Who made your pants?

A clever friend of mine once remarked ‘shopping is political’. And it is.
She also pointed me in the direction of something that has rapidly come to be one of my favourite things.

It’s called the Year of Pants.

And it works like this. You subscribe, then each month, you receive a pair of pants through the post (gift-wrapped in a very pleasing manner.) They are selected for you, and they are THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PANTS.
sea shell pants

But the fact that the pants are so beautiful is not even the most remarkable thing about these pants. These pants are by WhoMadeYourPants?

They are made in a small factory in Southampton by women who are trained in the intricate art of lingerie production. Many of the women who work there are immigrants from places like Somalia and Afghanistan, all of them have had difficult experiences; all of them want to learn new skills and work.

This is what Who Made Your Pants is all about:

“We think that every day should be a good pants day, and that there should be a little bit of gorgeous under everyone’s clothes, something just for them. So we buy fabrics that have been sold on by big underwear companies at the end of season, stop them ending up as waste and turn them into gorgeous new pants that have a great start in life.”

What an astonishingly simple, wonderful idea.

(It’s also, on a practical level, a brilliant way of refreshing your underwear drawer, if like me, you’re getting bored of worn-out M&S multipack offerings.) Each pair of perfectly formed knickers that you buy comes with a little label telling you exactly who made your pants. So you really DO know exactly who made your pants.

By purchasing one pair of pants, you empower women, support sustainable manufacturing and contribute to the revivial of British manufacturing, all at the same time. AND you get a stunningly beautiful pair of pants.

See? Shopping is political.

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If you want to read more about WMYP, or the way that they are revolutionizing the way that underwear is sold to women, then you could read the interview with Becky, founder of WMYP on The Debrief. 

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LunchFox Shopping.

It’s OK to hate all ‘Back to School’ slogans, right? As an adult? I think I was supposed to hate them when I was actually going back to school, but I (mostly) really liked school, and I love new stationery. so it was OK. As a mum, Back 2 School -the 2 drives me particularly nuts -is just shorthand for Spend Lots of Cash.  This is less exciting. One thing that is especially annoying to spend money on is lunchboxes. Instead of the plastic box with a tiny plastic handle of lunchboxes of yore, modern lunch bags are mini cool bags which you can never quite clean enough, with a lining which splits, and a zip that catches ALL THE DAMN time. And because you HAVE to buy one with the correct Angry Birds/Hello Kitty picture on, they are also fiendishly expensive.

Lunch box of yore.

Lunch box of yore.

Anyway. There is another way, my friends. A recycled, stylish, practical CHEAP lunch box solution available IN BEDFORD.  At Charisma Gift Shop, in the posh arcade. (I think it does have a proper name, but everyone knows where you mean when you say the posh arcade,) It’s a lovely shop, full of pretty scarves and nice soap and great jewellery. And it sells these:

A window of lunch boxes!

A window of lunch boxes!

foxy lunch box

foxy lunch box

They are £4.99 each, and come with a foil lining. There are loads of nice designs to choose from; I like the fox one and the apples. Best bit? They are made from recycled plastic! Charisma sells the jumbo storage bags too, which are handy for storing laundry, clothing-to-grow-into, dressing up, school work… pretty much anything! And the storage bags are just £4.99 too. I’ve got quite a lot of these already (ahem) but I couldn’t resist this bike design one. I did stop to wonder if you could indeed store a fold up bike in it. Would be handy.

Bike Bag.

Bike Bag.

Happy Campers !

School shoe shopping. Guaranteed to suck the will to live out of the most enthusiastic of parents. The will to live, and also the cash. I was granted something of a reprieve this summer: both Polly and Will had new school shoes in May, and they have miraculously managed to stay the same size over the summer! They’re a bit scuffed -shoes not kids- but they are not going to crush their (already quite massive) feet. We may make it to half term. With only the new starter to buy school shoes for, I got itchy feet. And look what I found:

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Polly may not have outgrown her school shoes, but she has grown out of her crocs, flip flops AND her converse. So there was a need for some new shoes. (I basically need to justify buying the kids nicer shoes than I have.) They’re from Schuh. I think these junior campers are the just the coolest. Beautifully and sturdily made, with no laces but loads of support. Schuh offer free standard delivery and easy-peasy returns, if you want to buy online. And these babies are sale items! (The shoes, not my children, clearly!)
Rich already owns the adult version of Will’s new campers, and I’ve had my eye on the grown up versions of Polly’s for a while. I sense a weird matchy-matchy shoe thing about to happen..

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From Babies with Love

If I made a venn diagram of my favourite childrenswear brands (I do love a venn diagram. They are just so….pleasing, visually,)  then one circle would have ‘beautiful design’, one would have ‘ethically produced’ (minimal environmental impact, made by workers in a safe environment and who are paid a reasonable wage.) The middle section of this theoretical venn diagram  – it won’t be theoretical for long, I feel a Sunday night craft activity coming on , a nice bit of cut and stick and circle drawing – would be the few that combine the two aspects. From Babies with Love is one of the few that would sit in that hallowed middle bit.  from babies with love is a childrens’ clothing boutique like no other. They sell beautifully designed baby and childrenswear, in organic cotton, and all profits go to help orphaned and abandoned children around the world. This is no money-making capitalist venture – this is social enterprise in action, uncompromising on quality and design.

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Green bonnets! Spotty or stripy!

from babies1

Bird print babygro: Raspberry

from babies 2

Shark-print babygro

From babies 3

Summer Berry dress set

These are just a few of the beautiful things you can buy  – with 100% of profits from the sale going to support children who have nothing.

Thanks to your custom we’re now supporting the 114 children that live in the SOS Children’s Village in Lilongwe, Malawi!   We’re supporting the village, and in particular the nursery school, which cares for babies and toddlers in the village as well as the surrounding community.

From babies with love sponsors SOS children: a charity providing homes and foster families for children who have been orphaned or abandoned.  One of the SOS Childrens’ Villages that they support is in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, which has 12 family houses that care for 114 children. There is a nursery, a primary and secondary school, a medical centre and a vocational training centre.

Malawi nursery, Feb 2013

Malawi nursery, Feb 2013

Crucial to the success of these Childrens’ Villages are the SOS mothers: foster mothers who care for the children in the villages when biological parents are no longer able to. They are vital to the development and wellbeing of the children that SOS supports: “SOS mothers are the dedicated women who work day-to-day for the benefit of their SOS children. They live with their children, care for their children, comfort their children and celebrate with their children.  They do all the normal things a mother would do. Many former SOS children keep in touch with their SOS mother well beyond their time in the SOS Children’s Village, showing that the same strong bond exists as between a natural mother and a child. Worldwide there are more than 5,250 SOS mothers who care for 62,000 children in 545 SOS Children’s Villages.”

SOS mothers (photo: sos.childre.org)

SOS mothers (photo: sos.childre.org)

I love the idea that you can buy beautiful childrenswear and donate money to such a great cause at the same time.  I have lined this website up as my first port of call when the next person I know has a baby.  What a lovely gift for a new baby! (Alas, my own children are far too huge for this stuff.)  If you too have a penchant for beautifully designed childrenswear and would like to give a little to children in need at the same time, I would advise you to add this to your own personal venn diagram of style/ethical shopping. I am, obviously, assuming that you also have a penchant for venn diagrams. OK?

venn-diagram

Love, Keep, Create.

This post is for anyone who, like me, has a stash of baby clothes in a bag/suitcase/picnic hamper (well, desperate times – I have had THREE babies,) in the loft that you really really can’t bear to part with. It’s partly that they’re so tiny. I sometimes struggle to remember when these lumping great kids that pogo about our house were so tiny and delicate they could fit into these titchy things! And obviously, they are all stuffed full of happy baby memories. For some reason, you never seem to pull out a babygro and remember the times you cried with frustration over the fact that its occupant just would NOT sleep ! It’s a good thing. Perhaps a survival instinct.)  I’ve given loads of baby clothes away; our kids wore loads of hand-me-downs and I loved the fact that loads of their stuff has been re-worn by other children. But some are just too precious to give away. The first babygros they wore, the outfits they were given by grandparents, cardigans handknitted especially for them. Just clothes that I loved, and sort of wish they could still fit into, in a weird way. But anyway, they are just sitting in the loft – and I had no idea what I was going to do with them. It seems a shame to keep things like that and then not be able to see them. I’ve loved the idea of memory quilts – patchwork quilts made from old baby clothes since I read about them in a book by Lois Lowry. A Summer to Die. Not the cheeriest of books, but very well written.

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“She stood up and laid it out on the kitchen table. There they were, all those orderly, geometric patterns of our past, Molly’s and mine. All those bright squares of colour; in the centre, the pale pink and yellows of our baby dresses, farther out, in carefully organised rows, the flowery prints and the bright plaids of the years when we were little girls, and at the edges; the more subdued denims and corduroys of our growing up.”

It’s a testament to the writing that at least 15 years since I last read that book, I remembered the phrase ‘at the edges; the more subdued denims and corduroys of our growing up,’ and was able to search online for the rest of the text.  I loved the idea of a memory quilt – how nice to have a quilt made from beautiful clothes to remember your childrens’ babyhood with? But having only moderate to fair sewing skills myself, and a total lack of time, not to mention THREE lots of baby clothes to quilt, I felt that this was far too ambitious a project. Luckily though, I discovered a Very Cool Website, through Twitter. (I bloody love Twitter. It’s moments like this where I can’t celebrate the power of social media enough.)

LoveKeepCreate was created to help people like me out, who have stashes of precious baby clothes and no good way of using them. The idea is that you send them some of your baby clothes stash, and they make them into something lovely for you/your child to keep. And, excitingly, it’s really reasonably priced! LoveKeepCreate do quilts – which are backed and edged with fleece and filled with nice thick wadding –

Memory Quilt

Memory Quilt

Memory quilts come in cot bed size (100x120cm, £45.00) and single bed size (140x180cm, £60.00).

They suggest that you send at least 10 clothing items for a cotbed quilt and at least 20 items for a single bed sized quilt.

They also do blankets, standard (65 x 85cm, £30.00) and large (100x120cm, £39.50), which are the edged and backed with fleece, but not stuffed, which come in two sizes. They suggest sending at least 6-8 clothing items for a standard sized blanket and at least 10 items for a large blanket:

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Memory Blanket

Monkey

Monkey Keepsake

In addition to these lovely bits, there are also keepsakes, which are animals made from old babygros that you send. You can choose from a duck, cat, a bunny, a giraffe, an elephant, a bear, a lion, a monkey and a dragon! (The dragon is my favourite!)

Another great idea they have come up with is making clothes for your child out of your old stuff! Here’s the Daddy Shirt, a shirt for your son made from one of Daddy’s old shirts:

Daddy Shirt

The Daddy Shirt

And the Daddy Dress, made from, that’s right, Daddy’s old shirt!

The Daddy Dress

The Daddy Dress

Isn’t that just brilliant?! They do other stuff too, have a look around their website.  And, as if you needed any further encouragement, they are currently offering the opportunity to add 50p to your order, which they will match, to donate to a childrens’ charity. Every three months, the money collected will be donated to a charity suggested by their customers on Twitter or Facebook.

At some point, I’d love to interview the mums who set up LoveKeepCreate here on the blog. (You can read more about them here in the meantime.) I think it’s an outstanding business idea, and the perfect example of an independent company working well in a niche market.  But right now, I am busy  sifting through piles of babygros, trying to narrow my selection down in order to send them off to be made into something lovely!

London!

With the summer holidays approaching, and weeks of hardcore child- entertainment looming (and I mean looming in a nice way. A bit.) I decided I needed a bit if me-time, to prepare. If I was a spa kind of person, I might have gone spa-ing, but it involves rather too much sitting still and being pampered for my liking. I am not averse to either, although still too close to the nappy stage of motherhood not to chortle slightly at the phrase ‘pampered’, but with time to myself in short supply at the mo, I decided to hang out in the Big Smoke for a day.
I love London. I love the busy, frenetic insanity of it. I love the fact that it feels like ideas and new stuff is just bubbling under the surface of everything, everywhere. I like its anonymity and its bigness. I met up with some lovely friends and had non-child-related conversations! I finished a drink in a café. I didn’t once have to evaluate the contents of a kids’ lunchbox deal. No one needed the loo at an irritating moment, necessitating an emergency exit. I read 50 pages of a novel on the train; there was no need to bring a sticker book. In short: a good day out!

And I went to the Moomin shop. Which was nice. And Covent Garden market, where, sandwiched between a string quartet (one quarter was actually a flute, but a quartet, anyway,) and a guy with a guitar singing U2 songs better than Bono, I found some Cool Stuff. Which always tops off a good London trip.

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Handmade dresses at Covent Garden Market.

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Reversible!

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Neal’s Yard.

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Regent’s Street, pedestrianised – MUCH nicer. Music, dance, fruit stalls replaced the traffic.

Scooter Aid!

There are three products that I own that I can say have truly changed my life, and one of those isn’t even mine.

Number one: Panasonic breadmaker. Makes Polly’s PKU bread from scratch at least three times a week without fail. 2 mins prep, 1hour55 mins baking time: perfect bread.

Number two: my iphone. I just love it. And I haven’t washed it yet, so the camera is still good – which means I’ve taken loads more photos of the kids and the occasional one of my dinner – sorry – than I ever would have done without it. Whether the kids will thank me in years to come is another matter. And I use it for email, facebook, twitter, occasionally as an actual phone…

Number three: Mini Micro Scooters. Seriously. Polly pretty much refused to go in the buggy from when she was about 19 months. She just wanted to walk, which is to be encouraged. But MAN did it take a long time to get anywhere. I had seen older kids on two wheeled scooters, but she was too little for them. And they were really noisy. Clattery. It was a sound that I did not feel I could walk alongside without going slightly mad. By the time she was two and a half, I was really bored of the buggy argument and it taking half an hour to walk to the park. So I googled ‘three wheeler scooters’ – inspired by the chunky scooters she loved at preschool. But instead, I found mini micro scooters. And they have quite literally changed my life.

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Will’s new joystick Maxi Micro and matching helmet. Ace!

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Scootering back from ballet in no time!

We now own three; two maxi micros and a mini. They are easy-peasy to get the hang of, smooth, quiet, safe and you can get loads of spare parts for them. Two of ours’ have had replacement boards and brakes; we’ve got new handlebar covers to replace a pair that split. This means that you can repair them instead of having to buy a whole new scooter every time something goes. They are used almost every day, and they are loved. You can fold them down, and they are light enough to carry on return journeys if they decide not to scoot. I’ve made ribbon-streamers for handlebars; you can buy many, many accessories for them. They were just so liberating. The school run is actually fun for a two year old on a scooter, as is a trip to the shop top buy milk. And it means that small children can travel at (sometimes alarming) speed.

I would always recommend them to other parents – they may not be the cheapest scooter, but they are definitely the best.

And now mini micro have done something incredibly lovely. It’s called Scooter Aid, and it means that you can send them your old scooter, and they will refurbish it, make it safe, and give it to a child in need; either in Africa, India or the UK.

Just brilliant, right? Read more about the scheme here – you can also print out a FREE OF CHARGE return label, to post the scooter back to MiniMicro HQ.

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Scooter aid: giving the gift of mini micro to children around the world!

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