Whomadeyourpants? is a fabulous social enterprise based in Southampton. They set up in 2009 and started selling pants at the beginning of 2010. Stated simply, whomadeyourpants? is a social enterprise selling ethical underwear made by local women who might otherwise have struggled to find employment due to lack of confidence, qualifications or language barriers. Most of the workers are refugees and through whomadeyourpants? they can learn English, employment skills and gain an NVQ in Manufacturing of Sewn Products. They are a co-operative so all of the members have a vote towards business decisions.
The social enterprise model has grown significantly over the last few years. As I’ve said before, I think it is particularly interesting when applied within the fashion industry because fashion should be full of joy and beauty but often when you get behind the shiny retail image and product, it is far from that. The social enterprises that have sprung up within the fashion industry prove that more sustainable retail models are possible. In many cases, they are based abroad using local artisan skills and exporting products to the West. Whomadeyourpants? is quite unique in that sense, being based here in the UK.
I think when you look into the whomadeyourpants? story though, it is clear how vital enterprises like this could be. Whomadeyourpants? has become a life line to the workers within the co-op, and for us as the consumers we can be comforted to know exactly where are undies have come from. They produce their products with offcuts from the lingerie trade and manufacture from their base in Southampton. If you buy pants you can even log on online and check to see who was working on the day your pants were made, and thus see who made your pants!
Founder and director, Becky John kindly answered my questions.
1. What is the biggest challenge you have faced since starting the enterprise?
There have been a number! Issues re initial lingerie design not working and us not understanding why until a lingerie designer came in. Cashflow and the balance between wanting to pay our own way and not be grant reliant but realising that we need to support the initial stages of production with grants or else there’s too much pressure on the women and then they panic and we do the opposite of what we wanted to and upset them. Language barriers also meant things got lost in translation.
2. How has wmyp made a difference to the lives of the female employees?
Increasing financial independence, eg. new bank accounts in their own names. They are given hope for the future – a number are planning what jobs they want with us or elsewhere. When we ask what life is like with no wmyp, they say it’s boring! Children see their mums in work which is great.
3. Do you believe the wmyp social enterprise model could be replicated in other areas of the UK?
YES! And we plan to 🙂
4. Do you think more needs to be done to educate consumers to shop with ethics in mind?
Tough one – I personally think so but it’s a hard balance. I don’t think anyone would actually want to buy something made by kids or in bad circumstances, I think more of people than that – but how do you get the message out? You don’t want to be preachy. We encourage people to ask their own questions. We want to be open and honest so people wonder why other people aren’t.
5. What are your plans for the future?
More whomadeyourpants? in the UK and beyond. Make this a nice replicable model so it’s easy to set up. And I personally want to get every restaurant to know that parmesan and pesto are not vegetarian.
Visit them at www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk