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.

Welcoming Oikocredit to the UK

4 November 2010

Latest post from Sophi: 

Last week was the official launch of Oikocredit in UK.  Oikocredit is an international development finance organisation which specialises in micro – finance in developing countries.  In 2006 they became shareholders in Divine Chocolate

The event was held in the Crypt of St Martins in the Field, which was the launch venue for Fairtrade Fortnight 2000 with Clare Short MP the Minister for overseas development, so a place with good karma.  The room was packed with investors, people who had raised the money in their churches, their schools and there were even some nuns from a convent.

Mariam Dao, Oikocredit’s regional manager  from Ivory Coast described an inspiring project made possible by Oikocredit.  A co-operative of 200 women street vendors were lent 2 million Euros to build a covered market.  They worked with the architect and now have a thriving market where they are able to sell vegetables and chicken.  They have set up a crèche for their children, they have serviced the loan and in a recent survey 62% of the women have now employed an extra person because their business has grown.  So the loan has been a huge success but how many organisations in the world have the imagination and courage to lend 2 million Euros to 200 women street vendors.

It was a privilege to speak at the launch and to be is such good company.  We ended by cutting a Divine Chocolate cake welcoming Oikocredit to UK, a flavour of things to come.

Sophi inspires students at Sussex University

18 May 2010

Posted by Sally Wright, Project Manager in Enterprise, Sussex University

Sophi Tranchell with the Enterprise team at Sussex University

On Thursday 13th May 2010 Sophi Tranchell was the keynote speaker at the University of Sussex’s “Enterprise Thursday Grand Celebration” event. The evening was a celebration of the entrepreneurial endeavours of Sussex students throughout the last academic year. Sophi’s talk focused on the story of Divine, and gave the audience of students, staff and business people a real insight into the heart of Divine: it was amazing to learn how such a successful social enterprise can be run on such a large scale. Sophi’s drive and passion for social enterprise was abundantly clear, and her talk seemed to ignite a similar passion in the audience too. It was fantastic to have Sophi come to speak, especially as the values of Divine really seem to fit with the ethos of Sussex University as a Fairtrade campus with Divine chocolate sold in our campus shops and cafes.

We had lots of positive feedback from our audience including;

“Very to the point about her goals – yet devoted to her cause. The 3 p’s ‘partnership , passion and persistence really stuck out in my mind.” Chariton Papakonstantinou 1St year Engineering student Sussex University

“Fantastic, inspirational and in depth explanation of fair trade and the Divine Chocolate company” Jonathan Gaiger 2nd Year Business and Management Student Sussex University

Sophi Tranchell speaking at Sussex University

“Insightful, with an incredible focus on CSR. She’s developing a brand that people can or want to relate to. Truly inspirational.” Colin Harrison Breathe Brighton

“It’s interesting how competitive and focussed a social enterprise can be” Tom Saunders SIFE Southampton

“What a fantastic, powerful person! Her speech was incredible, and so fluent.” Kim Macdonald Short Sweet Lets

Wonderful women

11 May 2010

Posted by Sophi:

It’s been a weird and wonderful week with women at its heart.  On Tuesday I made a presentation to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills with Kresse Wesling  the wonder woman who specializes in using waste materials to make lovely things.  Her current products include high-end hand bags Elvis & Kresse, made from reclaimed fire brigade hoses and jute supermarket bags made from coffee sacks.

Beverley Knight

On Wednesday I received the International Business Women award from SHE magazine announced by Tara Palmer TomkinsonBeverly Knight was next on the platform and confessed that she to was a Divine devotee.  I’m pretty sure she said “I love Divine…. and so do my thighs!…”

On Thursday, my daughter voted for the first time and it made me think about how the opportunity for women to vote is so hard fought for around the world.  It was sad waking up on Friday morning to find we had lost some staunch supporters: Angela Smith,  Minister for the Third Sector and Social Enterprise, and Linda Gilroy Co-op MP for Plymouth, Divine’s champion in the House.

Divine MD Sophi Tranchell with Mica Paris celebrating Dubble's 10th Birthday

Over the weekend we were at the first London Fairtrade Festival by Tower Bridge which celebrated the 10th Birthday of Dubble, the Fairtrade chocolate bar with added Comic ReliefMica Paris drove down from Wales to cut the cake say how much she liked the fact that Fairtrade enabled everyone to support people around the world everyday.

The election result was frustrating and in 2010  the Men in Suits have gathered to negotiate our future – what happened to the women?  On Radio 4 Thursday night Shirley Williams, Margaret Beckett and Baroness Young were impressive with their experience and gravity but today there was no place for them.  If they really were committed to a new way of governing and to delivering the change they all spoke about,  it would have been refreshing to see Caroline Lucas invited and it might have made us believe they were serious about a future that was good for all of us.

Divine Board hears about new Kuapa constitution

8 February 2010

Posted by Sophi:

While people in Britain continued to contemplate the length and depth of this year’s winter and when it will ever finish, the Divine Directors escaped to the sun, making the annual pilgrimage to Ghana for our board meeting. I have been making this journey for eleven years. Pauline Tiffen, the Director who helped Kuapa Kokoo set up, has been going there even longer, and now we have people travelling from USA and Holland too.

The Divine US Board meeting in Ghana

I sit on a number of boards and getting people to know and trust each other is always a challenge, involving planning days, and retreats etc. But with Divine we have all been making the trip to Ghana to meet with the farmers that own 45% of the company and see their challenges close up. In the process we have also had a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other, once you have shared the experience of changing planes in Amsterdam at 4.30 am you have nothing to hide!

The farmers have had a difficult autumn but seem to have come through with renewed vigour. At their AGM last year they passed a Constitution, the result of a good consultative process. As this year is an election year they are working hard to embed it at a local and district level. They have created an A3 flip chart to use in villages, with illustrations to explain how the new constitution will work for them. There will be much more going on at a District level rather then at National Executive. This should really help to build Kuapa both as a democratic farmers’ organisation and as a cocoa buying company. The flip chart was another lovely example of Kuapa really appreciating that everyone needs to understand and be able to join in the new constitution.

Both the USA and UK Board meetings went well, chaired by Sandy Balfour in his inimitable way, lots of good discussions on future plans, with no distractions. Kuapa took us all out for a Chinese meal – we all sat at a huge round table with a lazy susan, enjoying the company, the spicy food and the G&Ts.

Divine’s board is really representative of what makes Divine special, made up of talented busy people who generously give their time for the bigger vision, a world where the producers have a real say and a share of the wealth they are creating. They represent organisations: Twin, Christian Aid, Comic Relief, Oikocredit and Lutheran World Relief who have worked for far longer to create a more equitable trading system based on respect and dignity. We talked into the night, putting the world to rights. After two days of meeting, thousands of miles of travel and much food for thought, we began our trips home, grateful for the opportunity to have been part of something so significant.

Cadbury sells to Kraft – very different reasons to be sad

20 January 2010

Peter Cumming, head of equities at Standard Life, is today quoted as saying “…It is sad that Cadbury is gone, but business is business.” There are lots of people who feel sad – but for very different reasons…

Some are sad that a company with all this British heritage has been ‘lost’ to the Americans. And it’s sad that all that philanthropic heritage was brought out of the archive and dusted off to leverage the deal, and keep those share values going up and up (a brand message strangely at odds with drumming gorillas and dancing eyebrows). Sad for the employees now fearing for their jobs. And the investors are sad the selling price didn’t go higher..

Sad to see a few people getting very very wealthy – having talked movingly about the need to ensure a better deal for very poor cocoa farmers. At the end of the day, sad that despite the heralded move of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk to Fairtrade – nothing has really changed. It’s global business as usual – just as inequitable as it’s always been – with money-making and decision-making in the hands of the very very few.

Celebrating Social Enterprise Day at No.10

19 November 2009

Post from Sophi, direct from Downing St!

At lunchtime today Downing Street was crammed full with Social Entrepreneurs – a fitting way to celebrate Social Enterprise Day and all that Social Enterprise does every day of the year. Gordon Brown made a lovely speech. He thanked Jonathan Bland the departing CEO and founder for Social Enterprise Coalition, Campbell Rob the Director General of the Cabinet Office who is off to become the CEO of Shelter, and he thanked all the guests from social enterprises for the impact that they make on peoples lives and the communities around the UK and across the world. Tessa Jowell spoke and Angela Smith gave out awards, for the Best English Social Enterprise, and a newcomer and three school were also selected. You will be able to vote on line for the best school and the Best Social Enterprise in the UK at Social Enterprise Awards.

The Social Enterprise Ambassadors turned out in force and Sunlight Trust did us proud with fantastic canapés, delightful micro shepherds pies, fish and chips, beef with Yorkshire pudding, the piece de resistance was of course the double chocolate pots which were simply Divine ….