Tomorrow’s business

I have been asked to nominate a ‘young global leader’ from the business community and it has been inspiring, here in Co-operatives Fortnight, to research and submit the name of the great Becky John.

Born in Wales, Becky is the founder of a dynamic and highly successful co-operative enterprise, designed to create employment for refugee women in the UK. Inspired by her work and involvement over many years with women, including as a client herself at a Rape Crisis Centre, and her support and engagement with Amnesty International, Becky developed the idea for a worker-owned enterprise in 2008 after learning of a woman who was killed walking home from a sweatshop and reflecting on how little she or any of us know about the conditions under which underwear is made.

Her reputation as a rising star in international co-operative circles has been reflected in awards from Co-operatives UK, purple praise in Marie Claire, plaudits from retail guru Mary Portas and fellowship at the Royal Society of Arts.

Whomadeyourpants – one of our member co-operatives and mutuals across the UK – is a worker co-operative, which is a democratic and highly participative form of enterprise. Based in Southampton, those who work there are members and co-owners of the business. Coming from varied backgrounds, as refugeee women, the staff have a mix of skills that they are able to bring to bear, compared to a conventional post, but they also have development needs. Becky oversees the training and certification, so that members who come in and out of employment make a huge leap in terms of their skills. As members, responsible for the success of the enterprise, work at Who Made Your Pants is genuinely transformative, in terms of self-esteem, responsibility and capabilities.

The enterprise is one of the best known of a range of small-scale, high end fashion manufacturers coming back to operate in Britain, which has been dominated by the service sector. The products are manufactured out of discarded materials from the fashion industry and are sold online.

The co-operative business sector encompasses one billion members worldwide, but the art of its success is as much about followership as leadership. Becky started selling things at the age of eight and for my money, she has the capacity to change, through followership, not just the fashion industry but the way we think about tomorrow’s business.

You can follow Becky’s upbeat, passionate and inspiring view of the world on @beckypants

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