Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Brown eyed girl… (and why we don’t yet do man pants)

Morning all!

Well, spring has put in an appearance and now, by the looks of today, disappeared again. Hope it comes back soon.

I am feeling much, much refreshed after my break and I am pleased to report that Della is back in the office, her flat, partner and animals all safe though shaken since that terrible fire.

In other news. Our first ever whomadeyourpants? baby has been to visit us today! Five weeks old and gorgeous, the prettiest eyes and apparently a joy to the family as her dad is one of seven boys! She and mum are doing really well. Mum is hoping to come back to work in two weeks as long as her husband can look after baby while she is here. It’ll only be for about four hours in total but for a lot of the families we work with, childcare is a huge issue. A lot of the husbands have jobs with lowish pay and long hours and very little security (one person I spoke to works for an agency and told me that days off sick were almost punished as no more work would be give that week. A day off for an appointment or a lesson was the same), so taking time out is a struggle. But it’s great to know she wants to come back to us and it was really lovely to meet the little one.

Lots of other things have been happening, particularly around fundraising. We are preparing for the John Paul Getty Junior Trust visit next week, and the Hilden Charitable Fund are coming to see us the week after. I’m writing bids for about six other funds too, and we are awaiting decisions from two other funders. Let’s hope they say yes! Sophie from Lush came to see us yesterday, as we have applied to their Charity Pot Fund to pay for the development of case studies on each of our women. We want to show people what life is really like for refugees, and explain why they are here. Plus I have a personal mission to get the UK to understand the difference between migrant, immigrant, illegal immigrant, economic migrant, asylum seeker and refugee (a post for another day) See photos of Sophie’s visit here http://www.facebook.com/charitypot?v=wall and we had a great chat. I’m hoping to work with Lush locally as well as they, like us, are driven by ethics.

If you’ve followed that facebook link above, you’ll see that the question was raised there about why we don’t do boy pants. This was also flagged in the comments following Lucy Siegle’s mention of us in her Observer column. We do plan to do pants for men, and children, but not yet. And there are two main reasons why – short version is 1) All in good time… Our women are learning one thing at a time (and we only launched in December 09) and 2)we use upcycled fabrics for our pants, which tend to be synthetics. I’m not, personally, sure how many mens or kids pants are made of synthetics so we’d need to look for another supplier. Again… all in good time.

Here’s the longer story

We currently make three styles in three colours in eight sizes – a total of 72 products. To get to an agreed design we commission a series of designs (which costs money) and then select the sort we like best. Revisions are then done (which costs money) and we then tweak and test and show people until we are happy. The picture is then turned into a design (which costs money), usually in a size 10 or 12, and a mock up pair made (which costs money). This is then tweaked and tested and shown around until we are happy (which costs money). Once the final design is agreed, there is a process called ‘grading’ which is where the pattern is scaled up and down to the rest of our size range. This is a very skilled job (it all is, as I’m sure you can tell) and therefore.. costs money..

Once we have the grading set, patterns are produced for each panel. There are all manner of ways this can be done in industry, all of which.. cost lots of money. And as we are currently new, tiny and poor, we do it old skool way with each pattern piece cut out of interfacing (a stiffish sort of cloth which goes into collars). This means that every pair of pants is hand cut, every pattern piece hand cut.. it is very labour intensive – three women cut every week, six sit at machines, and one hand sews bows on. And regular readers will know that our teams only sew for three hours a week each, and we only have two teams right now. We are aiming for ten teams (imagine, us being able to help 100 women a week!) but.. all in good time.

The second point, on the materials, is something scheduled for investigation in 2011 and launch in 2012. We buy fabrics from people who buy fabrics from lingerie companies at the end of season, or when there have been overruns or, for whatever reason, there is surplus fabric around. We do this as I think it is better to diver materials from landfill than it is to produce virgin materials – upcycling is one of the key principles of whomadeyourpants?

It is relatively easy to get lingerie fabrics this way, but I have not yet looked into the availability of the sorts of stuff man pants are made of.. and I’m suspecting that guys, mostly, don’t want pink lace. I’m guessing most man pants are cotton, so we need to find a supplier of upcycled cotton (and relevant elastics etc if possible) in the quantity we would need.

The overarching thing is.. all in good time. I have grand plans and huge ambitions for ridding the world of sweatshops and empowering women through work, and of course, producing really great pants… but we have to get what we are doing now right first. Our very first employees, recruited December 1st 2009, are still training on the job, and we are still working how to do this thing we call whomadeyourpants? It’s brilliant that so many people want us to expand our product range so, if I might be so bold, might I suggest you sign up to our mailing list (or RSS this blog, or become a fan on facebook) to be among the first to hear about any new products as and when we can.

Thanks for reading everyone, it’s tea break time now so I’m off for a caffeine fix. Catch you next week!

Becky

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whomadeyoursamples?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Night all!

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And I’d like to thank…

The last week has disappeared out from under me and here we are, nearly Wednesday again, the official start of the weekend.I mean to write this last Friday but was frantically busy and then went out for a well earned night out seeing Subgiant at the Soul Cellar. Lots of dancing and jumping about which was just what I needed.

It seems that pants is on a bit of a roll at the moment. I’m nearly all moved into the new office, a few technological teething problems but I do seem prone to them. I was loaned a mobile internet doodah, which doesn’t work, and the printer can;t work with the new ‘puter without the drivers, which are online… but also on a CD which a kind friend has copied for me. But I have rows upon rows of lovely files all marked up and filing up with papers, a desk, stationary, in and out trays to help me be organised – bliss! That’s sounds a bit of a wierd sort of bliss I know, but it’s already making a difference. Today, for the first time, I sat at my desk and did a full afternoon of proper work – and it was wonderful.

One of the grants we’ve been awarded needs my attention this week. It was due to fund work which was scheduled to start now, but because of the delays last year, and other logistical things – like that there are still people in the rooms my landlords want to offer me – so that’s to be tackled tomorrow.  Good news though, I have finally got a nearly complete spreadsheet of all the women I am hoping to work with (info has been kept by me and various other people until now) and realised that about 20 women are in the process of having their Better Off At Work Calculations done. This is progress. Tomorrow I hope to work out some self employment and PAYE stuff with the help of the lovely Helen.

Speaking of the lovely Helen, there are so many people, that I am proud to call friends, without whom  this project would just not be happening and it feels like it’s about time to say thankyou. In no particular order…

Helen, for being my financial guru and being patient when I go blank

Jeff for having a go at pretty much anything

Gareth for mending web stuff in minutes and telling me he’s proud of me

Drew for the site and the dreams I’m entertaining of the next iteration

Gordon for hosting and answering questions when I’m panicking

Mr Stuff for being IT support

Russell for all the help, and the endless patience, and the listening ears.

Tom for design work.

Mark and Frank for the office and the help and advice

Roopa for being a ray of sunshine on a sparkly rainbow

Robert for being utterly sensible and for kicking me up the rear when I need it

Ian for the router

Clare W, Michelle M, Gadjie, Mark B, Gareth and The List for the very generous donations

Nigel Paice of electropuppy.com for the hope of the album and for not minding that I take ages to get back in touch

ScarletBlonde for the tour

Ethel for the offer of promotion

Sam at ethicsgirls for the reassurance, advice and light at the end of the tunnel

And I’m sure there are more but I’m already sounding worryingly like I’m at the Oscars. every single one of the people mentioned above has done something for nothing that they didn’t have to, and that I appreciate massively. You’re all stars.

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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 Friday, Friday, Friday

One of my friends sings a little song on a Friday. It’s tuneful delight, sometimes with ArmDancingTM, expressing her joy at the end of the working week. In my last job, the weeks were, towards the end, untaxing, so there was no great relief in a Friday. And now my working week is not so clearly bookended, I sometimes think I’ll have to make up my own song. ‘It’s a day off, a day off, a day off’.

This project is about so much more than me wanting to make ethical pants, and the women that I work with often find it easier to meet at the weekend. Their children can be safe with family and they can come along knowing the little ones are being looked after elsewhere. I love that whomadeyourpants? has taken over so much of my life – it’s that thing, find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life – but I do find myself sometimes wondering when my last day off was. Tomorrow will be a day off. It has to be. After finding myself trapped in the bathroom last night, and having to call my lodger (who was upstairs) and my brother (who was in his own house) to free me, DIY must be done.

So, this Friday, I can sing the Friday song, as it is the end of my week, though I will work a little bit over the weekend as I heard today about a fund which suits and has a deadline on Monday. What has happened this week? Well, the internet connection in my house has done it’s best to snap my sanity, what with dropping out seemingly at random, when it likes. I have swapped the router, checked the phone line, tried different laptops. All with the help of not one, not two, not three but six computery clever types. It’s workign now.. fingers crossed, eh?

The probable highlight of my week was a call from JobCentrePlus. Frequently slated, I know a lot of people have little time for them. But the support they are offering this project is amazing. Three benefits advisers can come out to a venue and see, we hope, 39 women in one day to do Better off at Work calculations and work out which of the women can do what work, for how long. They will send me forms to disseminate first, so that each woman can fill in all her information and return it to them before the appointment, and then on the day they will be able to maximise the number of people the advisers see. Can you imagine how much easier this will make things than trying to persuade 39 women, many of whom are scared to ask about benefits in case they lose them just for asking, to go to a place at the far end of town, and talk to an adviser who knows nothing about why they are asking? That the advisers will all be briefed and ready to help is sign to me of a real commitment from JobCentrePlus.

I’ve been told that the groups whomadeyourpants? aims to engage with are the same groups other agencies want to work with, but it’s just amazing when that tangible proof happens. It makes me think my original idea must be on the right track, and that is pleasing. And it wonderful that other agencies want to support women in general and this project in particular. So many of the women I am talking to desperately want to work, they don’t want to be at home all day, they want their own time and space and to do something outside the home. I work at home most of the time while I’m setting this up and I’d go absolutely crackers if I didn’t have a walk out every day, or a neighbour to chat to. People like people, we like to talk and be sociable.

For many people, the Friday song heralds a trip to a hotbed of sociability, the pub. I feel drawn to the chat and comfort of my friends tonight, but I’m also, frankly, shattered. There’s a door to fix tomorrow, and a tap, lightbulbs to buy, laundry to do and sleep to catch up on, as well as funding to apply for. The pub will be there another day.

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