Who made your pants?

It’s a great leveller, clothing. Young or old, rich or poor, lover or hater of fashion, you have to buy and wear clothes. It’s actually illegal not to.

But who knows where our clothes come from?

I’ve been thinking about this because of the new Mary Portas knicker range. She’s launched a new UK company that makes lace undies. She’s trained up young apprentices, re-opened a factory, and persuaded big department stores to stock her new wares.

In fact, if you read this Daily Mail article, you’d get the impression that Mary is the new saviour of manufacturing in the UK. Nobody else makes pants here! Everyone told her she couldn’t do it! She’s providing employment where David Cameron has failed! Etc, etc.

Mary Portas knickers

Hmmm. This has caused a bit of a stir because, as you’ll find out if you read this post by Kiss Me Deadly, quite a lot of people are already making underwear in the UK. There’s a list at the above link. Here’s an example: the company Who Made Your Pants, who not only make lingerie, but also campaign for worker’s rights and create jobs for refugee women.

I’m in two minds about this. It is a shame that Mary Portas couldn’t have built on the existing UK manufacturing sector. But unfortunately the world we live in is all about PR and marketing, and ‘Mary saves UK factories!’ is a better story than ‘Mary helps some other people who’ve already started saving UK factories!’

At least this is bringing the issue into the public consciousness (there’s a TV show to go with the knickers – it starts airing next week).

Because I think that most people never give a second thought to who makes their clothes, beyond some vague, uneasy ideas about sweatshop child labour, or maybe the unlikely image of robots cutting out and stitching material.

And you can’t really blame them, because the whole process is shrouded in mystery. If I look at the label of the top I’m wearing right now, I can see that it was ‘Made in Mauritis’. It’s sewn from cotton jersey. It has kimono sleeves, and has been constructed with an overlocker and a cover-stitch machine. I know all this because I make clothes myself. But the list of things I don’t know about this top is much longer:

  • Where was the fabric made?
  • Who sewed the seams?
  • What sort of conditions were they working in?
  • How much were they paid?
  • How many miles did this top travel before it ended up in a Dorothy Perkins shop in London?
Burger Nike Air Max created by Swedish designer Olle Hemmendorff

There’s been a lot of attention in this country lately to where our food comes from. More and more people are eating organic, growing their own vegetables, and asking where the meat they eat comes from and how it was raised. I think we need to take a lesson from this and pay more attention to the clothes on our backs. What do you reckon?

p.s. If you do want to make your own undies, So Zo has a good tutorial here, or you can find out how to make some little stretch lace numbers from Su Sews So So here.

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14 thoughts on “Who made your pants?

  1. Jeanette Mash April 4, 2012 / 9:36 AM

    Thanks for that insightful post, I think there is a shift towards ethical fashion. What gets me though is that I’ve been researching how to register my own company planetzim.com as a “fair trade” company and it costs £100/quarter. Rather pricey for a start up, it appears that people are “creaming off the top”. Brilliant business idea though, create a logo, market it well and get people to pay for using the logo!

    Love you article 😉

    • yesilikethat April 4, 2012 / 6:08 PM

      Thanks! I’ve heard similar things about the fair trade label before. It does seem mad that ideals can be so easily marketed. I know that Montezumas (the chocolate company) don’t have fair trade status because they don’t believe it goes far enough…

  2. Hannah March 12, 2012 / 10:01 PM

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. I’m reading – To Die For? Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? by Lucy Siegle I cannot recommend it enough for a wake up call to how clothes are made and more importantly by who. Reading the awful things that go on in the pursuit of fast fashion makes me very glad I have the skills and knowledge to make my own clothes!

    • yesilikethat March 12, 2012 / 10:07 PM

      Thanks Hannah – I’ve heard lots of good things about that book, need to get reading it.

  3. Sophia March 10, 2012 / 9:01 PM

    Nice, thought provoking post. I’ve been thinking a lot more lately about where my clothes come from, too, especially after reading the book “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster”. There are a few chapters dedicated to where luxury items are actually made and where they tell their customers they’re made. I don’t buy luxury items, but it makes you wonder – if these items are made in poor working conditions, where are the cheaper ones made?

    Because of these “revelations” in my own life, I’ve been making a conscious effort to sew my own clothes or at least find stores that are more socially responsible. I think it’s our duty as consumers to pay attention to how companies are bringing us goods. That being said, in this day when there are many many middle men in a globalized world, it’s almost impossible. However, I do believe every little bit counts.

    • yesilikethat March 12, 2012 / 10:08 PM

      Yes – I love that book! All the luxury brands have this image of painstaking workmanship but it’s just that, an image. Good point about the middle-men. It’s so hard to get any clarity on the issue.

  4. April March 9, 2012 / 5:36 PM

    I could be wrong, but I think Mary Portas’ differentiator is that her knickers are entirely British made, except the thread, which couldn’t be sourced here. The article in this week’s Radio Times says that there are British manufacturors, but they import the materials and the aim was to have entirely British knickers.

    I like the concept but hate the name.

    • yesilikethat March 9, 2012 / 6:35 PM

      That’s interesting, thanks for the information. There was a bit in the Daily Mail article about the lace being made by a man who lives on a barge (??).

      Agree that the name is a bit rubbish. I have actually seen the knickers and I hate to say it but they look a little bit cheap, although like you I admire the concept. But if the product is no good then it all seems a bit pointless.

  5. Chuck March 8, 2012 / 5:38 PM

    Wah! Food trainer! Two of my favourite things – together! How intriguing…

    Since I very rarely buy first hand clothes does that mean I can be more lax about where/how they were originally made? I don’t know. A bit? Should still be careful and thoughtful though, I guess. x

    • yesilikethat March 8, 2012 / 8:56 PM

      I kind of have the same opinion as you – I tend to give second-hand clothing a free pass on everything because at least you’re taking it out of landfill/giving it a new lease of life. The fact is that there is very little transparency by clothing companies about how their products are made, so it’s really hard to make an informed decision. At least with food there’s been a move towards labelling everything and thinking about origin. x

  6. Law March 7, 2012 / 5:28 PM

    Very thought provoking. Im quite interested to hear about the Mary Portas thing. Maybe the show itself will give us bit more info on what’s actually happening, but i suspect it will big her up the same way TV made Jamie the sole saviour of school dinners and Gok Wan the king of body confidence.

    I’ve just bought an overlocker and am keen to try my hand at makimg knickers, so thanks for the links :o)

  7. Suzie March 7, 2012 / 3:32 PM

    Ooo – I read your blog post title and thought ‘I do!’…and then I saw that you linked to my tutorial, so thanks so much!

    As for this post – wow, such an interesting subject. You are so right, our society is driven by PR and marketing, and the media in general definiately have too much power over the public’s opinion. So thanks for the links highlighting that Mary Porta’s mission has already been started!

    You are right, we really SHOULD pay more attention to where our clothes come from. I would say most people who read your blog are sewers and therefore would be thinking along these lines and agree with you. But unfortunately we live in a ‘throw-away’ society and people just want the latest fashion at the cheapest prices, and don’t care how they get it, as long as they CAN get it!

    P.S. I could totally use my pants tutorial to make those pink and orange nicks, just add the contrasting lace….thanks for the inspiration!!!

    • yesilikethat March 8, 2012 / 1:31 PM

      I need to try your tutorial, it looks so cute!

      I think sewers (sew-ists? never know which one is better) definitely do have more of an idea of where clothes come from, it’s one of the benefits of sewing your own. Agree with you about the ‘throw-away’ society. What’s interesting is that price isn’t always linked to quality, I’ve bought expensive clothes that last 6 months, and jackets from H&M that have lasted me 8 years.

  8. voguevale March 7, 2012 / 12:37 PM

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