On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of visiting the wonderful Who Made Your Pants? people. I found out a fair bit about them via the internet when I was researching an article on ethical lingerie, but that just meant that I wanted to know more. Whenever I mentioned their name on Twitter, I always received replies from followers who declared their pants to be the most comfortable they’d ever worn. Friends of mine who work in social enterprise adore their business model and ethical folk praise their upcycling.
So, when I heard they were having an open day, I jumped at the chance to actually see for myself how this fantastic socially responsible business is run. Not only do they use fabrics that would otherwise be discarded by other lingerie manufacturers in order to make their gorgeous pants, but they also help to educate and provide jobs for refugee women in their local area. Could they possibly be any more awesome? Well, I got the train to Southampton in order to find out.
We were welcomed to the tiny friendly Who Made Your Pants? HQ by Founder and Managing Director Becky, and Della who is Head of Operations. They started our day with a walk around each of the small rooms, telling us a bit more about who does what and how everything works. Becky told us that they have only bought two computers and the rest of the equipment in their offices, including the sewing machines and overlockers, was upcycled.
We learnt that it was tricky coming up with the perfect pants design, but that a wonderful DMU graduate kindly developed their current design with them for free. Also, not only is all their fabric end of line stuff that is about to be discarded by the clothing industry, all their fabric waste is sent off to be used to fill cushions! We were introduced to the volunteers and then to the lovely women who make the pants, and we saw just how much like a family this little business is to the women within it.
The company is run (as a co-operative) entirely by women, and this is an important aspect of what they do. Everyone is given advanced notice if there are to be any men in the building, so that anyone who needs to can check with her family that this will be okay. Through a bit of planning and an awareness of the needs of others, Becky and her team provide an extremely caring and educational workplace. As well as learning how to make pants, the women who work on the production line learn English and gain other skills/knowledge to help them adjust to life in the UK, obtaining a little bit of freedom from their home life and become more employable too. There is a small IT room with donated computers that the women can use to learn skills that would be useful in another job.
The amusingly named “pantsmap” shows everyone where the fruits of their labour are being dispatched to, and there is a special pin to show the women whereabouts in the country Becky is when she’s out of the office. The friendly atmosphere shines through further when everyone starts to prepare lunch for themselves and their visitors. As well as a selection of food which has been bought for the occasion, we are treated to home made samosas, rice dishes and cakes just like the women usually make for each other throughout the week.
As well as getting to see my lovely blue pants cut, stitched and finished on the day – which was still utterly fascinating to watch, even to someone who has previously made knickers and vintage-style lingerie – I also got to see how the women are supported at every stage of this process, until they no longer need it. Lingerie sizing and pattern cutting needs to be precise and so this is a very careful process that they can all take ownership of once they’re ready. Everyone starts on a zero hours contract which changes once they are ready for more responsibility. Now this is what empowerment is all about!
Who Made Your Pants? is run by a committee and they were all at the open day to chat to us. As well as Founder, Chair and Managing Director Becky John, the secretary (Professor Joy Conway) and treasurer (Frauke Golding) also dropped by to chat to their colleagues and share stories with us about how they got involved with this fantastic little business in the first place. You could probably feel the enthusiasm a mile away!
I had a wonderful day finding out more about how my pants were made and came away with a small pile of knickers for myself, so I can report that they are indeed extremely comfortable as well as gorgeous. Do you know who made your pants? Even if you decide that what these ladies make is not for you, it’s a question worth asking.