Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Go pants team, go!

Great news! Not quite a year since I started working on this full time, I have just been told that we finally have the team all pretty much signed up. 25 women have committed to learning and being involved, we’ve very nearly every scrap of paper we need from them, and most of them have actually started English classes. Hooray!

We’ve been struggling with getting women involved, not becuase they aren’t interested, but because childcare is elusive, expensive and vital. And I wrote a while back about how I *thought* we had the team sorted. But the childcare issue means we have had lots of drop outs from women who would love to be involved, but who have no-one to look after their little ones. But a call this morning form the fabulous Allegra at CLEAR http://www.clearproject.org.uk/uk, who is doing a brilliant job of being both in CLEAR and Pants’ Treasurer, and it really does look like we’ve done it. And while we were talking on the phone, another woman came forward too, so we should have 26 – which is great, as I suspect there may still be one or two more drop outs.

Our hope initially was to work with 10 women, but advice from June, the sewing and production trainer, suggested we could support 25 workers. I’d personally like to help every single one of the 80 or so women who have shown an interest, but I know it’s better to do a small good job than a big bad one. So this is the start.

The Sector Skills Council for Fashion and Textiles (which is shamefully being threatened with closure) can provide us with up to £600 per woman for training, and this will go a long way to making sure we get really thorough training. Which will go a long way to making sure we make fab pants!

Life in the office is currently a little bit dull. Documentation and filing and writing blinking funding bids is not what I enjoy most, but it all needs to be done and so I am doing it. Lovely Tara from Wessex Partnerships has done absolutely amazing work on a bid I hopw to send off on Monday, and she’s trawling through the business plan too. In my last job, I often had to support people on their own business plans, so I *know* it’s important, but in my head, a little voice is screaming ‘it is just going to work, ok, we don’t need all this detail’. That voice is getting a stern telling off. We’ve had a few rejections recently, so news of the £450 from Southampton City Council Active COmmunities team (for posters in a variety of languages for emergency situations) was very happily received, not just for itself, but for the fact it was a yes after a number of no’s.

In other news, whomadeyourmusic, the brilliant album of donated tracks, seems to have taken on a life of it’s own. Nigel of electropuppy is a one man marketing machine (thank you Nigel) and if I have it right, the album is now available for download from here http://www.madbouncydogs.com/store/index.php?selected_artist=36 and has been released as a physical CD from here http://www.dpulse-america.com/, both at £6.50. Nigel called me last week and I got so excited by what he had to say I got a bit muddled, but if I remember correctly, if we sell 1000 copies, Universal are going to get involved with distribution into outlets they work with. Whoda’ thunk it, eh?

I’m just getting photos together of Tshirts and bagdes; they too will be available for sale soon, hopefully by Wednesday next week. I’ll let you all know as and when…

And in a final exciting tale, I’ve a second meeting with Ria, who is desgining the pants, this afternoon. She had masses of designs, and we whittled them down. I hope to have something approaching the final ones today, which I’m then going to show to people and get some feedback on. Progress, progress, progress!

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This is the part of my job that I love.

Let’s for a minute forget that printers and computers and internet connections seem destined to frustrate me forever, and look at what happened this morning.

I’m just back in the office after a typically boisterous and joyful meeting. But this meeting was a special one, an atypical one. Held at Southampton Voluntary Services, it was the ‘only women who come to this meeting will get jobs and you have to bring all your immigration and benefits information stuff and you have to be on time as we have loads to do meeting’.

15 women brought everything. Five others brought nearly everything. Only one woman was unable to come, which was a real shame as she’s lovely, and has two brilliant daughters, and really wants to work, but I hope to be able to work out a way of getting the information from her.

And the best part? The meeting started at 10 – and nearly everyone was there. Some were there before me!

It was deliciously chaotic – 24 adults, an uncountable number of children (they were under tables, running round, playing, so difficult to keep track of) a queue of pushchairs, clattering teaspoons as heaps of sugar were dumped into tea. The lovely adviser from the Neighbourhood Advice Centre and I took to waving our arms about if we needed to be heard above the laughter and chatter, and thrillingly, amazingly, it’s sorted. Copies of all the immigration documentation we need have been taken, and those that didn’t bring any should be able to come and see me on Monday. It looks like there should be little danger of anyone’s benefits being hit – we’re going to start off with just three hours a week per woman, which will give only a tiny income – but enough to call their own, and to give them new experiences through earning it.

I’m taken aback by how relieved I am. Months of work – and I was in the room with the women that will be making YOUR pants! And mine! And theirs!

It was lovely to be able to say at the end that the English language assessments will be starting during the week of the 20th April, and have a real firm date set. The women were glad to hear that too – we’ve been talking for almost a year and I’m sure it feels like it’s been a long time coming. The issue of childcare popped up again and will continue to I’m sure – it is a nightmare trying to work out how women can work when childcare costs so much, and there are so few places anyway. The hope is that some sort of informal arrangement can be worked out for the women that have little ones, that they can share between them. This caused a bit of concern at first but it sounds like three hours should be mangeable. I wish I could do more to help, but I can’t.

And now there’s a pre holiday rush to get through. I’ve a week off from Tuesday 7th to the 14th inclusive, and so have a day and a half in the office before then. In which time I need to complete risk assessments and a contract to go to the organisation funding the training, get the remaining immigration papers sorted, let the English trainer know who will be attending (they, thankfully, will take over all the liaison with the women over that now) finalise my own job description and the business plan, and somehow find a working printer. For a brief few hours yesterday I had a laserjet which was lovely until the curse of Becky hit it and it stopped working with an error no-one had seen before.

But that’s a detail. Today has been brilliant. One of those real landmark days. Here’s to many more. Hooray!

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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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It’s always darkest before the dawn

This phrase has cropped up so many times this week, and it’s been pretty damn dark. But I hope there are signs of the dawn approaching.

Yesterday, I got news from Co-operatives UK that whomadeyour…? trading as whomadeyourpants? is an incorporated body. It legally exists, it can receive and disburse funds, own property, register to be an employer.

It’s been a long wait. The paperwork I wrote about in the last post got held up somewhere, and was only received by the people who had to do things with it on about the 8th December. I had a massive panic, and they were kind enough to rush it through, but Royal Mail didn’t help, delivering it to the wrong address (it had to go to two places to be authorised) but it is done, finally.

The delays have caused me massive problems and I am really hoping that they don’t stop me having a proper break over Christmas. I need a long rest. I’d hoped all this stuff would be sorted well in advance of now – Sunday and Monday mark the 17th anniversary of the reason I went to see Rape Crisis, and this time of year throws my head into all kinds of mess. Concentration is not easy, and to having to deal with this (and the resultant financial issues from not getting paid – like not being able to pay the mortgage – a broken heating system that I can’t afford to fix, and, it seems, a million other things which have contributed to a month long headache) has been very very trying. My friend has said this will be a great chapter in he autobiography of pants and I will look back and laugh.. maybe, but it will have to be from a very long distance!

The very last thing I need to do is get one bank account number and one signature from one founder member for the bank account application, and then post the application off tomorrow. If I get this posted tomorrow, it may (unlikely but may) mean I can get paid for the beginning of January. I’m really worried I won’t get this done but I am determined not to spend the Christmas break working. The new year holds a great deal of excitement – premises to find, designs to look at, training to begin. I can’t wait. But first I need a very very long sleep, a truck load of chocolate and Ealing comedies, and a large drink.

So cheers all, thanks a million for all your support this year. Have a fantastic festive season, whatever you celebrate, and here’s to pants and all who wear them. Hooray!

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Another step closer

Setting up a co-operative business is…quite hard. It’s loads of fun, but there’s a lot to do, and as I’m learning as I go, it’s, well.. hard.

The fact that it’s a co-op implies that there are multiple people who are co-operating – so there need to be more than one person. And that fact that this is being set up as an Industrial and Provident Society means, by law, there need to be three people as ‘founder members’. These three founder members all have to sign two copies of an set of rules, and another piece of paper too. Of these three people, two must have their identity verified by a legal type for money laundering reasons (not so that we can, you understand, that would just be silly. More so that people know who we are if we decide to try and make a few extra quid.) And after that, I had to fill out a Registration Form with the name of the business and the trading name and all that.

If anyone had told me it would take ten months to go from my first meeting with the Co-operatives Assistance Network to finally submitting that paperwork, I’d have laughed, and I would certainly not believed them. ‘I’m all organised, me, I get things done quick fast, like Mary Poppins’, I’d have said.

However, I know now that before people sign things, you need to find people. And then manage to meet them. And then explain to those people what you’re doing, and see if they like it and are interested in joining in. And then explain about the legal set up and the implications and responsibilities in law. And because whomadeyourpants? is about working with women who have fled their home countries as refugees, you need to remember that English, especially legalese, isn’t always so easy to understand.

When all that’s done, getting the signatures onto the paper sounds like it ought to be a walk in the park. But Mister Cock Up visits us all. The first meeting of all the founder members for signing went only two thirds right- one person was sick that day. And getting to meet the third person proved tricky – she has a big family and looks after them on her own, and so has little free time. When the meeting was arranged, the document that had been part signed disappeared, so we signed, she and I, a new one. Which still meant we had to get the third signature. Again.

I was seriously wondering if it was ever going to happen, but Thursday and Friday this week were lived in a kind of whirlwind as I rushed from this office to that house to that office, to this woman’s place of work, to get it all together. The final comedy moment happened when we realised that the certification that had been diligently and kindly done by Mister Legal was not what, quite, what we or the FSA needed. My will to live was waning, but one phone call, one wait in a car while Mr Development Worker who is supporting the project got yet more papers from his house, one run to the solicitors, one walk to a cafe to wait for Mister Legal to come back from lunch, one more phone call, one more walk to the solicitors (the receptionist had stopped asking my name – whomadeyourpants? is apparently quite a memorable name so they just laughed when they saw me. I think that’s a compliment) and one more walk to Mr Development Worker’s house…and it was done.

Finally, all the right paper work, with all the right signatures, was in one place, in one room, just waiting to be put into an envelope and sent off. As I realised it was actually, really, properly done, I felt my body wilting. I’d been working mad hours, and I think I’d been more worried than I’d realised. I left Mr Development Worker’s house to walk the half mile or so back to my bike, and then cycle the two miles or so home. I’m usually rushing about frantically, but I just couldn’t, and I looked around me, seeing the blueness of the sky, the pretty white cumulus clouds, the lovely trees down the middle of the Avenue here in Southampton. I cycled home in a bit of a daze, and decided that I’d have a day off on Saturday.

When I got home, I realised I had no choice but to go to sleep. My body just gave out. And today is my day off. I’ve bought groceries, mended the lodger’s radiator, watched a few films and am going to make an exciting dinner soon. I feel… quietly proud and pleased. I seriously wasn’t sure this would happen. But it has. I’m going to keep on with the market research, the funding bids, the finding and meeting women, looking for premises, working out a training plan and all the other things that fill up my days, but in three weeks time, a piece of paper should arrive from the FSA which says whomadeyourpants? is real.

I can’t wait.

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