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

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We’ve come a long, long way together

Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should
(Praise you,

Gooood morning everybody!

This seems an appropriate song to be thinking of this morning, as we are now officially passed our first birthday and have had our very first AGM. It’s strange, we have so many firsts – the day I started work on this full time (1st July 2008), first day in premises (February 2009) first training session (May 2009) launch (1st December 2009) and first AGM (21st May 2010). I like that our AGM was on the two year anniversary of the day I left Rape Crisis – anniversaries are important to me and it’s nice to link an end and a beginning.

I didn’t write last week as I was out due to an important family thing, so I’ve quite a bit to catch up on with you. Let’s see, what’s happened since the 12th May? Loads! I’ve been busy almost every day and night, what with work, family support and events, and am very much looking forward to the bank holiday weekend to get back in touch with my house and garden. Things are running pretty smoothly here, though we are starting to lose volunteers for a wee while due to the exam season and might lose more over summer if people go home. You may have seen my wee blog post yesterday on this, and we’ve already had a response so it looks like we might not have any gaps of coverage. We are so reliant on our amazing volunteers here – they do so much and let me and Della just get on with what we need to do. Maryam is back from Iran, as glamorous and cheerful as ever. She’s one person who always looks like a smile is just waiting at the corner of her mouth. Maryam is working on some internal database stuff for us, records of all our worker, volunteer and other contacts. She’s built the database and is also doing bits of systems administration, or at least is learning to. We’ve a visit from another IT volunteer BW on Thursday night, hoping to get the computers we have here all finished and labelled up so we know what we have. We have about 12 machines in total, some bought, some donated, some in bits, and we want to get them turned into about 8 really decent machines. So thanks Maryam, Gareth and BW for all your work on that stuff.

In other news, yes, let’s talk AGM! How exciting, eh? Last Friday we had three meetings in one afternoon, the first to accept our accounts, then our AGM and the our regular Committee Meeting. I am delighted to report that our newly elected Committee is

Me – Chair
Joy Conway – Secretary
Norman Rides – Treasurer
Allegra Carlton, Della Cunio, Amina Osman – Committee Members.

We’re going to have some training or work done on roles and responsibilities of Committee members as Allegra, for example, is a trainer by DNA it seems, and we’d like her to have a Role title that reflects that. But there we are, a shiny new Committee! We also have an Annual Report and (very nearly) accounts, which I will be posting up somewhere for you to read once final agreed amendments have been made. It was a real push to get all the business done, but we did it, and thanks to Della and Aimee for bringing the supplies (triple choc cookies featured quite highly) and to the fantastic Andrea Allam who stepped in with 40 minutes notice to present our accounts when our Treasurer was unable to.

Last night I was in London for an UnLtd Celebration event and it was absolutely brilliant. I did a bit more elephant hunting on the way there and saw three on the South Bank. When I’m not with UnLtd people I forget how brilliant it feels to be so supported by them. They talk about the entrepreneur, the person in the middle of everything, with such passion and caring, and when they say it to my face, I can’t deny that they mean me. I find it very easy to circumvent praise and then feel unsupported just because my own brain has been silly and pushed it all away. But anyway, it was a joy to be there last night and to see the heartstoppingly amazing http://www.choirwithnoname.org (made up of people who have experienced homelessness) sing. Please do check them out – Marie, their Musical Director was an UnLtd award winner at the same time as me, and is doing a really wonderful thing. Seeing the choir sing, and seeing them relax into it and enjoy themselves was absolutely thrilling – I was almost in tears throughout it all. THAT is what social enterprise can do, that’s what it’s for. Its a way of running a business that makes a real, tangible, demonstrable difference to lives. Power to Marie and the Choir and do, please, if you are free on the 19th June in London, go along to their 2nd birthday,7.30pm, The Drill Hall, 16 Chenies Street, London WC1E 7EX. Go!

We were also treated to a recital from Leanne (apols if I get the spelling wrong) from the http://www.hiphopshakespeare.com, led by another Award winner, Kingslee Daley. When he told me that iambic pentameter (basically, a way of writing where each line has ten syllables, in five pairs, one of which is stressed, eg, shall I comPARE thee TO a SUMmer DAY) is the rhythm of the human heart, I was hooked. Such a great idea and a side of Shakespeare that I’ve never known. Lovely. They’ll be at camp Bestival this summer – check them out if you’re there. And finally, we had a goody bag including perfect cake and cereal from http://www.foodworksuk.org run by Kelvin Cheung, another award winner. He asked me how I was, as a person, and it struck me that I rarely think of ‘me’ – I think of me, as pants. This has to change!

It’s time for a break with the trainees, so I’m off. I think it’s about time I did another round of thanks, actually, to the people who support me to allow me to do what I do, not just the pants team. Without them, as well as the people who do work here, I’d be lost. Mr Stuff feeds my cats when I have to be away in London, or work late. My cats bring me dead things and give me something to think about other than pants. There’s someone very kind who sent me a cheque. My parents, who surprise me with their pride.
UnLtd, always UnLtd, who I should lean on harder.

And now, to break. More next week, when hopefully I will be less tired!

Becky
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