Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Who Made Your Pants? You know us, but how much do you know? Here’s our story.

 

 

It occurred to me recently that when I’m out at events, I get asked a lot about how we started and why and that while we have some of this stuff on our website, I’ve never really written it all down. I tell the same story to people at all the events that we do, so I’m going to set myself the task of writing down here what I say there, and let’s see how much sense it makes! I’m writing as I speak so if you’ve met me at an event, i’d love to know if I remember this the same way you do!

There are three main influences behind us starting. A love of lingerie, a love of human rights, and a personal change. So, starting at the beginning…

I have a quite ridiculous passion for underwear. I love it. I’ve been a C cup and about since I was 14 so good underwear has always been important to me. For some women it’s makeup, lipstick, maybe perfume, or some amazing shoes but for me, the thing I do for myself every day to make myself feel proud is wear amazing underwear. It really isn’t about anyone else – i’m single and happily so. I just love pants. And bras. Love them. I’ve got this one bra set, it’s orange and pink and yellow and it looks like a sunset. In fact, I love it so much I have two. It’s be Freya, a brand I love – I wear their Deco bras everyday now- and I was looking at this bra one day and I just thought, I have no idea who made this. I have no idea where it was made, where it’s been, which countries it has come through, how many pairs of hands had held it. And I thought to myself, I don’t know who made my pants. And then I thought… There’s something in that. That sounds like a business name…

Alongside this, I’ve been selling things since I was eight years old. I grew up in Wales and back then, if you were a girl, you didn’t play rugby so I got involved by selling sweets in the rugby club sweet shop. I then went on to work in Dorothy Perkins and while I’ve never really been interested in changing fashions, I loved the underwear deliveries coming in. It was like opening a treasure chest. I remember there was a fashion for block coloured satin sets in deep deep colours – a beautiful emerald, deep garnet and an almost black purple are the ones I can still see in my mind’s eye. I loved that part of my job. Anyway, I worked I retail and then sales and ended up in corporate sales, selling software development tools to big banks. I sometimes say that I felt I was using my powers for evil. I’m a good sales person because I am honest. I don’t bullshit, or fake discount,or play the stupid games so many bad sales people do. Never have. And then on May 27th 2006, I saw an article, this article http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2006/may/27/careers.work in The Guardian, with UnLtd, writing about social enterpreneurs. And I though, hey hey… This looks good…

And then, alongside this, I was also involved in human rights activism and other campaigns. I petitioned Loreal at the age of 15 to stop the LD50 test, and started boycotting Nestlé and Loreal then. I got involved with Amnesty nationally, just a member, I got the magazines and wrote letters. After I moved to Southampton, a few years later, I joined the local Southampton city Amnesty Group and got involved in their Central America Special Action group. One of this things I did for that was be filmed, by the Open University, writing a letter to the mother of a woman who had been killed walking home from a sweatshop. There’s been a huge culture of femicide – killings of women – in places like Ciadad Juarez, and it almost seems state sanctioned. And I wrote to the mother of a woman who had been killed saying, you may feel alone, but know that you are not. Know that you have friends that care in other countries who know of your pain and who know this was wrong and who are writing to your government asking them why this goes on. And then they filmed this woman reading my letter. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever done, and it still chokes me up to remember it. That was a real woman, killed, walking home from a sweatshop. I had no idea what she’d been making and I realised I could be wearing something made by someone killed shortly after. I’m casting no aspersions at all against Freya or any other brand right here – but what I realised was, precisely, that I did not know. And I wanted to have no part in lives being so full of danger. I wanted the things I wear to make me feel gorgeous and happy to have a gorgeous and happy start in life. Work, earning our own money, is one of the most empowering things we can do – it should not be a place of risk or exploitation.

Another thing I knew about from Amnesty was that there was a big refugee population in Southampton. These are people who have fled horrific places and come here, to this land of drizzle and grey skies that I adore (I often say here that if you put me on a beach in the sunshine I get confused. I grew up in Wales. Summer = warm drizzle), because it is better, safer, for them and their children. I knew that within that group, it was often the women who were the most marginalised. The husbands, more often than not, come to the UK first and, often, have to promise the government that they can support their family before the family is allowed to join them. Their wives get no benefits, in many cases (the refugee/asylum/economic migrant/ benefits issue is massive. I’ll write about it properly another day) This means that husbands might be working 14, 16 hour days. They’ll almost certainly be learning English. Children will be at school, learning English. Mum is sitting at home, on her own, developing depression. This is not good.

The final piece of the puzzle is something that happened to me. In September 2005, I had a breakdown (I actually usually say I went mental but that feels a bit woooahh Captain Sparrow to write down) and ended up in counselling with Southampton Rape Crisis over something that happened to me when I was younger. They gave me my life back and showed me that what I had previously thought was happy was, in fact, rubbish. They showed me that the world was an amazing place, that I could go and play in it, that I was strong and powerful and that I could do whatever I wanted. I usually touch my nose at this point. I have a dribbling wreck fear of needles and got my nose pierced as a reminder to myself that I *can* do anything. It’s a little touchstone for me. And I thought, if I can share this feeling, with just one woman, it can bring some good from what happened to me. And I wanted to share that arms outstretched, I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR kind of feeling.

So, what we have here is a group of people that I though might want a job, a product I wanted to buy and me feeling like I could take on the world. On December, I think, 5th, 2007 my counsellor said something to me in a session that just blew my mind. It was a statement that blew apart a bunch of ‘rules’ I was living by that weren’t mine and made no sense. I was so elated, I was so transformed, I was asked out four times that night. I realised that I was powerful, that I could do things, that I could make choices, my own choices I could do things I enjoyed. And I decided that I’d spend my Christmas break just thinking about what I wanted to do. And I went back to work in January knowing I was going to hand in my notice at the end of March and leave my job at the end of June. And that’s what I did. I had my first meeting with a co-ops development worker on January 7th 2008, started work full time on Who Made Your Pants? On July 1st 2008, we legally incorporated on the 12th December 2008, launched the training project, sold our first pants and ‘pants futures’ in 2009, perfected our current design in May 2010, launched our 14th colour in October 2011 and we launched our new branding on February 18th 2012.Image

Almost everyone involved has worked unpaid for at least some of the time – and I mean everyone from me and Della to our board to our web developer to our IT folks and photographers and friends who donate goods and time, and branding people and finance people and our designer and the chap that manages the building we’re in. Della and I both take home significantly less than we ought, as we’re building this. Everyone cares. Everyone wants this to work. We have engaged with over 60 women on the last four years, some of whom were illiterate in their own languages, let alone English, many of whom had just no idea how to have a job. I sometimes say that we’re an employability project masquerading as a knicker business. We’ve given every single one a chance and have now settled on our team of seven as they showed us that they cared, they wanted this to work.

And so there we go. I quit a well paid public sector job to do this, seven women are taking wages home today that were not before. Four more have taken some time out – they are still on our books but their jobs are open to them when they come back. They are richer. And I’m poorer, much poorer than I was, but so, so much happier than I was before. Every day I get up knowing that what I do matters. There is nothing, nothing I want to do more.

From a news paper article on the 27th May 2006 via being founded in 2008 to today.. Our story…Hope you like it

X

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WOW – what a great day. What GREAT women.

Hello again everyone

Look at this, it’s a Sunday evening and I’m writing a blog. I’ve had such an amazing time recently that I’ve just got to get it out of my head and onto , well, not exactly paper but you know what I mean

This is all about my day at the WOW Festival – if I try to cover anything else as well it will be pages! http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/women-of-the-world

Yesterday was a truly magnificent day, though long. The itinerary was…

6.15 Up to get the 7.40 train to London (the alarm was set for 6.30 but my darling cats woke me up at 6.15.. sweet, eh?)
7.40 – train, on which I read about Invisible Cows and telescopes
10-11 set up a stall in Royal Festival Hall
11 Head to Artists Entrance of Queen Elizabeth Hall
12-1.15 WOW Bites talks, 15 minute slot for me to talk
1.15 – 7pm SELL SELL SELL

I don’t quite have the words for how I feel about the day. I really had a lovely lovely day and a day like that has been a long time coming – it felt like my reward for the long slog (back to that on Tuesday). It was amazing. Astonishing. Hugely powerful, inspiring, supportive and validating. The longer I work in the women’s sector (that I had no real idea I had moved into when I started this whole thing) the more I love it, the more I want to be part of it, the more I get angry at the rubbish status quo that accepts objectification of women and abuse of them, and the more determined I get to yell and shout and do everything I can, with every sinew, to Make Things Better. Being surrounded by women yesterday, engaged, conscious women, was a delight and a treat. Selling £840 worth of pants was pretty good too, and running out of gift bags and tissue paper the same! I’m enormously proud that I, and we, are part of this and that we are making changes.

So, I got to London and to the RFH and at ten o’clock we got going with set up.. HUGE thanks to the awesome Laura and Clair who gave up most of their Saturday to help me set up, and sell – payment in Welsh Cakes is unusual but seemed to be appreciated! After a minor incident with a bashed hanging rail pole that needed pliers to fix, we were away and the stall looked lovely, pants and bunting hanging up and doing their job of attracting attention. At 11 I rushed over to the Artists entrance, in such a hurry as it turned out that I had to go back and get pants to show off..

But oh me oh my – Artists entrance! Green Room! Bidisha who’s column I do LOVE from the Guardian! Finn Mackay of Reclaim the Night*, Jess Search of BRITdoc, Harriet Boatemaa of the co-op that OWNS Divine Chocolate, Radharani Mitra, the women behind the condom normalisation programme in India, and Brigid McConville talking about maternal mortality and the bizarreness of hospital units being donated and built in areas with no electricity.. and left to rust… I was sharing a stage with women who I felt frankly, dwarfed by.

I did what I do and talked about me and pants and why I do it and I talked, more than I usually do, abut being raped. That’s not to say I described it but I actually said ‘I was raped’ instead of saying ‘I had counselling with Rape Crisis’. The talks were supposed to be inspiring and I really wanted women to see the proof that there really is life after rape and that it doesn’t have to be the end. The whole talk seemed very well received and even before I’d got back to our stall afterwards, people had been there and said they’d come to support because of my talk. So that was good.

The day was pretty non stop after that. We sold out of a few sizes and had some great offers – a woman who is a lawyer has offered remote legal support, a woman who set up a women’s network in the City has offered to introduce me to it and other groups that would like to hear me talk, and I was asked by a number of people for interviews and the like. I was personally chuffed to bits to put a face to the name Esme, to see the Olivia who loves our pants, to have a huge Tamsin Omond hug and to bump into Emma from Pink Stinks. Very happy fun times.

We were sell sell selling all day long and even when we were packing up the boxes to leave we sold more. And then a friend dropped by and bought me a restorative gin and tonic, before another friend arrived with a car to take me and all our kit the 82 miles back to Southampton.

If yesterday is characterised by anything for me, it’s that friendship and women are powerful forces. The whole event was about women and not just the things that so often get discussed – rape, violence, discrimination. It celebrated success and joy and delight and achievement and strength. Friendships bring those things and women have them by the bucket load.

Women of the world – WOW. What a GREAT day.

x

*If you think a march against male violence against women isn’t important or relevant, ask yourself if you’d happily walk home alone, anywhere, at anytime of day or night if you’re a woman. Or if you’d be happy to hear about your sister or partner or daughter or mother or niece doing so. If the answer is no, ask yourself this next – who do we, societally, expect to change their behaviour. The woman? Should she stay home to be safe? Impose a curfew on herself? Or should we expect people, men, to not attack women? With whom does the responsibility for violence lie?)

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So here’s to you 2010…

Hello folks 🙂

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 £70k, £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) £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 🙂

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 🙂

Becky

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Power to the Small Massive, 2 Faces and a 52 day old sweetheart

Morning everybody,

Today’s blog is brought to you by the Asian Dub Foundation songs 2 Face, largely because my experience of today has been one of two distinct halves already, and Power to the Small Massive because I feel that we are tiny in a giant sea, and the number 52 which is how many days whomadeyourpants? baby number 2 has been outside his mum and in the world.

I wrote the first part of this this morning, and the second part after 52 day old young man came in. He lifted my spirits and the love and joy on his mum’s face reminded me of why I do this. So while I make no apology for the downbeat nature of the first part of this, the second needs no explanation. I suspect you clever lot will see where the join between the two parts is and where he came in!

Blimey, what a day I am having. I can hear laughter from the sewing room, and I’m glad the women are having fun. But I’ve been having a hard day. I was undecided about whether or not to share it with you but I thought, we’re all about honesty and this is the truth. Today has been, already, very hard.

Out of the 15 women we expected today, 10 arrived. Four let us know they would not be in. They are due in at 9.45 to be ready to start at 10. Four were here before 10, the rest late. We’d dealt with this timekeeping issue, and so I’m really worried that it’s slipping again. Why is it indicative of, I wonder? I had planned to have a talk with a few of the women one to one just to review last weeks meeting and see how they feel about things – I’m aware that we heard a lot from a vocal few and want to make sure the quieter people have a chance to speak. But they weren’t here in time for me to do that. So I couldn’t. And I still have no idea how they feel, or whether they are happy to keep on training. I really want them to understand deeply that they are key to this and that we need them, and they need themselves – we’re not a support agency, we’re one that rewards putting in and once they are qualified and able to work without a teacher, that will mean they are capable of producing enough product to support their wages. Right now that is not the case and I’m entertaining all sorts of possibilities – will they all leave? Are they erally unhappy, are their families? Do they really expect to be paid when they can’t do the job? We can’t support passengers, especially not at this early stage.

Alongside this, on my to do list for today is: prepare our Annual Returns, our AGM, our next Committee meeting, our invoices. Map attendance, fix computers, finalise six policies and associated procedures, find new suppliers and arrange visits, prepare for another co-op AGM I’m speaking at, work on writing four funding bids and trawl for more opportunities. Do the Quality check of all pants made today. Work out how to get the NVQ we have been promising delivered. Find a college partner. Contact our new Sector Skills Council. Task volunteers with getting an answerphone, scanner and computers working. Build a year plan of key dates including training, intakes, sales, production, designs volunteers. Customer Service. Website development issues and planning. Plan some marketing and sales, do some of each. Work on some broad refugee issues and one specific query from one of the women. Send details of people who have approached me as about volunteering to one of our team who collates approaches and arranges inductions. I feel like I am drowning and I have spent much of this morning gripped by panic. I don’t give up easily, and I don’t want to give this up, but there are some days when it feels very very hard and it’s really difficult, lemon difficult, to feel that this is cared about by the people it’s being built for. And then I feel terribly presumptive – no-one asked me to do this, I decided to do it and I’m not in it for glory or fame or money – but I’d like to think people actually wanted to be part of it. And I can;t help but feel a bit hurt when there’s an intimation that it’s all about the cash.

I’m clinging to the fact that I know a lot of this is down to the fact that right now every aspect of EVEYTHING here is hard and do there are no safe and easy areas I can retreat to and reassure myself they are going well. I know it’s would be easier to cope with the difficulties if we were more stable financially. I know I’d be less worried about money if we were producing masses of saleable pants. But we’re broke and producing just enough to cover our current orders. To grow and succeed, we need to get me out selling pants and that’s just not possible right now.

Ooooh… what a lovely interlude! One of our lovely women has just popped in with her little boy, whomadeyourpants? baby number 2. He is GORGEOUS and was doing that determined sleeping that babies do. Mum decided that I needed to see his big brown eyes and so poked him gently til he woke up – in a very loving way, but there was poking. He’s adorable. They were able to stay for lunch and so everyone cooed and looked and congratulated. The women shared stories of what cultural things happen around birth where they are from – in the Sudan, apparently, in both Muslim and Christian areas, the mum stays home for 40 days after birth. Visitors are allowed, but mum stays home. In the Emirates, where some women have lived, this is not the case and mum can go out but often stays home for a week to recover. We had a lovely lunch together again, and now the women are back to work and so am I.

So, let’s think, what’s been going on over the last week. I’m sure there’s been some big story in the news.. oh yes, that’s right, there’s been that small matter of the election. I’m very unsure of how things will pan out, as of course are we all, we’re none of us soothsayers. I have to say though, I am very reluctant to think that Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ idea will clean up all the problems. I found it very odd to hear a Tory campaign talking about worker ownership, and on reading their Manifesto ( I am such a policy nerd, really) I found little to persuade me that it was about anything more than cheap outsourcing of service delivery.

In other news, I had a long weekend and needed it. I cycled to Winchester and back on Friday with a friend, and had vegetarian fish and chips for lunch, which was fun. And I had a smashing day in a bluebell wood singing the teddy bears picnic song at the top of my voice with my niece. We also went to the Romsey Green Fair, organised by Transition Town Romsey, which was fun. I had a day to myself on Sunday, which nearly drove me spare – I cope badly with having nothing to do – and then on Monday I did chores and met someone who has applied to be a Committee Member for dinner. We’ll find out at the next meeting if she is to be elected but I will certainly vote for her – she has a wealth of commercial experiences that will be really helpful, and she ‘gets’ me which will also be fab.

I’m feeling far better now than I was earlier (and thank you my twitter friends for the advice and support) and I’m riding a wave of calming tranquilliser-ish hormones. My wonderful counsellor at the Rape Crisis used to say that tears had a reward, a dose of natural calming tranquillisers. I like them. I’m still worried though. It seems that fully one third of our lovely women have serious hospital related ongoing health issues. This seems hugely disproportionate to me. And, to be very frank, when they have appointments on Wednesdays, as many do today, we really notice that they are not here. As this group only come in on Wednesdays, losing one session really hits productivity and ongoing learning. And it baffles me – how can people say they want more lessons, they want longer lessons – and then not show? We’ve talked about trying to get hospital appointments on days that are not Wednesdays, and we’ve also talked about letting us know about appointments in advance, for example, when the letter arrives. But it’s always last minute and that makes it immensely difficult to plan.

This is all a learning curve for me and for us, and no doubt for you too. I hope my honesty about how hard things can be comes across as it is – a report on the reality rather than a whine. Please let me know. I want to be open about what we do, and how we do it – and I think that means sharing the highs and the lows, the successes and the slog to get there Today of all days I want to say thank you for reading and supporting. Even when the office is full, I can feel very alone here and knowing there are people out there cheering us on really helps.

Excerpt from Power to the Small Massive

This one goes out to the people
Under pressure Under ground
Out to the voiceless to the restless
Stirring the nation with their sound
Can you feelin the vibe generate new energy
Got to rise up from the ashes got to restart history
Power 2 U if you wanna break loose

Until next week

Becky

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Oh the weather outside is frightful…*

Hello everyone, hello pantslovers, and happy new year! I sincerely hope you all had a great break, a big rest, and are now happy to see a new year beckoning. It’s the 6th already- almost a week gone!

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to write for ages but things have been busy and I was determined to do NOTHING work related over Christmas (Having gone a bit la la due to overwork before, I’m very aware of the need for rest, And if an ethical business can’t let people have a break, who can?) so today’s snow day is giving me some time. And I’m looking forward to telling you all our news.

It occurs to me that one of the downsides of me writing infrequently is that I can only remember the most recent stuff that has happened. Things happen so fast, it’s almost impossible to keep track. Maybe I should make a New Year Resolution to write this every week. Hmm..

But anyway. Things are, as ever, up and down and chaotic. Yesterday saw our second intake of women have their first sewing lesson – and Recycle and Sew, our trainers, have worked some sort of miracle. They have completely revised the way they teach and by the end of the first lesson, the women had almost completely finished some pants! Amazing. It was a real lift, as the first group of women had what we think was a crisis of confidence just before Christmas and we had some last minute quality issues which caused huge problems (more on that below). But so group 2 are now happy and on their way. Thank Bob!

I came back into work on the 4th to find the building cold but unleaked into, and we’ve some new shelves up which help us store things. I’m very much a womble so we have a box of cardboard for making tags and markers and signs, and packaging we’ve received which we can reuse. I hate throwing things away and hope to inject that spirit into the business too.

Skipping back through time, let’s go back to the weeks before Christmas. I’ve not caught up properly yet with Della, out wonderful volunteer (please please buy pants so we can employ her!) Head of Operations, but I know the building was closed due to ice and even so she managed to hand deliver a load of last minute orders. Amazing, and worthy of the Becky School of Customer Service silver star. I went on leave on the 18th (Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd and the anniversary of the reason I went to see Rape Crisis and I often have a bad time of it, so best to be out of work) but she held the fort brilliantly while I was away and I’m grateful.

In the run up to the 18th, we had a manic, manic time. Switching the women from the (cheap) training fabrics onto the (more expensive and limited in quantity) proper fabrics caused HUGE problems. They move just slightly differently, and we think that the women suddenly had a panic about the fact people were actually buying the pants, and we had massive, massive quality issues. Recycle and Sew worked like absolute troopers to get the order finished, and even I was sewing on bows by hand. Della and I were packing and wrapping and shipping and labelling, as well as trying to actually take orders, and a million and one other things, like do our day jobs. It was so full on I had a headache that took over a week of being on leave to shift, but I think (and hope) everyone was happy. I hope!

And to the future! What will 2010 bring us?

Well, my support package from the brilliant http://www.unltd.org.uk has kicked in and I’m up to London to see them in January and February, and I can’t wait. We plan to sell pants by the bucketload, of course (and you can help there.. come on…) but we’ll recruit at least 10 more women, get at least 8 women through NVQs, establish our rolling team leader programme, we’ll deliver training and advice on all manner of things thanks for a grant from the Salaam Programme and Southampton City Council. We hope 2010 will bring us dull but essential things like another laser printer, some more stationery and marketing materials. And a lot of fun and laughs. One of the business’s resolutions for the year is the implementation of tea breaks so everyone talks to everyone, and we don’t let any one person spend all day locked in their office (no matter how much I they want to be!). So if you call us between 11 and 11.15, 1 and 1.30, and 3 and 3.15, we’ll call you back!

Oh, and in reference to my subject line… Four things…

1. The weather isn’t frightful. Snow isn’t frightful, not here. It’s lovely. In a lovely quote from Billy Connolly, there’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s just the wrong clothes 🙂 Yes, I know there’s ice and it’s cold and all. So stay in! I bet your sofa is a comfy now as it was over Christmas. All these people rushing around thinking they *must* get to work – unless someone is a heart surgeon or a firefighter or something, no-one will die from them not being at work, will they? I’m frustrated by the fact that I had to stay home today, for sure, but it’s no great disaster. I’m not dead and no-one will starve or die for not having a pair of knickers.

2. I’ve understood I think why so many places are shut. It’s not necessarily that the place itself is surrounded in ice, but that staff can’t get there to open places up. One of the reasons we closed today is that our sewing teacher lives way out in the wilds. She is snowed in – no teacher, no class, so no students need come in.
We’re also closed because the car park of the building we work in is liable to be an ice rink in this sort of weather – apparently just before Christmas, one car slid along the car park just gently kissing each car as it passed…

3.For a far better put review of why the weather is no great disaster (for the most of us) please do go and read this lovely piece by Victoria Coren from February 2009. I think we all need reminders of what is and is not important. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/08/snow-victoria-coren

4. Why do we have to stop singing Christmas songs on as soon as Christmas day is over? I’ve only just got into the spirit of things by then and love The Holly and The Ivy and all of them!

See you all soon you smashing folks!

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An anniversary

This time last year, I was half way through my notice period at my last job, counting down the days til I could leave, and get on with whomadeyourpants?

The 21st May was also the day I had my very last session with the fabulous Rape Crisis in Southampton. I’d thought ‘d never want to leave, and on a number of occasions, had suggested I move in there, as it was the only place I felt properly safe for a long time. But when it came to it, I was so excited to know I didn’t need to go any more. I’ll never, ever forget them though.

So today, I am thankful. For them, for their help, and for their support in helping me be who I am today.

In the world of pants, the English training is underway, we’ve booked a visit to a supplier next week, premises are looking like they are going to be on schedule…aside from the ongoing no salary issue, all is well. And this weekend there is the gig in Putney (which even got into the Wimbledon Guardianhttp://www.wimbledonguardian.co.uk/leisure/4382461.Indy_Award_winners_at_The_Halfmoon/) , four bands all playing to support whomadeyourpants?, the mad idea that fell out of my head and is now a reality.  We’re even got ethical T shirts to sell with the pants logo on.

As well as being thankful, today is a day for me personally to look back at everything I’ve done and, for once, feel proud. I’m not always very good at saying I’ve done well, but I think today is a day I can. Thank you Rape Crisis, and a huge thank you to my friends, my family (my amazing brother especially),  all of whom have been supportive, helpful, generous and kind. For all the practical help, advice, suggestions, donations, the beers and dinners when I’m skint, the festival tickets, the love and the accommodation when I need a place to sleep when I’m away… thank you.

So, to celebrate, I’m getting new hole in my ear, and sorting otu some stuff for the gig on Saturday. And eating a whole lot of chocolate 🙂

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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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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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