Whose pants do you pop on? Whose name’s in your knickers? Who’s behind your briefs? Who styled your smalls? And just where is this intro going?
Enough already. While retail guru Mary Portas last night kicked off her pledge to reignite the UK clothing industry with a range of 100% British knickers, one campaigning social entrepreneur in the south of England has slowly, steadily and rather stylishly been making ethical underwear since 2009.
Who Made Your Pants is based in Southampton and run by Becky John. Each pair of pants is sent out with a tag which allows you to find out who made them. There’s something of an interactive knicker-namechecker where you punch in the date on the tag and check who made your pants.
The organisation’s quirky name belies its strong, pro-woman campaigning zeal and while it’s less bra-burning and more pants-producing, the ethos is simply “amazing pants, and amazing women”.
The business is a women’s co-operative which employs seven women, mostly refugees. From the fabric that goes to make the underwear (recycled from end of season lingerie stock sold by big companies that would otherwise go to waste) to the working conditions in the small factory, the company is ethically-run.
The women are from Afghanistan, Somalia, the Sudan and potential workers come via refugee support agencies (although the firm now has a waiting list for employees). There is training and support as well as a computer suite for the women to use email and the internet, so the factory is something of a social and community space as well as a workplace.
While ethical clothing ranges are nothing new (and neither, for that matter, are undies with a social conscience), the Southampton women’s co-op commands attention as a small but perfectly formed community-based drive to make a difference.
Pants. With attitude.