Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Now you see it, now you don’t… hello sunshine!

Good morning everybody! Isn’t it a gorgeous day! Has summer… really… arrived? Quick, get out there and enjoy it! After you’ve read this of course.

Things at pants central have been as busy as ever over recent weeks so there’s not been time for writing. All kinds of things are going on. Two of our fabulous and long standing volunteers have given notice – one is moving to Vienna, another to Reading. We’ll miss them both, loads, and more so the fact that they won’t be able to join us on our annual picnic!

We’re way ahead on our production schedule now, which is fantastic news, and we’ve Christmas pants all over the place. I have been wear testing and they are GORGEOUS. Assorted photographers have been through our doors and we now have some really brilliant shots of the pants that are fun and show off their colours. One thing I love when I go out selling is that people say how beautiful the colours are. I always reply that I’m too fussy about underwear to let anything that’s not gorgeous get made. I really do think that things that are pretty much necessary, like undies, might just as well be gorgeous. Why not have a little bit of lovely, every day, just for you?

I’ve been to a couple of awards events recently, and spent time with some brilliant people at both. At the Ogunte Women’s Social Leadership awards my friend Heidi came along with me and we had a very jolly time. I met Sam Roddick* of Coco de Mer and was a bit blown away when she told me she’d looked at our website! The next event I attended was Co-operatives Congress, last weekend, in Birmingham. It was at the Hilton Metropole and I kept getting lost – the hotel complex is VAST and it would have been entirely possible for me to have not gone outdoors from Friday when I arrived to Sunday when I left. We were shortlisted for two awards there, and one at Ogunte, and while we won neither, I was so proud of us getting to the final stages.

At the Congress awards dinner, I sat with Alastair Mumford of Topsham Ales, Tara M from The People’s Supermarket (who very deservedly won an award) and Vicki and Margaret of the Star Inn in Salford. Wine and chat flowed and it really was lovely to be around so many like minded co-ops type folks. Not to mention meeting all the Co-operatives UK people. Co-ops UK is the national body for co-ops, and we’re members of them and get support from them. I’ve spoken to them loads on the phone and it was great to put faces (and in some cases hugs!) to names. Some potentially very exciting stuff is coming out of Congress too – I met someone who works for a regional co-operative group that has department stores… they don’t buy from manufacturers or wholesalers independently but have to go through a buying group… and they want t introduce us to the group… We may still yet find that this doesn’t work out – it is more expensive for us to make things than for other people and there are certain mark ups demanded by some shops that we just can’t meet (some want 450% – that means that if they want to sell our pants at £10, they want to buy them for UNDER £2.50) but it is a very very good place to be.

The Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) is turning out to be a great network to be involved in. I’m delighted to say that a wonderful woman, another Fellow, has agreed to mentor me, and I am really looking forward to that. Two other Fellows have been providing me with business and financial advice and I am feeling that we have a much more stable footing now.

We’ve got some baby news! Our fouth wmyp baby was born a few months ago, to one of our longest standing workers, and we’re going to meet her tomorrow. We’ve scheduled co-ops training for tomorrow but I’m wondering how many women will be able to come – I’m not sure how the strikes are going to affect schools around here.

I’m going to round up quickly but there are two more things to say.

First, I’m changing the way I use twitter a bit – or rather, I’m making it clear that the @beckypants account is my personal one. I’ll tweet about work there, for sure, but I also want to be able to tweet abut the current political situation in a way that is clearly not linked to my job. The @whomadeyour account will be the whomadeyourpants? oficial twitter feed now.

And last, It’s summer – honest! Our colour of the month for June is Midsummer Mint and or June box set is called Blue and Green Should Never be Seen. And to the end of Co-operatives Fortnight – July 9 – we are giving 25% off all products on our site with code FRIENDS. Gift sets work our brilliantly – the Working Week should be £55 if all 5 pants and two postage were bought separately. It;s usually £40 for the set and with 25% off, it’s down to £30! BARGAINATIOUS!

Have fun in the sun folks – more soon!

*yep, Anita’ and Gordon’s daughter

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Something Blue, and Elephant Free Ivory

Welll helllooooo hellloooo hellloooooo!

It’s a frantic busy day here at whomadeyourpants? and I’ve run out of steam to rush for a bit so I thought I’d sit and write a blog, as it;s been a while. How are you all? Well I hope?

Things here are really good at the moment. That’s not to say perfect, far from it, and that’s not to say there are no problems, but things are ticking along and that’s A Good Thing.

So, since I last wrote – other than to tell you about our smashing ‘Something Blue’ pants (perfect for weddings!) we’ve been busy as bees. I was out and about at what felt like a non stop events through March. It was a LOT of fun. Hard work, and we all learned loads. We now have forms and paperwork and lists of how to do events and what e need to take so we can prepare much more easily next time. The phrase ‘baptisms of fire’ has been used a lot! We had some really great successes, sold a load of pants, and I was privileged enough to meet an enormous number of really lovely people who said lovely kind things about me personally as well as this business. If one of those people was you – thank you. I’m in the process of following up on all the contacts I made, so if you are one of them, I will be in touch, honest! I’ve just barely touched the ground in a while.

I’m now back in the office for a whole two weeks! Apart from two days.. and I’m glad to be here. It’s brilliant to be part of the hustle of it. I get a bit envious when I’m out and about on my ownsome that there’s lunch being shared and laughs being had! Not to mention I miss the cakes..

But now I’m back in, I’m getting stuck in where I can and carrying on with my work too. I’ve half an eye on the middle and long future -we’ve been asked about replicating or licensing the business model to Africa and other countries. This is always been part of the plan and I’m glad that my instinct for what this could do is being proved right. In the shorter term though, there are photos to take, and policies to write and this business itself to get right.

One of our brilliant volunteers has been taking some gorgeous photographs for us. Our mannequin, Chardonnay (named by another volunteer), models our pants beautifully and we are well on the way to having shots of every 2011 product that we can use for both publicity and our own website. This is hugely important in terms of publicity and showing lots of lovely folk our lovely pants – magazines have a six month lead time. This means that if we want to have our December products in their December magazines, we need to have publicity ready photos taken and sent out, ideally, by the end of May. This, in turn, means that we have bought all the fabric we will use for all our 2011 ‘pants of the month’ up front. As we buy end of line stuff, our supplier can’t send us a bit for samples to be photographed and then store the rest for us for months without us paying for it. We need to buy as soon as we decide what we want to make else it might be sold on to someone else. In terms of cashflow – managing money in and out of the business – this is the exact opposite of how businesses are advised to operate but its the way we have to do things. It’s a bit crazy but that’s the way it works. So we are working to it and hoping to turn up on a glossy page or two later in the year. We’ve also built a huge plan of how far in advance the photos for everything, ever, need to be taken so this should be that start of us having a solid marketing base. I hope!

Technology is coming to the fore a bit for us at the moment. We’ve a new web developer who is doing all kinds of clever things and we are looking our actual IT hardware. All of our computers except one are made from left overs from other computers – people donated old ones and our crack team of IT folk built a smaller number of faster ones. We run Linux (we like open source), one machine has Windows, Della uses her own Mac, I use an Android phone – it’s all a bit chaotic, so we’re having a meeting today ( I have offered pizza) with all the people that help with IT and we’re going to try to come up with a proper plan for making the office easier to work. I’m proud to say we equipped our office from upcyled and donated goods, really- but there are times that it would be brilliant to have something fast and that just worked, out of the box.

In other news, we have had waved goodbye to two brilliant women recently. One of our volunteers the wonderful JG, has moved on. She’s studying for a Masters and has a big dissertation to write and so we reluctantly let her go – we wish her all the very best, miss her already (in the sincere and not rubbish sense) and have told her that her name is always going to be on our list of people to invite to parties and picnics, high days and holidays. And one of our workers has left us as well. She has moved to London with her husband and may be heading home to her home country – her husband said, ‘It is better there now, we want to go home’. That really touched me – there are so many rubbish stories about immigration, asylum and refugees. The reality really is that people who are refugees have fled places that are not safe, places where they are frightened. There’s a clue in the name: refuge – and they very often want to go home. Who wouldn’t? I’m no huge patriot, but if I had to leave the UK (if you did) because I (you) were scared, in fear that I (you) might be killed – wouldn’t I(you) want to go home when it got safer?

Anyhow, anyhoo. If you’ve not seen them yet, our pants of the month are ‘Something Blue’, a gorgeous electric blue with an iridescent shimmer in contrast thread. We think they are a perfect wedding present, or bridesmaid present – they’re old, new and blue – and borrowed too if you imagine the atoms being borrowed from the earth and just our for a moment in the long history of our planet. Next month’s are ‘Elephant Free Ivory’ – they’re exactly the same pattern and style of lace as this months but in an Ivory with a pale blue contrast where this months’ has the iridescence. And guess what.. we’ll be launching a gift set, perfect for blushing brides, including them both. Watch this space, mid May

TTFN!

Becky

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Right here, right now, right here, right now..

Good morning all! How are you today? It’s sunny and bright out there and don’t I feel better for it.

Things here at pants HQ are still pressurised and we are very much doing what we call firefighting – just the urgent stuff, nothing else. Della has been reduced to packing my kit for events rather than, oh, managing staff or writing management plans and reports, as we’ve been massively short on woman power. But today feels a brighter day. We’ve a great atmosphere here today – lots of women in the production area,a good number of volunteers, and that elusive sunshine filtering in through the windows.

So, what’s happened since I last wrote? I’ve done a few tiny posts but my last proper entry was the 8th Feb – my desperate oh oh woe post. Thanks so much to everyone who got in touch afterwards – real support and help are invaluable. Thank you. Since then, plenty has happened. We’ve finalised our colour plans for the year and sorted out what colour bows, threads and gussets we need. I’ve started my mammoth events calendar. Through March I have eight separate things to be at, and am working some nights until eleven pm (sob) so there has been a scheduling task to make sure I take the time back and don’t conk out, but then also catch up with Della. If I’m out at events, then out taking time in lieu, I’m not here and it’s amazing how fast Della and I can get disconnected and lose track of what each other is doing.

Our new press assistant April is doing really well, she’s keen and competent and comes to me with lists of questions and also suggested solutions – bliss! We’re putting some press out, hopefully today, as a call for BUMS – we need bum models! We’ve had some good press too – I was very proud to be featured in the South Wales Echo, a newspaper from my childhood! Have a look at these links if you’ve not seen them yet.

http://www.ogunte.com/innovation/featured-women-socinn/324-becky-john-who-made-your-pants
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/03/01/becky-unveils-her-patriotic-pants-91466-28252876/

We’ve also had out first photos from our new photography assistant. Looking good. I’m excited about getting photos of our new gift sets soon too. They make me so happy! Another volunteer, Aga, has been rifling through the boxes of ribbons we’ve been sent from Lush – they are extras from their gift department and we’re going to turn them into gift wrap for our sets. I want to play…!

We’re starting to get more applications for voluntary work in response to the calls I’ve been putting out. I’ve had a great meeting with Southampton Voluntary Services (long may they continue – I’m personally terrified for them that they will be cut. How the hell are we supposed to have this ‘Big Society’ run by volunteers if there is no support and training for volunteers? My mind boggles…) We’re getting clearer about what we need – we need a minimum of 6 hours a week and a commitment of at least ten weeks. It takes four week for someone to learn where things are and how to do things and it can be a huge drain on Della’s time if she has to constantly support people. We’ve agreed that, in future, we’ll be happy to open up more volunteer roles to people who need us, but right now, we need people who can help us. The reality is, BIg Society watchers, that it is A Very Hard thing to find experienced, competent people who will do the work, unpaid for enough hours to *run* an organisation or activity – they tend to, erm, have jobs, and be busy. Mr Cameron, take note!

What else? Oh! we’ve launched some super smashing splendid pants for St Davids Day and ran a competition about it too – see previous posts – and we’ll announce the winner soon. They are gorgeous and the lace is great quality – it feels nice and strong and supportive without being too weighty. I’m quite demanding about the lace that we take on – it;s easy to get carried away with all the pretty colours but we need it to have certain stretch qualities and it;s best if it’s a certain width as it means less tweaking of patterns.

I’ve been to my very first RSA event and had a lovely time. I’m looking forward to getting more plugged in to their networks and events programmes. The library blew me away – I’m a complete bibliophile and had purposely taken no bag so I could not take loads of books home. I limited myself to two and am going through them with delight.

What else.. I’ve been filmed by Midshires Co-op for a film on ‘why co-ops’, applied for bursaries to hold two co-ops events, been to PURE London, a huge fashion trade show – I love the shuttle buses between the two venue. Old Routemasters! Have had a meeting with another local place about a refugee/co-ops event in summer, appointed a new Committee member, been approached by a newswire, done a volunteering fair at the University of Southampton, started the process of moving our website to a new hosting and development solution (thank you to J who hosted, developed and supported for soooo long) written a reference, caught up with local happenings at the City Council,met Ethiopian and Eritrean women, spoken for the University Feminist Society, arranged to be at the University for two International Womens Day events, written template lists of what I need for different sorts of events, played with bows for colour matching. Busy busy. And we now employ ten women part time, and are training one more. I LOVE that.

If you want to come and see me, I’ll be at a bunch of events in March. Highlights are…

3rd March
Evening sales stall at Fashion on the Age of Austerity at V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green.

7th March 2011 TBC
Evening sales stall and Speaking at a Student Union IWD event Uni Southampton

8th March International Women’s Day
Sales stall, Uni of Southampton, 10-4 with University Feminist Society, selling pants on campus and promoting us.

http://www.teapigs.co.uk will be running a discount code promo and competition to their 16000 strong mailing list 7th March ref IWD.

10-13 March WOW festival
Speaking 12-1 on the 12 March, selling stall all day Saturday

17th, 18th March Responsible Business Event.
We’ll have a stall exhibiting both days and I will be speaking at a seminar for 20 mins on Friday 18th.

Maybe see you there? If not, happy March!

Love

Becky
x

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It’s not all ha ha hee hee*

Today has been a really tough day. A day where I threw my phone** across the room in sheer frustration and only then realised how angry I was. A day where not one thing worked easily, where everything I wanted to do needed five things to be done before I could do it. A friend of mine kindly got in touch and asked what was wrong – he may have regretted doing so. But after I offloaded he suggested maybe I share it in a blog post – I normally try to be cheery but really, it’s not all smiles and roses. I hope you don’t mind and I really hope I don’t come across as hugely self pitying – I’m not. I’m just tired, lonely, and in need of someone stroking my head and telling me it will all be ok. I can’t have that but I can write my thoughts and feelings down so here we go. Feel free to leave now!

Today I was working at home and trying to manage updating HR files and contracts to make sure we’re legal, trying to find a way to make updating our website easier and faster so we can get new products listed quickly, trying to prepare financial information for a mentor so we can make sure we’re not selling at a loss, trying to work out a way for me to access our server from my house/out and about so we don’t wend up with a whole bunch of documents that are different, trying to get new and much needed volunteer posts advertised to help us in all kinds of ways, trying to work out how to deal with today’s various random requests and offers and opportunities (even offers of help take time to deal with – nothing is straightforward), trying to get us entered into a couple of awards thingys, trying to set up partnerships with people we can make gorgeous gift sets with… plus of course my ‘proper’ work of trying to make sales, follow up sales leads, buzz up the PR, get attendance at events sorted. All that kind of thing.

Della’s been in the office juggling the hundred and one things she does and doing it brilliantly. Everything relating to managing all the people who come on site, all our supplies and suppliers, all our products, quality issues, waste, security, where everything is, who has access to what – plus Della will have been dealing with a whole bunch of the same stuff as me as we do stuff between us.

When I said we were drowning a few weeks ago I meant it. We are, I am, really struggling. I honestly don’t know how we are going to manage. There just aren’t the hours in the day. We *need* an office manager, someone who can pick up all the admin, all the HR, the legal stuff and we need that person to be someone good. We can’t afford to pay anyone though and we struggle to get that role filled for more than a few weeks by a volunteer which is, to be honest, more trouble than it’s worth as we lose so much time training only to have to start over. My time is best spent getting out there selling, being enthusiastic about pants and our amazing operation, Della’s time is best spent managing people, and instead I’m having to learn about content management systems, file managers, the ins and outs of job descriptions while Della struggles womanfully to learn how machines are threaded and how to stretch test lace. I hate feeling I *have* to do things, especially when I feel they are things I’m not good at – I haven’t the first clue about HR stuff or web development and I really haven’t the time to learn – if I were to understand in depth all the areas of the business, my brain would explode. Finance, payroll, HR, legal, reporting, sourcing, production, waste, postage, returns, events, marketing, sales, funding, funding reports, admin, work scheduling, website, customer database, finance database, crm – it’s too much. This is why people specialise.

I am not for one minute ungrateful for the amazing people who support me, and us, in everything but for once I think it’s reasonable and fair to share with you all how bloody hard this is at times. It is very bloody hard. I’ve been working on this for three years, all but four months of that full time. And it’s still gut wrenchingly, feel like I’ve climbed one sod of a hill only to be faced with a bigger one, hard. UnLtd talk about how social entrepreneurs need to have loads of resilience. I feel like I’ve run out. I’m not sure how many more kicks I can take at the moment. For the first time ever, I had a fleeting thought of, ‘maybe I should just give this up’ today. I’ve been utterly broke for almost all that time, and I am tired of not being able to mend my heating, or even buy a book on a whim. I’m tired of weighing up the guilt of another night out on my friends generosity as opposed to another night in craving understanding, company and affection. I’m tired of having to cycle in the wind and rain because I can’t afford a bus. I’m tired of us having to weigh up every penny at pants and suffer for it – sometimes we need a solution NOW and NOW tends to mean paying and we just can’t, not even a few hundred pounds. I’m tired of having to lean on our volunteers and not be able to pay them anything for the amazing work they do out of generosity and kindness. I’m tired of everything feeling like a battle. And then to have the women we’ve employed asking for more hours, knowing they need them, and wanting to provide them but not being able to explain to my own satisfaction that we can’t until we sell the pants but we can’t sell them until we have the right PR and we can’t do the right PR until we have photos and we can’t do photos until we get a camera and barcodes and decent coat hangers and we can’t do that stuff until we have some money.. it’s crushing. Or at least today it is.

It’s true to say whomadeyourpants? is a brilliant thing. I know that and for once I can say it without feeling I’m bigging myself up. It is not me and I am not it, it is its own thing now and I am proud of it. But I’m scared and tired and tired of being tired. I’m not sure what the solution to this is, but I hope I find one. I know I won’t give up – I just want some time of if being not so hard as this. That’s all.

And if I may be allowed a very personal this in no way represents the view of wmyp comment – Big Society running on volunteers? Really? Where are all these rich people with so much money they can afford to not work but are so public spirited they’ll step in – they’re sure as hell pretty invisible round here and we are *good* at attracting folks. Hmm.

Night all

Becky

*By Meera Syal. Great book.
** Phone is safe. Thank god, That would have been another mess to sort out.

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Do YOU have a few hours a week to spare?

Yes folks, we’re finally admitting we need some help. There just aren’t enough Della and Becky hours in the week to get everything done that we need and so we are looking for some very special people to come and help us. A lot of the volunteers we have worked with have been people who we have been very happy to support, but we now really need people who are already capable and confident and can help support US.

We’re looking for people to be Committee Members, Office Support, Stylists, Photographers and Press Assistant.

Committee Members

The very basics here are that we are looking for people with professional experience in B2B and B2C retail*, finance, industrial production/manufacture. We need a minimum commitment of six hours work on your expert area and attendance at one meeting a month (last but one Friday of the month in Southampton).

Office support

The very basics here are that we need someone who is office and computer competent, can give time three times a week, who is unflappable in the face of sudden bursts of activity, has excellent professional English and who is not job hunting – we need someone who will stay with us for a good long while and provide stability. Our training seems to be very good – we have found that taking people on for a few months means we spend a lot of time training and then they leave us to get jobs! Great for them, but less so for us, really. Maybe this means this would suit a retired person?

Stylist/Photographer

This might be one role, it might be two, depending on experience and ability. We are looking for someone with an eye for a good fashion photo and, ideally, good camera equipment to take shots of our new products and gift sets and make them look really appealing. This will be ad hoc but will require up to half a day a month. Photos need to be web and print quality. Out of pocket expenses can be covered.

Press Assistant

We need someone to help us build a list of press contacts in both local and national media – TV, Magazines, newspapers, radio – and online. This is primarily a short and focused research role initially but there is scope for it to broaden. We are supported by two fantastic PR companies -Swarm Communications and Awesome Communications – so you will be working with experts and this really will be great transferable experience.

We can offer a fun, busy and unique working environment (come on, how many pants co-ops are there?!), lots of tea, often a free/communal lunch, all kinds of learning – you can join in massage and other classes, and I’ve learned loads about Chelsea football club from Della – free parking and a discount on pants. Reasonable travel expenses can be paid depending on distance and post.

Proper post descriptions are being written up but if you have any questions in the short term, please let me know. We really do need some support and as yet can’t take on paid staff, but we love volunteers and the ones we have seem to love us so please, join us!

Becky
x

*(if you don’t know what that means, it’s business to business and business to consumer. But if you don’t know what it means, it’s probably not you)

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Lush Pants!

Well look at me, breaking with tradition. It’s a Tuesday and I’m blogging!

It’s all go here at pants HQ today, we’ve a whopping four volunteers in, and things are getting done! We’re really busy – our sales are trickling upwards so there’s all the associated paperwork to deal with there, and we’re rushing like fury to get ready for a big funding bid, and our fab LushPants event this weekend.

So, what’s the news?

Let’s start with this. Our smasher of a volunteer, Debs, has been officially granted a work placement, here with us. This is totally brilliant for us, and we hope for her too. Debs came to us about a year ago, looking to change her career path. She’d done care work but was tired, as she put it, of wiping bums (well, that’s not exactly how she put it!) as she knew she could do so much more. Already on a bookkeeping course, she came in to do our admin and she has absolutely blossomed since she started with us. Like so many of the women we work with Debs had had a few knocks in life, and so her confidence was really not where it should have been. But now she bustles round the place, knows where more things are here than me, and the other volunteers go to her for help – it’s been a real delight to see her grow and start to shine. Just recently Debs won an award at her college course for ‘person who has come the furthest’ – she really has, we are dead proud of her, and really chuffed that for the next 13 weeks she is with us four days a week. Debs manages our internal finance function, and we’ve got this funny feeling that most of the office management is going to fall to her soon. Fingers crossed. ( I just asked her to read this to make sure she was happy with it. She said I’m going to make her head swell. My answer was that after 51 years, it’s time for a catch up.)

My plea to the internet for some new volunteers has been a bit of a brilliant success, and we’ve new people in who have skills to offer us. There will always be a place here for volunteers who need support, but it’s a huge difference to the smooth running of things to have people who can just get on. One volunteer TBC (nope, she’s not awaiting confirmation, that’s her initials) is a real life friend of mine who’s a qualified medical person but can’t find a job, another, O, came in for one morning and whizzed through getting a bunch of forms made up for us (this is the sort of thing that can take hours with unskilled volunteers, and holds up a lot of other stuff) and B is currently organising my upcoming trips to London. I’ve quite a few at the same time as we expect to be Christmas busy here, so I will be quite tired I think. Our regular volunteers A and S are cracking on – S is supporting the fundraising function, and doing a great job of keeping up with my chaotic workload. And A is back from holidays to fight with our recalcitrant printer and, we hope, get some compliment slips designed soon. Woo, look at us with our grown up stationery!

I’ll not mention the name of the funder we are applying to but we’re building a bid for a hundred ish thousand over three years. It sounds a lot but when you think about it, that’s, say, £33k a year, to contribute to me, Della, rent, training programmes, rates, not to mention worker salaries – it doesn’t go far. We’re applying in what’s called a ‘front loaded’ way – say £50k in year one, £30k in year 2, £20 in year three, as we anticipate sales going up and we’ll need less as the years pass. It’s a balancing act – we’ve got to tell the story of us, why we’re needed and what we do without sounding desperate for cash.

We’re eagerly awaiting delivery of our first Lush funded case studies, which you, you you! will be able to get your hands on if you come and see us at the Lush Southampton store this weekend. We’ll be there from 10ish on Saturday til about 4, and then 11 til about 3 on Sunday, with some pants pieces, a sewing machine and advice – so YOU can have a go at making pants. It’ll cost £7.50 for you to have a go and take away the result, and we’ll be selling the ones we made earlier for £10 – or if you want to compare and contrast yours with our, £15 for the two. Bargain! Plus if you’ve ever wanted to get your hands on our snazzy T shirts, or badges, or even our album (which I’d like someone to mastermind a plan for – can we make it, or a song from it, Christmas number one?) we’ll be there, possibly with bells on, celebrating almost one year of trading. How far we’ve come!

In other wee bits of news, I went to a tea party in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières last week, and was invited to take our pants along. There was a nice amount of interest and plenty of cake! I’ve taken to carrying a sample pack with me everywhere I go, lest I otherwise start flashing mine.. not the best look, I’m sure you’ll agree! Also, we’re scooting ahead into next year and our Valentine pants are taking shape nicely. Let’s get Christmas out of the way first though, eh?

We’re very much counting down to the end of the year and the start of a new one. Our to do list for 2011 is now taking up half a flip chart page, and it’s nice to be able to put stuff there and take it out of mine and Della’s minds! We’re starting to feel just a tiny bit more secure every week, and we’re hopeful that this continues. With your help it will – every tiny bit of revenue we get is a step towards us being sustainable on our own work, not through grant funders. YOU can help US make a real difference to REAL WOMEN – and get yourself some fabtastic pants into the bargain. Go ahead – make our day!

xx

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Parties and purple pants

Well hello hello hello! It’s been aaaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggggesssssssssss.. How have you been? Have you missed me? I have missed you!

As a whole bunch of people have asked where I’ve been, I’m going to skip briefly over what’s happened with me, then tell you what’s been happening here, and then tell you all the exciting things that we’re in the middle of. It’s a very exciting time indeed.

After I went and spoke at a Managers meeting for the fab and wonderful http://www.lush.co.uk in Croydon, I was scheduled to have six days off. That ended up being four weeks as I just conked out. It was pointed out to me that I’d been running on adrenaline for over two years and my body just gave up on me. Being a member of our co-op, I had no choice but to listen to my Committee and I was told, in no uncertain terms, to take some time off and rest. It’s easier said than done sometimes but as it was, I managed it. I soaked my troubles away with Lush Ballistics and read and slept and am now back full of pants passion and fervour.

While I was away, things carried on swimmingly. Della really is quite brilliant at operationsy type work and everything just kept happening. Not only do we have boxes of perfect pants in every colour and size, (I’m going to keep on telling you we have loads of pants – every time I mention it is a hint for you to GO HERE http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk AND BUY SOME) but the offices have been moved around to make better us of the space and people have really taken hold of their work. Who would have thought that removing the control freak would allow everyone else the space to get on? Debs is coming on leaps and bounds with her finance capabilities (and confidence, which is IMHO even more important) and Pratima has come in to help too. We’ve new (wombled) filing cabinets, clothes rails, shelves and stacking trays and everything is getting a lot more organised. Dispatch is so much easier now we have pants a plenty to ship. Even my dear ole Mum has bought some, and she hadn’t told me!

Being away gave me the space and perspective to really see and appreciate how far things have come. I can no longer talk about how I am ‘starting’ a knicker business – it’s here, we’ve filed accounts, we’ve bills to pay and suppliers and rent and products and offices and paperwork (masses) and it’s really here. We’re a real hard core of dedicated workers and volunteers and it’s just a lovely place to be. I’m now based largely out of the office as I’m off at meetings, conferences, speaking engagements and the like, but I can’t stay away for long. I miss everyone! I do love the being out and about though – what I am really good at is talking, and talking about something I love. And I love pants! So getting out to shops, events and conferences is the best work I could be doing. Love it.

Next week, excitingly I have been given a complimentary place at the Media Trust event – we’ve been featured in their Annual Report, with a photo, talking about how great it’s been for me to work with Chris Smith of Swarm Communication. I met Chris, as you may remember, through an UnLtd and Media Trust Media Matching event and he’s been stonkingly brilliant. He has recently introduced me to Janet Awe of Awesome Communication (I love that name) who is sparky and brilliant and has bags of experience, so we hope to get a bunch more coverage soon. Aligned with that, and with my love of talking, we are having a partttttttttttayyyyy with the Southampton Lush store on the 27th and 28th November, and Lush TV are coming to film us! We’ll be making some pants in store and selling them – come along, meet some of the people who make them and have a go yourself!

So, pants, how can I not talk about our AMAZING, SMASHING, COMFORTABLE, EASY WASH, pants?! Our Aimee collection is really beautiful as you all know, and sales are gently ticking up wards – if you’ve helped with this, thank you – if not, you know what to do! We’ve nearly made up all the bright purple fabric, and will be moving onto a darker colour – this is a perfect example of our WIGIG, or When It’s Gone, It’s Gone way of working. We bought 600 metres of the bright purple, as that was all we could get, and then 900 metres of another purple, to make up 1500 metres. This should yield about 1000 pairs of purple pants in total. Simples! However, the bright purple is our biggest seller at the moment, so if you like them.. now’s the time girls!

We’re already sourcing new colours – our faves are basic black and then some cheerful brights as no-one, no-one can feel miserable in happy PINK pants and we’re not about boring beige or grumpy grey. I believe, hard, that one of our key messages to the world is that ethical can be FUN and PRETTY not worthy and dull. What colours would you like? I wonder if we can find an ethical dyer to do a colour match thing, you know, like when you get paint made up to match your, um, well I got mine made to match one of my feather boas. You know the thing I mean 🙂

Anyway, enough of that. Funding is still a big issue for us and we have a new volunteer helping specifically with that. She is halving my work by sifting all the possibilities and telling me which ones we are eligible for, and filling in bits of forms too. We also, hooray hooray, have been awarded just under £6k to fund us recruiting more women, hooray hooray hooray, thank YOU Faiths in Action! There are other new volunteers around but we are still looking for support around our website – if you know anyone who would like to help us with uploading content and testing, please let me know as right now, the burden is shouldered by just one person. We could also do with a free, full time IT/tech support person who knows Linux (ubuntu) as our excellent volunteers are really pushed at the moment. But such is the way of things – we’re good at making do and mending, it’s part of our ethos!

I think that pretty much covers everything that’s buzzing about at the moment. We’re still doing the boring stuff like making sure our policies and procedures are all up to date, and getting reporting structures and routines laid out embedded – but I strongly suspect you’d rather hear the fun stuff. Do tell if not!

Glad to be back folks – more again soon

xx

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I’d better just get out of these wet things…

I’ve just had the most fantastic day and wanted to tell you all about it. And I need to remember that my job is about more than stress and work, it’s about brilliant women, empowerment and FUN so I hope writing this and posting it will help me do just that.

Today was our whomadeyourpants? picnic on Southampton Common. It started as a part of some funded work we do to encourage the women we work with to go to places they might not otherwise, but it’s ended up as being so much more than that. It bought together trainees, volunteers, me and Della, and some truly fab children. I’m writing this, still soaked to the skin, after a number of raucous dips in the paddling pools and screaming joyous drenchings under the sprinklers in the pools. It’s a good thing I wore my usual uniform of ‘clothes I can fall off my bike in’ else I’d have ruined something decent. Nothing would have stopped me going in.

My day started with our fab volunteer Deb and a trip to a well known partnership grocery store to buy provisions. I had absolutely no idea how many people were coming as while people had said they would, it was a bit grey and people do often say they will come and then change their minds. So we bought more than our modest little trolley could carry and I had to play grocery tetris to fit it all in. I biked to the common and met Deb and her precious, delicious, grand daughter there and between us we moved the stacks of stuff to a blanket near the play area and pools. It was, by this time, drizzling, and there was a cohort of wasps making welcoming gestures. Perfect. Debs headed off to collect grand daughter number 2 and I was left guarding the stocks.

The plan was that some trainees and volunteers would meet me at the common, and some would meet Della at the office, to walk up together. As I sat, alone on my blanket, rain bouncing off the bags of summer food around me, I spent quite some contemplating what on earth I was doing. The rain passed though and a hasty phone call between Della and I agreed that yes, we would go for it. Even when everyone had arrived, I have to admit I was making the best of it as the rain reappeared and everyone started covering their plates up to keep the food dry. Oh, the stereotypicalness of it all!

Thankfully, the rain passed again and it stayed greyish, but warm, so we had the great benefit of not needing acres of sunscreen and protection from melting. whomadeyourpants? baby number 3 came to meet us, four weeks old and gorgeous, with his 7 year old brother and bigger sister (and Mum, of course), one woman brought her two six year old twins, and Debs brought her two grand daughters. I have to admit, as soon as the children arrived, I was in my element. And when Della suggested we (they?) go to the paddling pools.. well.. I actually ran.

The twins, the 7 year old and his big sister and I made a beeline for the pools and I was delighted that there were none of these silly signs saying grown ups couldn’t play. We had so much fun. especially when boy child and one of the twins shed layers and started properly playing. I made no such change, just waded in as I was and got soaked. Repeatedly. There are two fountains spraying water around and the children were a bit wary of them so I was brave and went though them to make them laugh, which worked ahttps://beckypants.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php treat. One of the fountains was like a big ball with holes in, at a level that children could sit on. So about 7 children would sit on it, block up all the holes, and then jump off at once, catching wanderers past a right ding in the ear with mains pressure jets of water. Much, much screaming, yelling and fun. Can you tell I enjoyed myself?

When we eventually got out of the water, I wrung out my clothes as best I could and we made our way back to the food. It was lovely. Some people stayed for the whole time, others made flying visits, but it was great for everyone to meet some volunteers come in on days when there is no sewing, so never get to meet the rest of the team.

There was plenty more playing after more food, climbing frames, slides (actually, the slides were earlier, I was far to soggy to slide. I’d have squeaked) swings, and singing. The 7 year old boy child and his big sister did some lovely singing in the round as they were attempting to tip me upside down in one of those big flat round bowl swings. I think I was as disappointed as them when we realised the grown ups were packing up. It was a truly brilliant day, lovely for the trainees to bring their kids, big and small, lovely to get everyone together and lovely to have time to spend time with the lovely, amazing and frankly awe inspiring women I consider myself privileged to work with. Absolutely brilliant.

I believe there might be photos from today.. I’ll post if I can find them. And I’m sure there’s more news in general from the last few weeks – of course there is. We’re just about to start production of the new collection, so hands on your wallets folks, we’ll be getting photos taken and up onto site soon, and asking you to support us soooooon. We’re aware that the quality of the last collection was..patchy so will be offering a discount to anyone who bought from the Jasmine collection and said we could mail them as a thank you and ‘see how great our pants are now’ incentive.

As a last bit of news, er, I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say yet, but I’m buying the Guardian tomorrow and planning to read the Society pages first. You might want to, as well.

More soon folks 🙂

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I’ve stopped shaking now.

Hello everybody and welcome to this, possible one of the happiest blog posts I’ve ever written. It’s been an immensely busy and productive few weeks, hence me not being here to write. Goodness, apart from a tiny little post at the end of June, I’ve not written since May! So much to report. Where shall I start? At the very beginning?

On the 31st of May, I opened the door of my house to Emma Kidd, a brilliant and experienced lingerie product designer and developer, who left the trade because of a lot of the ethics and what she saw. She had contacted me in November last year off the back of a blog post we’d had posted on Ethical Junction, saying she loved what we were doing and could she help. We’d talked for a while, and arranged that she would come and visit and have a look around. And so, on the 31st, she stepped off a train and into whomadeyourpants? land.

As you’ll know, we’ve had some issues about production – quality has been inconsistent at times and we’ve had troubles with machines. Emma took one look at the place and our design and with her experienced eye, spotted a bunch of things we can improve in quick step short time to make our quality better and our productivity leap. She’s back again today, and thanks to some Southampton City Council funding can come back a few more times. We have a GORGEOUS new design (look here. http://twitgoo.com/1790z9 You’ll have to lean your head to the right as I can’t work out how to rotate the photo – doh!) and it’s easy and quick and gorgeous and has just the right amount of challenge for the women to be able to really own it. It’s perfect. Emma, we love you.

There’s a whole lot more new going on too. We have some new trainees – so many of our went off to have gorgeous babies or were sick, we had to recruit fast. Some of the new women already have skills, which is ace, as they are showing our existing women new ways to work and inspiring them. It’s fab.

I actually took some leave, sort of, in mid June. Apart from the fact that I came in on the 16th to speak to a broadsheet journalist (the article isn’t out yet so can’t say who) and then went off and chaired a Women’s Forum meeting on the 17th. But I had a fab solstice day, digging up my garden and clearing rubble. It was lovely working in the sun, getting tan lines ( I want to be more stripy. Animals have more than one colour on at a time but people don’t. Not naturally at least. It’s horrifically unfair) and building a fab insect house out of old rotten tree stumps. A bee came and had a look straight away, which made me happy.

The first ever Co-operatives Fortnight started on the 17th June too, and I was invited to speak at Co-operatives South East AGM, which I happily did. On the day of an England game. In a room, with windows open, opposite a pub with doors and windows open. Interesting! I also spoke at a Co-operative Regional Membership event on the 5th July, at the Art House in Southampton, which was fun. I was very very proud to accept a Co-operatives UK 2010 award there – we were recognised by them for our contribution to Innovation, Creativity and Excellence. Sadly, I was not able to attend the Congress Dinner in Plymouth and accept the award in person due to admin error, but the lovely Ian Rothwell collected it for us and a pretty handmade plate has now made it, in one piece, to my office.

On a less glamourpuss note, we’ve realised that we really need some support with and for our admin team of volunteers. They are all fab and enthusiastic people who will all turn their hands to anything, and they deserve more time than I can give them in terms of help. I’m always rushing round at a million miles an hour doing 15 things at once and so it’s hard for them to ask if they just have a quick question. We advertised the volunteer post of Office and Volunteer Manager at both local Universities and through Southampton Voluntary Services, and we’ve had some great applicants. So far it looks like we’ve found a person for that post and also someone who can be a bit more PA type person for me. I generate huge amounts of admin and regularly spend half a day on it myself, and I need to be doing MD work (so I’ve been told) so we’re hopeful. Both women have agreed to come in tomorrow for a trial shift. Exciting! We’re looking for some support on bookkeeping too as our current, brilliant volunteer has to leave us. If you can help, please get in touch.

Let’s finish on a high. The reason for the headline this time round is not a song, nor a Sesame Street tribute. It’s just the truth. We’ve had some good funding news. £2000 from Southampton City Council, £3500 from the Hilden Charitable Fund, and then yesterday afternoon, I opened an envelope containing a cheque for £30,000. Look at all those zeroes!

£30,000. £30,000!

On seeing this, I let out an involuntary scream in the middle of the car park, and ran back into the building, terrifying two poor men in the process. I could barely open the door and just ran in screaming for Della. I was having trouble standing at this point, and when Della took the letter off me and read out that we’d been awarded £60,000 over three years, I actually slid down the wall I’d been leaning on and ended up on the floor. I don’t know how long I sat on the floor and I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or what. I couldn’t read the letter, I couldn’t even hold it I was shaking so much.

When I eventually calmed down (a bit) I cycled into town, via the lovely Allegra’s office for a special Allegra hug, and banked the cheque, and came on back to the offices where I had a mammoth adrenaline crash. It’s not really sunk in to be honest but it’s frankly astonishingly good news. It’s specifically to pay rent and a bit of salary for me – life saving. If I sit and think about it for more than a second I get all shaky again. The fact that someone believe in this, and me, so much that they are prepared to put that in is something I don’t know how to cope with.

But I’d like to learn, so if anyone else has £60k lying around, let me know, eh?

🙂

That’s all for today folks, sorry for the long radio silence but I hope you’ll agree I’m back with a blinking great bang 🙂

More soon

Becky

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Some set their hearts on a rocking chair..

… the better to sleep out the days,
but I’m looking for a reason to kick and scream,
I don’t want to fade away.*

This weeks blog is again brought to you by the numbers eight and four (the numbers of women sewing, and volunteers in) and the amazing Chumbawamba, and their song, ‘Fade Away (I Don’t Want To)’ which accompanied me through almost every day of the the last few weeks of my last job. Seeing them again the other night was breathtaking and inspiring as ever. This song never fails to stir me, and makes me remember there are masses of other people striving for change and fun and laughter rather than just huge pots of cash.

So, what news since last week? I had a fabulous and much needed day off on Thursday last week, and just conked out on the sofa all day. I hadn’t realised how tired I’d got. I don’t think of myself as working evenings or weekends but I have done a few Saturdays recently, and have a few more to go, and the internet and my clever phone mean my email is always in my pocket. Some stopping time is vital.

Friday was a mixed day – I came in to an email saying the VAT man wanted a whole bunch of invoices to back up our claim, so I had to rush around sorting that out – he is one person I don’t want to make a mistake with! But then the day ended with some GREAT news! We have been awarded just over £10k by Community Action Hampshire/Community Grants to pay for us to develop support for our ever increasing number of volunteers. This means that (woohoo!) we can pay Della to do that work, as she will do it brilliantly, and she should be able to afford to not have to do other work and can be here full time, worry free, for six months! Break out the cake – this is a fab, fab thing. And another great thing – we had a teeny tiny mention in the Observer Magazine on Sunday http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/14/lucy-siegle-not-easy-being-green-buying-underwear and a flurry of interest and orders as a result. I’ve been trying to keep a lid on press and publicity until we are producing a surplus of pants (right now we are covering our orders not having spares) but it’s great to see our name in print and the interest it has generated is brilliant. I’m being interviewed shortly by a Welsh magazine – I suspect I’ll get my accent back after the phone call!

March’s fundrasiing theme continues and I was busy writing bids on Monday. We’re putting in a bid to the Southampton City COunil Runnig Costs Fund, and are preparing for our John Paul Getty Junior Trust visit. There are a few smaller bids going on too including one which we’re really hoping to get, from the Hilden Charitable Foundation. We’re asking for a whole bunch of stuff for craft and relaxation sessions as we want the women to be able to come in for non work reasons. They’ve really enjoyed the massage sessions so it woudl be great if we could offer things like mendhi (I can’t spell that – hand painted henna tattoos) and and just bring them together in our social space. I love mendhi and have a beautiful design on my left hand, done by Sacdiya’s friend at an event last week.

An ex colleague, my lovely desk buddy Clare, popped in yesterday with a slightly bashed flat screen monitor for us. It was great to see her here, and see our progress through her eyes. In a non eye swapping sense of course. When people come in every few months or so, I realise just how far we’ve leapt forward – being here day to day it’s easy to lose track of the progress. The Tuesday group are doing well, and lookign more relaxed here every week. Which is great.

Sadly, we’ve yet another problem with one of our machines, a tiny spring sprang out and is proving hard to trace or replace. I think we need a box of spare everything just in case. But aside from that, production is going well. The quality now is getting really good. We’ve realised that a few of the we sent out at Christmas, while good then, would fail our QA now. So if you bought then and found that the leg elastic was tight, I promise you things have got better! You have a collectors item there though, some of the very first pants we ever made. We’ve also effectively sold out of white pants. The white fabric works and handles slightly differently from the others and is both prone to catching in the machines, and hard to handle. We’ve gone through a lot of it making pants that aren’t anywhere near good enough to sell, and so have decided that until we can get some more, better fabric, white is off the menu.

Anyway, what’s happening today. One of our Tuesday students has swapped into the Wednesday group today. Z has a college class on Tuesdays now. I’m hoping she settles in well – she is apparently an excellent seamstress, has picked it up really fast, so she should keep up and do well. I’ve made some lunch to share, and I saw Samia bringing in a bag of something too. Mmmm… H is now off, we suspect with a brand new baby very soon – she’s not been in for a few weeks and is due any time. Today, the women are we are sewing, some University students on placement are policy writing, I’m doing this, and will be shortly working out some media stuff with Chris Smith of Swarm Communications who kindly volunteered to help me via an Unltd/Media Trust Media matching event. He’s very knowledgeable and I’m looking forward to getting some strategic plans in place, they make things work much better. It’s the lovely Janet’s last day of volunteering with us. so we are sorry to see her go, but making the most of her today.

But now it’s time for tea break, and then an interview with The Welsh Compass, a Cardiff University magazine. Hope you’re enjoying the gathering springtime, it’s getting warmer here and I’m now cycling hatless and without waterproofs, and most days, without lights. Lovely!

* Fade Away ( I don’t want to)

Some set their hearts on a rocking chair
The better to sleep out the days
But I’m looking for a reason to kick and scream
I don’t want to fade away
Fade away, fade away
I don’t want to fade away
We think that the power is in our hands
‘Cos we’re holding the remote control
Pile up the lot and what’ve you got?
Bitter-sweet nothing at all
It’s a mighty long way from my own front door
To the world we were going to make
We got bloodied and bruised for the old excuse
That it’s hard just staying awake
Wake me up if you catch me falling
Gently into the night
Shine up my shoes ‘cos I can’t get used
To the dying of the light
Some set their hearts on a rocking chair
The better to sleep out the days
But I’m looking for a reason to kick and scream
I don’t want to fade away
Fade away, fade away
I don’t want to fade away

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