, but I was best kept out of the way to be honest) and throwing myself into some grown up clothes, before at 5pm, it all kicked off again and the drinks reception started. Along with another 70 or so people, The Mayor of Southampton, Cllr Liz Mison, was there, and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton, and loads of people who have helped and supported. It was fantastic to be able to celebrate with them and really toast all that has been achieved. Hard to believe it was just 17 months, to the day, since I started work on this full time. Della did a sterling job of selling T shirts and badges and, in her words, it couldn’t have gone better. It was brilliant. At about a quarter to six, I introduced the Mayor, who said such lovely things about me and the project, and then spoke a bit myself. I shared the cutting of the cake with two darling twins, aged 5, daughters of the women I wrote about last time, and was then, delightfully, presented with the very first pair of pants completed. After all the work, I had them – the pink, lacy, ethical knickers I had set out to create way back in 2006.

I have to say that the rest of the evening is a little fuzzy – I’d been rushing round all day the one or two* glasses of wine I had hit me quite hard, but the whole evening was excellent. Almost all the people I have leant on, cried at, been inspired by and worked with were there, and the ones who could not make it were missed. But we ate, drank and were merry, the women met the people who have been supporting us, and I grinned and grinned and laughed and did not fall off my high heels.

Since then, I have slept A LOT and am feeling bright eyed and busy tailed and ready to go back into work tomorrow. I needed today off but tomorrow it’s back to it – and I can’t wait. Over the next few days I hope to get a load of our photos up so you can see what went on, but until then, hooray to pants and all who have helped us come this far. Onwards and upwards!

*I may have miscounted. Perhaps

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Having had my moments of overwork and burn out in the past, I always said I’d never let pants take over my life (what a thought) but today I have put in a (thankfully rare) thirteen hour day – and I have loved every minute. Here’s what’s happened…

I came in at 8.15 and was joined by my operations director Della (hell yes) and and my PA Aimee (oh my, yes) at around 9.15. The women started arriving for their lesson at the same time and June and Ria of http://www.recycle andsew.com, came in too so we had a full house.

In this, the sixth sewing lesson, June and Ria took the women through making shorts, and did more work on the basics of how a production line works. The women are all so keen to use the machines that they don’t want to leave them at the end of their time, which can lead to a few interesting moments, but it means they are keen.

As well as doing this, June and Ria stayed for ages and made up our samples – they’d said they’d do this as their voluntary part of the project which is just stunning. So yes, we have samples and they are beautiful. I was nearly in tears when I held the pink shorts, as that was exactly what I had in mind three and a half years ago when I first had this mad idea -and there they were, in my hands, beautiful. Ethical. Gorgeous. I can now start sales work, which I have been desperate to do for ages. They were, being perfectionists, pointing out that we really need to press them so they sit perfectly, and they are still wanting to tweak the pattern so things lie better, and ‘cup the bum’ but the samples are gorgeous and there are photos up on twitter and they will be on the website tomorrow.

While all this was going on, policies were being written by Aimee and Della and this evening, after rushing home to let the cats in, I came back in with three hugely generous friends who are building usable computers out of various donated bits and pieces. We have very nearly got a server and machines ready for the women to use email and internet on, which is going to be brilliant – a few of the women saw the machines here today and got all excited, but they weren’t ready so they will be dead chuffed when they are in next.

I can’t quite get my head around how fast things are growing. I’ve never had a PA! Fortunately Aimee has been one so can tell me what she can do for me and Della is being utterly brilliant in sharing her experience and helping me learn. And doing amazingly helpful things too, like getting policies written.

And now my brain has gone into a go slow. It’s been a long day. The IT A team are packing up and we are aiming to be out of here by 9.30 pm.

It won’t be long, I think, before pants is set up and my job is no longer ‘setting up this great social project’ but ‘working for this great social project’. I can’t wait.

Night all!

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It’s a new dawn, a new day… and I’m feeling good

Morning all,

I’m not entirely sure where to start today – we’re moving! We’re moving into our proper proper offices, a big suite which houses a cutting room, storage, machine room, packing and QA area, kitchen, my office, an advice centre space, an education space, a social room.. how exciting! How terrifying…

This week has been a good one. We are, as ever, terribly short of cash and the paperwork to get more seems interminable. There’s always one more thing to add, and one more forecast to do, or one more cost to accommodate. How do people ever finish? I *know* that in most business plans the figures are best guesses but that feels.. a bit wrong to me. When I worked in sales I hated forecasting as it felt like hopeful lying, which kind of makes forecasting now hard. Fortunately, I have two very helpful accountants working on the number crunching – hooray for volunteers.

But anyway, back to the good week. Clearly,today is A Good Day for moving – and it’s not raining, so we can move all the stuff easily. In fantastic news I have been contacted by The Big Issue, they want to do a feature on us! The Big Issue was right there at my political awakening when I was 15, that and Amnesty made me see the world quite differently from how I had before. I’d be absolutely thrilled to see our story in the magazine – I’ll keep you posted, but that looks possible to happen in September. We’ll have a great photographer http://fangphotography.carbonmade.com/ taking some shots so they will be on the magazine too.

Big challenges for me at the moment really do revolve around money, and around keeping work and home separate so I can get to sleep! We need what’s called ‘revenue funding’, which means funding to pay ongoing costs like rent and wages for a bit, as opposed to ‘capital funding’ which means buying actual physical things. We only need a little bit as we will generate income, that’s the whole point, but we are viewed, as most start ups area, as high risk. The tricky thing is, we’re sort of too far along to get proof of concept grants now, and not far enough along to get loans. We have no orders yet. We can’t get orders until I have shown samples to potential customers and persuaded them to buy them. We can’t show people samples until we have samples made up. Now, having our machines in means that we can actually make them – but we are still finalising the suppliers of elastics and trims so we don’t have the stuff to make them with. By the time we do have these things, I fear it will be very very very close to the time we need the money in our bank, too close. And so I’m panicking, which is never a good use of time, as I have given my word to 25 women that they will have a paid job in December.

Realistically, the amounts of money we are talking about are tiny – our total wage bill (including all the costs I never knew about like employers National Insurance, which companies pay on top of the wages which employees pay NI from) per month is going to be about Β£5k, and our rent per quarter is much the same. We’re still waiting to find out if we get a rates reduction due to being a non profit organisation. But I’m in a position of not being able to do much to influence the situation right no – I’m waiting to meet my accountants to work through the forecasts, so that I can submit them with the Business Plan to potential funders. Funding decisions take ages – up to six months or even more in some cases – and so I’m worried that even if we do get a ‘yes’ it won’t be in time for December.

But anyway, let’s think about the fun stuff. As well as moving the furniture in today, I want to make up some signs to hang from the walls and make the place look cheerful and happy so that when the women come in they can see what people have done. I’ve been planning a big poster for ages of all the people who have volunteered – I want the women to know how many people have helped them. So if I have time, I might make that up today.

And now it’s time to pack up the computer and move it downstairs. Bye bye office, and hello suite!

EDIT – what could make the day better? Free tea! I’ve just had a box of lovely speciality teas from http://www.teapigs.co.uk/, an office warming present. Might be time to get the kettle on!

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