From prison to business woman.
After leaving prison, our founder Barbara Burton knew it would be difficult to find a job. Like most women who’ve spent time in prison, she was keen to make a fresh start and not make the same mistakes that led her to be behind bars. This wasn’t easy. In her mid-fifties she had very few choices. Not many employers employ women with a criminal record.
Barbara started writing her business plan for BehindBras before prison, developing the idea whilst serving time for fraud. For over 50 years Barbara was an upstanding citizen who had never committed a crime. "It was a financial crime. Looking back on it now, I was very silly and I trusted the wrong people but I have paid the price for it - and continue to pay for it on the outside. Getting a job is hard".
Barbara spent just over one year behind bars. She was transferred three times, spending time in four different prisons - some hundreds of miles away from her family. "It robbed me of my family. It robbed me of my freedom. It robbed me of my ambition for a time. We talk about rehabilitation but the truth is - it doesn't exist".
Barbara chose bras to be at the centre of her business initiative because when a woman goes to prison, she loses her femininity and is deprived of anything beautiful. Every woman wears a bra close to her heart. It’s a highly personal piece of clothing - something all women have in common both in prison and outside. Hence the name BehindBras. In fact, we’ll also be making beautiful knickers and slips - day and night range!
One of the many motivations Barbara had for setting up BehindBras was to address a lack of opportunity for women who’ve been in prison. She witnessed women leaving jail - only to come back weeks later - often because they can't provide for their families when they leave. Women talked about discrimination and not being able to get a job. Those stories reinforced the human cost behind the bald statistics. [hyperlink stats)
"When you go to prison there is the normal run of the mill roles that keep you away from the TV - such as cleaning, kitchen work, volunteering in the library, and maybe the odd business course. I wanted to make a go of it when I left prison and I had the determination not to end up back inside but I discovered that there was no real tangible mentoring or help for the outside world".
Whilst inside Barbara heard stories from women whose past was dominated by abuse and poverty. Connecting with them as a woman, seeing past their crimes, she knew she could do something. With a long career background in personal development in retail and customer services in the telecomms industries, as well as a stint in property development, Barbara resolved to improve women’s working and life chances after prison.
Luckily Barbara’s love of lingerie came in handy. With special permission from prison, she attended London School of Fashion bra-making courses. Most valuable was ‘How to set up a lingerie business’. Everything started falling into place.
Barbara made it her mission to turn her lingerie social enterprise idea into reality.
"Forgetting women behind bars doesn’t make the problem go away. Doing something positive and practical will help. I’m delighted that making elegant, well-designed lingerie can benefit women, who with care, help and belief can fulfil their potential."