Who Made Your Pants?

by Becky John 4 years ago
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In 2006, I was a member of a local Amnesty International group. As part of that group, I wrote a letter to the mother of a woman who had been killed walking home from work in a factory, or maquiladora, in Mexico. Maquiladoras used to favour employing women, and the areas around some became known for having women walking alone late at night, making the walk home dangerous. Writing that letter was an immensely personal and powerful thing to do. Hearing her story made me realise that I knew nothing at all about where my clothes were made, what the factories were like; were they noisy or quiet, fun places to work or horrible. Looking at my favourite pink and yellow bra set I realised that I had no idea who made my pants – but that aside, no-one should go to work and not make it home.

‘Who made my pants?’ opened up more questions. Is that person – or people – safe, well, happy? Do the like their job, where have the pants been, which countries have they’d been through – how many hands had held them. The personal connection I felt with the woman reading my letter, and by extension her murdered daughter, was enormous and moving. And I realised there were tens, hundreds, thousands of people at the other end of the chain, sitting behind sewing machines, that ended with a beautiful piece of something lovely in my house.

I *adore* underwear – that, rather than makeup or shoes, has always been the thing that makes me feel fabulous in the morning. As I learned more about maquiladoras, and sweatshops, and just the global supply of clothing, I was horrified. Things like forced internal examinations for women, routine sacking if women became pregnant, even suggestions of forced consumption of amphetamines – these things came up time and again. And I wondered, how could I carry on feeling fabulous in things that might have had that start in life? How could that be part of the story of something I treasured and cherished? I realised I wanted to know who made my pants – and that I suspected most people cared who made theirs.

Incorporated in 2008, and with our first pants leaving the factory in 2009, Who Made Your Pants? set out to answer our own question. Today, Who Made Your Pants? is a campaigning brand and socially focused business based in Southampton, UK, creating jobs for women who are marginalised by their status as refugees within the UK. We exist to create jobs for women who need them but also to shine a light on the fact that it is possible to be entirely open about who makes our pants. If we can be, so can others. There are practicalities to consider – our team have private lives and so we don’t shout about them in great detail, for example. And while every pair of pants leaves here with a swing ticket with a team members’ name on it, and each maker is profiled on our website, we do run a production line – it’s small but it’s a line. This means that every one of our team is involved in every pair of pants.

The great thing is, my feeling that people care who makes their clothes has been shown to be true. We get handwritten letters – some all the way from Australia! – to the workers named on the tickets (one worker has received two letters and her colleague who has had none has said we need to switch tickets next time, please) and wedding photos and letters of thanks are proudly displayed in our break room.

While it is tragic that it took something like Rana Plaza to draw mass attention to what goes on it some factories, it’s fantastic to see other people joining in and asking Who Made Your Clothes? People across the world are more the same than we’re different – the person making your clothes has hopes and fears, family and friends who love them – just like you do. Out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind. We can know and care about the people who make our clothes, buy things we love that create work, and be proud to wear their work.

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