Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Come and meet the people who made your pants!

Howdy folks!

For absolutely ages, we’ve had an open invitation on our website and a comesee email address to go with it. This has been a big part of my personal ‘we’ve got nothing to hide’ approach to manufacturing.

Well. You’ve been taking it up. A LOT. And I’m a bit worried that our team are starting to feel a bit more like filmstars or exhibits than workers. We could have, easily, had two visitors to every single shift we’ve run in 2012. Imagine if that was your work – and imagine how that impacts on us training in employability.

So, we’re going to have an open day! It will be, very likely, the 17th July, from 10 – 4pm. There will be a small charge to cover lunch, which we will provide. You’ll be able to come and see us, chat to the workers, meet the volunteers, buy some pants, see some being made, ask me questions – all sorts of things!

If you’d like to come please just email hello@whomadeyourpants.co.uk with your the subject line ‘Open Day July 2012’ and we’ll add you to our list and get back to you to confirm it all by the end of May.

Look forward to hearing from you, and meeting some of you – the list is already filling up!

Becky

EDIT APRIL 18th 2012 – Travel tips! Check out http://uk.megabus.com – a train to and from London Waterloo, for example, can cost just £1 each way, plus booking fee. The catch is that you MUST get on the right train, at the right station, and get off at the right one too – but it’s a huge money saver!

EDIT NUMBER 2 May 2nd 2012

We’re going to be offering you the chance to order your pants and then watch them get made right in front of your eyes on the 17th! We’ll likely do a load of colours that use the same colour threads (else we’ll have to be rethreading machines all the time) so start thinking about what colour you’d like!

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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 £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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Pants are starting to happen to meeeeeeee (sorry Lemonheads)

Goodness me, doesn’t time just fly!

It’s been weeks since I last wrote, and things have been lively to say the least. I took a week off when I realised I’d been working myself silly, something I promised myself this business would never be about, and now I’m back, things look much clearer and very exciting. And coming in to work this morning it found we have out very own marked parking space was a happy thing to start the day with!

So, where to start I can’t write that without hearing Mary Poppins say ‘let’s start at the very beginning’, but I tend to start at the end as that’s the easiest thing to remember. The business plan, which has been hanging over me for ages, is very nearly finished and I hope to send it off in support of some longish term funding applications next week. Rob and Tara at Wessex Partnership have been hugely helpful in pulling it all together and making me tip out what’s in my head onto paper. Happily, we have been awarded £500 from Southampton City Council to pay them for part of the work we hope to do with them. I’ve worked out how much we need for three years and a friendly helpful accountant is forecasting our cashflow and stuff for three years too. So far, the figures look really positive. Hope so!

The higher level English class has finished! I can’t believe it. So now, no matter what happens, we have done some good, for which I am very, very pleased. The sewing training is scheduled to start on the 7th September, and we are scheduled to have the premises ready by the 19th August, in plenty of time. I think that the day I sit at my desk in an office next to the machine room, opposite the staff room, I’ll not be able to stop smiling. And not just because the 14 chairs I currently pick my way through will be in the staff room and not my office! Timelines so far suggest the cutting table to be built (in situ) and me to move 13-14th August, sewing machines to be delivered and set up 17th August, wiring to be done 18th, 19th August. I shall celebrate on the 19th!

Fabrics have been delivered, and I have found some darling little bows and things. June and Ria are busy making up some samples – so there will be pants very soon! We have had a fantastic opportunity given to us by Skillfast – they’ve offered us space on their stand at MODA in the NEC 9-11 August, which I gladly accepted! The samples will be hung up on a little washing line, like our website, we’ll have a pop up banner and flyers. The flyers are just gorgeous, really bright and fun. I’m quite nervous, not least because I am going there straight from my leave, without going home, and will then have to trek back via London with a suitcase and banner and all sorts. I’m sure there will be plenty comedy moments, especially if I don’t change out of my heels first!

We’ve been at another event recently too, in the Co-ops area at the Mela in Southampton. We sold a few T shirts and have a simply fabulous cake made which we auctioned off. A lovely women called Marilyn got in touch and asked if she could make us a cake, and she did – it had our logo on and looked brilliant. She has also offered to make us a brilliant fun cake for our launch in December – I’ve seen one she has done, with loads of little pants covered bottoms on it. It’ll raise a smile for sure!

The website is being rejigged, and a shop is being built. There’s an amazing team of people involved, and I’m delighted that the project management of that is out of my hands for now as I am not technically minded, and it’s best left to those who are I think.

I can’t for the life of me think what else is going on, but things are as busy and productive as ever. I’ve not even let a home based heating systems disaster (radiator leak bad, insurance money good, and I get to have nice sanded varnished floors. When I have sanded and varnished them) get in the way. It’s strange to think that within a few weeks I won’t be in this temporary office but will be in a proper real permanent office, and we’ll have a physical address and a post box and machines and things. There will be photos when we do, lots and lots of photos. Oh, and I’ll have broadband again! Hooray!

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I know what your pants will look like, almost

Well, what a week it’s been!

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

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

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

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

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

New Model Army

Joolz

Howard Jones

Subgiant

ScarletBLONDE

Miserylab

New York Anxiety Attack

Kajagoogoo

Electromagnetic Impulses

Fisher

Victoria Conn

Katie Ellen

Sara Spade

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

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

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

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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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