Following our very popular post on Kate Foster, of Full of Grace Granola, we are excited to present to you the second inspirational profile in our Follow Your Dreams series. It’s so uplifting, not to mentioning motivating, to speak to fabulous people and convince them to share their secrets with us. We hope it will encourage you to dust off your own dreams and start putting the steps into place towards realising them.
Today we talk to Becky John, the founder of Who Made Your Pants? Becky is making life better for women, one pair of pants at a time. The short story of Becky’s past seven years goes like this: emotional breakdown caused by abuse in her childhood, three years of therapy that ended in a personal epiphany, then acting on that epiphany to follow her dreams. In 2009 Becky launched that dream, a social enterprise that combines what she loves (lingerie) with what she is good at (selling things), with the aim of stamping out what makes her angry (the exploitation of women).
Becky’s business, Who Made Your Pants?, is a campaigning lingerie brand based in Southampton, UK. It’s about two things: amazing pants (or knickers) and amazing women. It sources stretch lace left over from high-end underwear companies and employs women refugees to make gorgeous and comfortable underwear for lingerie-lovers of the world. All the profits go back into the business and into training, supporting and advising refugees in the area.
I first met Welshwoman Becky at the Women of the World festival in London last year. I was attracted to her stall by the sexy, lacy knickers in beautiful fabrics and colours, but it was Becky herself and her belief that she could change women’s lives one pair of pants at a time that really captured and inspired me. Becky is a shining, smiling example of how following your dreams can change your life for the better. And in Becky’s case, it has also changed the lives of refugees and the lives of women who love comfortable (and gorgeous!) undies. (I’m wearing a pair of Who Made Your Pants? Aimee shorts as I type this!)
I spoke to Becky in the midst of her busy January sale and I can honestly say I left the phone buzzing with inspiration. Her thoughts on how she followed her dreams will hopefully help you follow yours.
Where did the inspiration for Who Made Your Pants? come from?
I’ve been selling things forever and ever. I started volunteering in a sweet shop at the local rugby club when I was eight and went on to retail management, sales, business-to-business sales and then business start-ups. I’m also a very ethical person and had been involved in Amnesty International since I was 15. I got to the stage in my job where I didn’t care about what I was selling to people I didn’t know and it wasn’t making lives any better. I wanted to bring together what felt like two bipolar strands of my life. At the same time I was working in a university where I was involved in a film about sweatshops. I love lingerie and it made me think, who really makes my pants?
What prompted you to “take the plunge”?
In 2005, I had a bit of a meltdown and had almost three years of counselling at Southampton Rape Crisis. I credit them with turning my life around and making me realise that life really was fun. I came away with a massive feeling of joy of being in the world and a feeling that I could do whatever I liked. Life is full of notions about who we should be, or who our parents or our friends think we should be. I realised that those limits are false and I could crack on and be and do whatever I wanted to.
Where did you start?
I allowed myself the time to decide if I really wanted to do this. I took the pressure of myself. In that process it became harder for me not to start the business than start it. The first steps were gently, gently putting the feelers out by chatting to local development workers, meeting refugees, looking at the finances and going through a thorough business planning exercise. I learnt things like to get a grant I needed to have a business bank account, but to have that account I needed to be a legally registered business. I said goodbye to my ‘proper’ job in June 2008 and started working on Who Made Your Pants? full time. I had enough money to go for three months and concentrated on getting the grant we needed to get the idea off the ground, which I did. We legally incorporated on the 12th of December 2008, launched on the 1st of December 2009 and starting selling the Aimee collection half way through 2010.
What do you find inspiring about having followed your dreams?
I’m so happy. I really am. Every now and again I catch myself walking around singing. It’s amazing how many amazing people you meet when you are doing what you love. A lot of people go through life not feeling as happy as they can. I am doing what I love, I love what I do and I believe in what I do. Every day I go to bed and I am proud of what I have done. Yes, I have to do big spreadsheets and massive annual budgets, but I also get to play with ribbon and wrap up presents in tissue paper, which is just lovely. When I left my proper job and was starting Who Made Your Pants?, I did some freelance work for a friend. I remember one day stopping at a playground on my cycle to the offices just to swing on the swings because I was so happy. I felt like someone had given me the world wrapped up in a bow and it was mine to play with.
What have been the biggest challenges?
We are tiny and we are broke, which means the finances are super tight. It’s astonishing how you can go from shiny, happy person to screaming madwoman when the printer breaks or the computer crashes. I know that it would only take £1000 to fix those problems, but it’s £1000 we don’t have. Also, the office staff are almost all volunteers, which means that I am relying on trust for people’s commitment, which is hard because they have their own lives also. It’s been challenging to learn that people who I want to be right for my business because of their past experience or circumstances doesn’t actually make them the right people – having the wrong people in the wrong job is detrimental to a small team. I’ve made wrong decisions because I haven’t had the resources to make the right decisions, which is tough.
What five tips would you give to others wanting to follow their dreams?
1. Be clear about your ultimate aim. Keep asking yourself this question until you are 100% sure because it is the touchstone to keep coming back to.
2. Know what you are NOT good at and find people who are good at it to do it for you.
3. Take the time to rest. Lie down, watch a movie and switch off.
4. Be ok with people not liking you and be ok with people disagreeing with you. Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t mean you are wrong.
5. Buy a good printer.
(Written by Laura)
*Photos courtesy of Who Made Your Pants?