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




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There’s no discrimination in England, is there?

It seems ages since I last wrote, which is probably because it is. So this post seems set to be huge – hope you stay til the end!

As usual, ongoing work is blighted by recalcitrant technology. The internet finally came online on Friday last week, and on Monday I foolishly though I could install a Windows update and carry on as normal. Instead, it got stuck in a crash/reboot cycle. The computer is now back with the lovely folk at Jamie’s Computers http://www.jamiescomputerclub.org.uk for some TLC and I hope to have it back at work soon.

But anyway. Lots has been happening. There are rumours that Chumbawumba are going to donate a track to the album, which comes after the wonderful Subgiant (who I can’t wait to see on Saturday), legendary New Model Army and beautiful lyricist Joolz all offered tracks too. I’m stunned, thrilled and hugely grateful for all this and I feel it only fair to say a big shouty out thank you to the wonder that is John for garnering this support. He is the man who knows everyone.

Other good things happening are that my super talented and number minded bookkeeping friend and the pants Treasurer have met, and I can heave a sigh of relief as they between them will take the financial reporting and management on. This is not my strong point at all and it’s great to know that two such capable people have it in hand. Oversight of production, design and sourcing machinery is also looking very likely to go into the hands of an industry expert, which is brilliant. All this stuff being taken off my plate means I now have time to do things like writing policies *yawn* and proper business plans, and yet more funding applications. I bumped into a contact in Regeneration the other day, and we’re going to get together soon, and I’ve been told about some new funds to try. This is timely. After the end of March my teeny tiny salary runs out again and I’m hoping someone supports it (there are bids in) as otherwise I’m going to have to go and get a job, and I like this job so very much.

Today, I’m just back from a brilliant conference at the Human Rights Action Centre, home of Amnesty International, a place I’ve wanted to go since AIUK moved there some years back. The Women’s Centre and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, hosted, ‘Seizing the Opportunites of CEDAW: Developing a women’s sector strategy for 2011’. They launched a report last night, nicknamed ‘Bread and Roses’ in homage to striking textile workers in the early 1900s, who it is claimed, appealed for wages not just for bread, but for roses too – food for the body and the soul. The launch was great, and I was grateful to my friend Sam for providing free sleeping space between then and today. Great mates are great.

The conference was amazing, full of dynamic, passionate women, all doing great things, including representatives for various Rape Crisis centres, women I will endorse and advocate for and praise as long as I have breath in my slightly faulty lungs. Until a few weeks ago, I have to admit, I’d never heard of CEDAW – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of my touchstones, but CEDAW is absolutely going to be another. For more information on it check here http://un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/ but it’s basically a UN Convention, adopted in 1979, which legally binds those who ratify it to end discrimination against women at a national governmental level. It covers things like sexual violence, trafficking, equal pay, and something called ‘substantive equality’ which was a real penny dropping moment for me, the moment when I had words to describe what I think we don’t have. That we have policies which are gender neutral, rather than gender specific, and therefore take no account of the needs of women, means that women do not have ‘substantive equality’. Equal does not mean the same – two half pints equal one pint but they are not the same. Men and women are not the same, and need different things, but ought to be treated equally. Examples given included pregnancy, which to the best of my knowledge, is only experienced by women, and childcare arrangements, which affect many more women adversely than men. The commitment to equality of access to employment and economic empowerment means little to women who could do a job, but can’t get childcare – this means that in real terms, they do not have the same access to opportunity.

Funding is a massive issue – services that save lives like Rape Crisis saved mine do not produce ‘value for money’ but are invaluable. I cost Rape Crisis approximately £4,500 – they’ll not make profit out of me but the value I now hope to be able to turn back around and pass on to other women is massive. We heard that women’s services still, and it seems, increasingly, have to justify their women only status – there is little understanding that the value of certain services to the users depends on their being women only. Sexual health and breast examinations are things many women want to discuss or undergo with female heath professionals, as are experiences of sexual violence, honour violence and forced marriage. I could go on and on about all the things that enraged me as my eyes were even further opened but I’m going to stop before my brain pops.

There are successes – such as how the excellent Southall Black Sisters used CEDAW provision to retain funding for the vital work they do. And how San Francisco succeeded in getting CEDAW written into city Law – even though the USA refused to ratify the Convention at all. On top of this there were countless statistics and examples, and w it felt like a whirlwind tour of what is a fantastic piece of legislation. We talked about how we might use CEDAW in our own towns and cities. And I’ve a few ideas on that. But most of all it was inspiring, and fun, and a jam packed day of learning and talking and meeting. And lunch was way better than the one at the College of Fashion!

We had some very senior expert speakers including Violeta Neubauer ( I hope that spelling is correct, it’s taken from the CEDAW page) who is on the CEDAW committee at the UN. As a left, I had a proper comedy moment. There was a cab waiting for Violeta, with her name on a card in the window. I knew she was still talking but was on her way, so I told the driver, as he was looking a bit vexed. And he asked me what was going on there today. I replied that it was around discrimination against women, to which he said, ‘What’s that for then, we’ve got none of that in England. Do you really think we do?’

Bearing in mind the controversy surrounding the suggestion that we can’t afford Equal Pay in a recession, I’d say we do. And the ‘have your say’ page on Rape Crisis Scotland’s brilliant campaign http://www.thisisnotaninvitationtorapeme.co.uk/ site shows clearly how responsibility is still assigned differently to men and women – we can never claim to have real equality, or have ended discrimination against women, when people believe that it is a woman’s fault if she is violently attacked. No other crime is routinely blamed on the victim.

Rant over. I do plan to write more often, and at less length, when the internet/computer/technological provision actually provides. Until then, thanks for reading!

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