I must confess, I have no idea who made my pants. They come in a packet of three from the shelves of Marks & Spencer. But Becky John, a social entrepreneur from Southampton knows precisely who made hers. As do her customers who bought their pants from Becky’s pants factory which employs refugee women to make silky smooth underpants from offcut lingerie fabric.
I have met Becky a number of times when we have both run stalls at sustainable fairs around this part of the country. Me, manning the stall for the social enterprise that I help manage and Becky for the one that she spearheads. I have always been struck by Becky’s ebullience and her fierce commitment to her business. I would watch with awe as Becky would talk to every customer that came to her stall, telling them the story behind her enterprise, communicating the ethics behind her products. Often, the customers wouldn’t buy (the pants weren’t for those who were looking for something cheap) but that wouldn’t stop Becky. She would press a leaflet into their hands and ask them to consider her product at a later date.
I last met Becky in March at the Women Of The World conference in London where I attended a session she orchestrated. It was about feminist ways of portraying women in lingerie adverts. Leafing through the magazines we had to cut pictures out of, I was struck by just how stupid the portrayal of women was in some of these ads (One of them had a woman in her knickers riding a cheetah in the wilds of Africa – I kid you not). And how all of the models were young, white and slim. Even more worryingly, I realised just how immune I had become to such images. As in, outside of the context of workshop, the photos wouldn’t have bothered me.
A couple of months after the workshop, I spoke to Becky wondering if she’d be interested in having a promo video done for Who Made Your Pants? She was hesitant about the idea at first since the women who worked in her unit were averse to being on camera but later she felt that it was time that Who Made…had an identity independent of hers. And perhaps having an animated version of the women telling their stories and the positive impact working of working at the unit could serve the social enterprise well.
On Friday last, I received a text message from my friend asking if I knew that Who Made Your Pants was shutting down. I found a blog post detailing the reasons behind what was obviously a difficult decision for Becky & Co to take. I sympathised with her and wished I could do more than just click my tongue. But the fact is, I couldn’t afford more than one pair of the pants at their original price – however fantastic their story and however brilliant their product.
But if you can, I would urge you to head to their shop where everything must go. I have little doubt that this is not the last we have heard from Becky John. She will no doubt rise again.