Most ethical fashion focuses on minimising the negative impacts of the fashion industry, whether that be using organic fabrics to preserve the environment or making sure the clothes are produced using fair trade labour. But what if fashion was more than that, what if it could be used as a mechanism for social good?
That’s exactly what starting a social enterprise can do. Quite a few social enterprises have popped up in the fashion and textiles world, but most of them are based overseas using local artisan skills and helping to develop disadvantaged communities. One based in the UK however, is the co-operative whomadeyourpants? Whomadeyourpants? was set up by Becky John in 2009 when she was unable to find pretty, ethical lingerie. Stated simply, whomadeyourpants? is a social enterprise selling ethical underwear made by local Southampton 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. As a co-operative all of the members have a vote towards business decisions.
The materials are upcycled from the lingerie trade, ends of fabric rolls that would otherwise be thrown away. The result is ethical undies that you can feel great about buying. The enterprise makes a huge difference to the lives of the workers, as Becky explains: “They are given hope for the future, they have greater financial independence, and 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!”
At the moment they only produce ladies knickers, but in the future they hope to expand to other product areas, and to other areas of the country. The pants are made in luscious stretch lace in a range of colours, many of which are extra special limited edition. If you buy their 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! Find them at www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk
Emma Waight is a PhD student and freelance writer. She writes fashion news and trend stories at www.clothes.org.uk but her real passion is ethical fashion and sustainable consumption.