What is your business?

My business is BehindBras Group Holdings, which trades as BehindBras.

BehindBras is a socially conscious luxury lingerie and retail underwear brand. We work with UK manufacturers to create made-to-measure and a range of readyto-wear products.

BehindBras will empower women across a social divide from the women who make them, to those who sell them, to the women who wear them.

The brand will inspire optimism while removing the stigma and discrimination associated with socially excluded and under-represented women.

BehindBras believes that these women should feel included and equally able to access opportunities, free from stereotypes.

The business goal is to create a successful lingerie brand with high consumer, societal and sustainability standards. The brands will be manufactured in part in prisons, therefore providing former women prisoners with the opportunity to increase their skillset and tell consumers the real story of how we need to support these women in our society.

Beyond this – BehindBras are proud to be creating beautiful items… we are developing lingerie and underwear products that are well-designed, affordable, and meet consumers’ demands. Often, high-street products have a poor fit, use low-quality materials and are not seen as environmentally or socially ethical.

The goal is a story of sustainability in the workplace. BehindBras aims to promote 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations to improve our planet and people’s longevity. The Group has two subsidiaries, BehindBras Fashion Enterprise and BehindBras Fashion Academy, both of which are Community Interest Companies.

The Academy                            services are:

Personal Development, Mentoring and Behavioural Change Workshops in prisons, online and in the community. It also provides – employment, training and education. Online and distance learning programmes in the fashion and creative industries

The Enterprise provides manufacturing services for:

Underwear and soft furnishings for the home such as curtains, cushions and
bedding. The manufacturing takes place in prisons and in the wider community,
where we employ former prisoners. This is where we will be working with companies like New Futures Network and Prison Industries.

Employment Opportunities:

We will work with volunteers as well as offering employment opportunities with BehindBras. Our referrals will come from fashion/retail/creative companies and resettlement officers in prisons workshops as well as the wider community employing former prisoners. We also aim to employ our own interns and apprentices. Our social franchise model means we make our products by replicating the BehindBras Group business model by employing former prisoners as associates or self-employed franchisees.
The journey for a woman in prison starts with BehindBras Academy. In the Academy, women can learn anything from becoming a textile machinist through to a social media strategist in the fashion world. Working with colleges and universities, I aim to develop a learning management system (LMS) where courses will be available online as well as being offered via the prisons on a virtual campus, or on a secure laptop. These courses will be available to both serving, or former women prisoners, to enhance their careers, and to enable them to become part of the fashion and creative industry.

How did the idea come to you?

My interest and love of lingerie came from a time when I remember my mother saying that women feel more confident when wearing matching underwear. I believe that when you put on lingerie in the morning, whether it matches or not, and whatever size you are, there is a feelgood factor. It starts from your skin and radiates outwards – it is the closest thing to your heart.

The idea also comes from wanting to make lingerie and to give women in prison and in the community, upon leaving prison, careers, not just a job.

In my business model, women will start by going through the BehindBras Academy, or the BehindBras Enterprise, and then they will become self-sufficient in anything from 3-5 days upon release from prison.

Upon leaving prison they will have all of their training and will be given a ‘business in a box’, which will include a sewing machine, all the goods to make the lingerie, and off they go, to either work as an associate with BehindBras, or to become self-employed. In 2013, before I was sentenced, I put together the BehindBras business plan. I showed the business plan to the judge, he held his tummy and he laughed, he literally roared with laughter.

This judge is still driving me forward today, the judge who thought it was funny, to come up with a business like this…

How did you utilise your entrepreneurial talent?

I was sentenced on Friday 13th, and I was released from prison 12 months later. I had my business plan, but I didn’t know what to do with it, or who to go to.

So, I started going on courses with organisations like Unlimited and The School for Social Entrepreneurs. I achieved an undergraduate degree in manufacturing lingerie, from the London College of Fashion, and it was this learning and knowledge that gave me an understanding of exactly what a social entrepreneur was. At the age of 55, I recognised what I wanted to do in life and who I wanted to be. I wanted to give back, via whatever I do in business.

What was a major obstacle and how did you overcome it?

Finance has been my major obstacle, in particular, writing grants has been an obstacle for me. For the last ten years I have used my own finance for the business, and as I don’t know how to write grants, I am looking for corporate sponsorship to run my business, through the Social Value Act. This is how I am overcoming this obstacle!

I would like people to understand that my own journey and setting up my business has been no easy feat, it does not drop from the sky, and there are obstacles all the way, but if you want to do it, it will happen.

Anything else you would like to highlight?

I spent 12 months in 4 different prisons up and down the UK. I met different women during this time, and 70% of the women I met behind bars, should not have been
there. The cause of their incarceration ranged from domestic violence, and mental health, to a lack of education. I call the women I left behind the ‘forgotten women’, as they have been forgotten by society. Society is sending women to prison for the wrong reasons, and we should be looking after them in the community, instead of sending them
to prison.

It is these ‘forgotten women’ that drive me forward to create something for them. My business will provide a woman with a career in fashion and the creative industries. It is not just sitting at a machine, it could be working in a studio, becoming a tailor, or managing social media for a fashion brand. These are the type of careers I would like a woman to have. Not every woman wants to stack shelves or become a cleaner, they need to be recognised for the potential they have when they come out of prison.

Finally – Can you provide a quote to inspire others?

“Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and are passionate about what they do” – Nelson Mandela