The Southampton-based co-operative, which was set up by Becky John and officially launched last December, makes a range of underwear which is available to buy through its website (www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk).
But the co-operative is about much more than just manufacturing quality products — it is about creating opportunities for those who have none, about integrating communities and providing meaningful employment and training.
The co-operative helps the women it works with by providing flexible employment and training as well as a social and community space. All of the women in the co-operative want to work, but have either had no opportunity to, or had that opportunity removed from them.
Workers were initially recruited through agencies and organisations but as word is spreading about the co-operative’s work, women are now making direct approaches.
The co-operative provides training in English if required — offering perhaps the only English language course where participants learn essential terms such as chain mail glove and four thread overlocker!
Training is then provided in sewing techniques, with every woman entitled to study for an NVQ Level 2 in Manufacture of Sewn Products. Women are also encouraged to train to be team leaders and are also encouraged to develop any business skills in areas that they have particular interest or experience in.
While some of the co-operative’s members arrive unskilled, others are highly qualified and have previously held responsible jobs such as headmistresses, businesswomen and doctors. Their refugee status makes it difficult for them to secure similar opportunities in this country without the sort of support and encouragement that the co-operative offers.
The co-op prides itself on the quality of its products but recognises that while the women are still learning their new skills they may occasionally make minor mistakes, so as well as its main range, it also sells seconds at reduced prices.
A week after receiving their co-operative award there was more good news for the co-operative when it discovered it had been awarded a £60,000 grant by The J. Paul Getty Junior Charitable Trust. The grant, which will contribute towards the running and management costs of the business for the next three years, will provide much needed stability and security for its workers.