Pants! How to love the ones you’re in

19 July 2011

Guest blogger Becky John writes:

Hello Divine blog readers! I’m very excited to be here and am proud as anything to have been asked to write for you by Divine. Let me introduce myself… I’m Becky, the founder and Managing Director of whomadeyourpants?, a social enterprise making absolutely gorgeous pants from perfect fabrics left over from manufacturers, right here in the UK. We do this as a means to provide jobs for women who would struggle to get jobs otherwise.

I left my last (well paid but boooooring) job and started this business because I wanted ethics but I also really, really wanted gorgeousness. At that time.. well.. the ethical pants on sale were a little bit… yoghurt weavy. The ethics were all about the fibres, but I could see there were different ways to get the ethics into knickers. And I wanted lace and SCREAMING colours, at that. And so that’s what we do. You know those stretchy lace shorts that you can get? Well, that’s what we make. In purple, black, red, green, blue, ivory… gorgeous.

You might be thinking, that’s all very well and good, but what on earth do pants and chocolate have in common? Well, just like Divine, we make a product that makes people smile. Our name most often makes people laugh and then ask themselves a questions, sometimes. Just like Divine, we make a product that is unashamedly gorgeous. Just like Divine being owned by a cooperative, we are owned by our members, by those affected by the way we work, and not external folks.

On the 10th March this year, I was delighted and thrilled to speak on the same stage as Harriet Boatemaa, one of the members of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative which owns Divine chocolate. Harriet spoke passionately about how she is proud of her work and has high hopes for the future. When I talk to the women we work with here, I get the same feeling – the passion, the hope, the joy that can come from people having their own income, their own money to spend. I love that by buying something that is, in itself, a gorgeous thing, good can be done. I don’t think that ethics have to be dull or hair shirty. I think they ought to be celebratory. For me, finding a product that a whole load of people want to buy and making it in a great and positive way is a perfect solution. Business is a great way of providing a way for people to help themselves out of poverty. It’s an engine that can drive change. Right here, we’ve already seen two of our workers open their own bank accounts, and one is learning to drive. Another is paying for extra lessons for a child.

Every penny we take from selling pants goes into the business, into their training and wages, and into their families. We believe that everyone deserves a job, support to find one, and the independence that brings. We also believe in things being beautiful, radiant and joyous. That’s why we love working with Divine and are proud to.

In the presence of Divine women

6 July 2011

One day several months ago we had the idea to launch the first Divine Women Awards.  It was born of a conversation with Ingle & Rhode, one of the first licencees of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold in the UK – and we wanted together to do something to acknowledge the centenary of International Women’s Day. We got to talking about celebrating women’s achievements – women who are doing amazing things against the odds and beyond the call of duty.  So the journey began…

Working with Given, the great communications team, Asi Sharabi our social media consultant and his colleagues and Ingle & Rhode we established the criteria for the Award, got it all set up beautifully on Facebook, received the support of campaigner and Eco-Age Director Livia Firth – and opened up for nominations.

And then we started hearing about these incredible women. Women who turn extremely challenging personal situations into positive outcomes for other people. Women who battle red tape, funding cuts, and a hundred disadvantages to create something others can share and benefit from.  The sort of optimism, determination, vision and perseverence that most of us can only dream of.  The sort of women I imagine David Cameron is depending on to create a Big Society, but without any funding.

Divine Women Sarah Holmes, Carline Ikoroha, Lisa Cherry, Livia Firth, Anna Wallace, Lucy Newham, Janice Jinks

Our shortlist of six finalists were from all over the country and had made their mark in very different ways.  Meeting them at the lovely Gore Hotel at our Award ceremony last week was a real privilege – together in one room we had enough ‘can do’ mentality to tackle world peace.  Carline Ikoroha – our outright winner – is indomitable.  She is an inclusion mentor at a primary school in North London – working closely with children and their families – but beyond that she gives up her spare time to creating inclusive environments for children who for many reasons are missing out. From running a breakfast club to a local choir, and fighting to keep the local library open – she is proactively changing lives and giving children self-respect and a sense of achievement. It was great to be able to give her the beautiful gold pendant made especially for her by Ingle & Rhode in the shape of the Mpatap Adinkra symbol she chose – meaning Reconciliation, Peace & Harmony.

Carline Ikoroha hears she has won, and is hugged by her friend Lisa Taner

The warmth and sisterhood in the room was palpable – crowned by Livia Firth who, in joining the judges and presenting the Award, again showed her fantastic support for Divine, and made each finalist feel very special.

Divine MD Sophi Tranchell, Carline Ikoroha, and Livia Firth

Sophi Tranchell, Divine’s MD, introduced our ceremony saying “Women have always been an inspiration to Divine – from the empowered women cocoa farmers of Kuapa Kokoo, the cooperative that owns Divine, to the amazing women amongst the activists and supporters that have campaigned for us, and the chocolate lovers who have discovered Divine and have made it their favourite.”

We hope this is just the start of something really great – and very Divine. To read more about all the finalists read our news here.

The beautiful Ingle & Rhode pendant in Carline's hands