Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

“Lights Out” Production

Hailey Hinshaw, intern


Power outages are part of daily life at Global Mamas and all across Ghana. While Ghanaians have experienced periods of “lights out” before, it’s gotten substantially worse within the last year. Due to a variety of factors including failing power plant equipment, a dysfunctional dam, and a lack of funds, Ghana fails to produce enough power to meet its energy needs. These outages can have drastic effects on Global Mamas as electricity is essential to almost every step in the production process. In many areas, power outages can be sporadic and lengthy, creating even greater uncertainty and delays within our production timetables.

 

Ghana’s nation-wide power outages can drastically affect every part of Global Mamas’ production, from sewing to quality control to administrative functions. However, seamstresses generally suffer the most. When we first give the fabric to our seamstresses, they need light, an iron, and a sewing machine to produce quality products on time. There are box irons the Mamas can use during a power outage; however, these irons are heated by charcoal.  The Mamas risk ruining the newly batiked fabric with this charcoal residue or even a spark that could burn a stain into the fabric. If this happens, the products are not up to standards and they are rejected by Quality Control.

 

Even if the fabric can be successfully ironed and cut, the Mamas go on to sew their products with hand powered machines – if they have one. Deborah, a seamstress at Global Mamas, expressed how physically tiring the hand machines are. She said it requires more strength and more time to work on a hand machine, so you can’t produce as many products as you would on an electric machine.

 

To keep orders moving on time, the Mamas get creative. Sabina, a seamstress in Cape Coast, said that on days without power, “there’s no sitting idle.” All of the Mamas work hard and use every resource at their disposal. If they have a large order to complete, they often go to other seamstresses’ shops to use their hand or pedal machines. Sometimes they may even transport their own machines to other shops that have electricity to complete an order. Mamas also call upon each other for assistance. If one Mama is finished, she will sew with another Mama to help get her order finished on time. Sometimes this extra help is enough and sometimes it’s not. If the Mamas aren’t able to complete their orders it can causes shortages at our US warehouse leading to back orders and out of stock products.

 

After products are sewn, they return to the office to be checked by Quality Control. QC workers make sure the products are sewn correctly, that all the loose strings are cut, and there are not any stains or irregularities in the fabric. The tasks performed by QC workers do not require electric machines, but they do require good lighting. When the power is off and Global Mamas is scheduled to ship out products the next day, the workday does not stop. In fact, it often lengthens. It’s not uncommon to see candles, lanterns and even phone lights (until they run out of battery) out on the tables to help the QC workers work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

 

As soon as products have been passed through Quality Control, they are ready to be shipped. But sales and administrative functions also suffer when there’s no power.  Patience, Cape Coast Office Manager, was asked about the effect of power outages on her work. She simply said, “Huge!” Without internet, it’s difficult to communicate the details and status of orders to customers, and all email correspondence is halted until the next business day. You can see how difficult it is to stick to a production schedule when so many other factors come into play.

 

Without power, the challenges are great. But in the midst of it all, the Global Mamas seamstresses and staff have become a family. They are willing to help each other whenever possible because, as Alice put it, “they know that if I am experiencing it, then everybody is experiencing it.”

Ashaiman Payroll Mistake Rectified, Results in Dancing and Celebration

Pete Freeman, intern

 

On any given day, the Global Mamas’ Ashaiman site is alive with the whirring of sewing machines, clicking of computer mice and keyboards, and splashing of soon-to-be dresses dunked in cool dye and water. Ashaiman is a hub for a small group of full-time, directly employed seamstresses, batikers, and quality control staff. Unlike our Cape Coast location where the women are small business owners and work from their own workshops, in Ashaiman the Mamas come into a Global Mamas workshop. Here, the symphony of work-related activities is a steady buzz beginning as early as 7 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. But in late May 2015, the usual commotion was overpowered by shouts of joy and dancing after a payroll mistake was discovered and rectified.

 

Recently, the Ashaiman site underwent a huge transition to performance-based pay. Under this new payroll method, a Mama’s salary is comprised of a base pay and performance pay. Base pay ensures that the Mama always receives a living wage. Performance-based pay incentivizes efficient, high quality work. [Read more about this process in our 2014 annual report here.] This transition from our previous fixed wage method has not only revitalized the Mamas’ commitment to fair trade entrepreneurship, but has also led to a renewed sense of community among the Mamas in Ashaiman. The Mamas radiate pride with their work and show increased happiness

 

However, in May of 2015, we discovered a problem with this system: some Mamas had earned more pay than they had received in their paycheck. The discrepancy was caused by the miscalculation of vacation and sick time and affected Ashaiman seamstresses and batikers. As direct employees, the Mamas in Ashaiman receive between 21 and 26 days of paid time off (depending on how long they have worked with Global Mamas). If a Mama does not use all of her earned vacation and sick time each year, they receive payment for these hours at their normal hourly working rate. So, for Mamas who take little vacation and are rarely ill, a sizable bonus is paid on their anniversary with Global Mamas.

 

After reviewing the implementation of this new payment method, we realized that our payroll system was only taking the base salary into account for the vacation and sick payout and not the larger portion of performance pay. Unfortunately, this mistake began early 2014 and carried on until May 2015.

 

 The payroll issue was quickly corrected in May 2015. By altering the pay calculator and providing back pay to the Mamas, everyone was compensated for our accounting mistake. Some compensation payments were small, while others were very large for the Mamas who had taken very little time off. After meeting with the Mamas in small groups to explain about the payroll discrepancy, we were greeted with a welcomed, but unexpected reaction upon receipt of their unexpected “bonus”. The Mamas danced around the room, shouting, “We are happy!”It is nice when a mistake on our part can end up bringing so much joy to the Mamas.

World Fair Trade Week in Milan

Madison Oeff, intern

World Fair Trade Week, hosted by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), takes place in Europe every other year. For this celebratory week, the WFTO names one city the “Global Capital of Fair Trade.” Milan, Italy had the honor of hosting the fair trade festivities this past May. Artisans, farmers, retailers, consumers, and advocates gathered to share their fair trade experiences and innovations. For the first time ever Global Mamas attended the conference with the goals of networking with our global partners and to gauge the European consumer response to our products. Maria Jose Vidal and volunteer Robin Ross represented Global Mamas at the conference and determined it to be a success.

Many events took place during World Fair Trade Week, including an international symposium, fashion show, cooking events, and a fair trade expo. The 2015 expo, called Milano Fair City, invited producers from all over the world to show their fair trade goods. Milan is one of the major fashion capitals of the world – what better place to display our products? First open to wholesale buyers and then later to the general public, thousands of consumers had the opportunity to see and purchase Global Mamas items.

Milano Fair City expo was a great way to spread awareness of the Global Mamas’ brand, especially to European consumers. Seeing Europeans interested in and purchasing our fashion was very exciting! The expo acted as a stepping-stone for us to increase European recognition of Global Mamas. Kristin Johnson, Global Mamas Co-Founder noted, “It was wonderful to meet many of our existing retail partners in person for the first time. We also developed relationships with new buyers, who provided great feedback about our products and prices.” We believe our products will be well received, and we’re excited about our future European endeavors.

People from all over the globe convened in Milan for World Fair Trade Week. Meeting and networking with so many diverse fair trade advocates was a huge opportunity for Global Mamas. This fair trade forum allowed Global Mamas to share strategies and ideas for the future with people engaged in similar work. “Fair trade is all about helping each other, learning from others,” Maria said. Participating in World Fair Trade Week definitely made a positive impact on Global Mamas’ international networking and exposure, and we look forward to seeing our partners and fair trade friends at future events.

2014 Reflections from the Global Mamas Leadership Team

At Global Mamas we take prosperity seriously. It is, after all, our mission. We believe that prosperity goes beyond financial well-being to also encompass both health and happiness. We have learned over the last eleven years that what these three states of being mean are relative to every person. But never has the relativity of prosperity been more obvious to us than over this last year. We have faced challenges that have taught us a lot about ourselves as an organization and as a community. We have turned our focus inward, evaluating where we are currently and where we are heading.

  Reflecting on Our Past and Dreaming About Our Future

As the first step of our inward focus, the Global Mamas Leadership Team gathered this September for our first ever strategic planning retreat. Robin Ross, a past Global Mamas volunteer, returned to Ghana to facilitate the process. It was amazing to have the entire leadership team together, faceto-face, to celebrate our tremendous growth, reflect and learn from our experiences, and chart a course for the future. The final result was the development of a 3-year vision and strategy that will focus more of our attention internally as we stabilize operations to effectively manage the incredible growth experienced over the past eleven years.

Growth is Good - But We Need to Pause and Take a Deep Breath

Since 2003, we have grown from $22,000 to just over $1,000,000 in revenue in 2014. We have experienced this growth thanks to you – our customers, donors and volunteers – and we are grateful. This growth has enabled us to expand our programs to benefit over 400 women in Ghana, who work together to achieve prosperity for themselves, their families, and communities. However, our internal systems to effectively manage operations have been stretched too thin. Over the next three years we will clearly define roles, further develop our skills, and expand our staff to ensure we continue to:

1. Offer steady, living wages that allow the Mamas and our staff to improve their standard of living.

2. Provide the Mamas with relevant and meaningful capacity-building programs.

3. Produce high-quality products. We are extremely committed to long-term relationships with the Mamas – ones that can be relied upon year after year!

Re-Setting our Calendar – Thank You Design Team!

Another goal of our stabilization strategy is to get the right products to the right people at the right time while maintaining our high quality. Over 60% of our revenue is generated through sales of our adult and children’s apparel. This is great news because apparel products are what the Mamas most love to sew. However, the seasonal demand for our warm-weather clothing creates several frantic months each year where demand exceeds supply. We all recognize this as a promising challenge to have, but a challenge all the same. The Global Mamas design team has responded to the challenge and is re-setting the production timeline. Finalizing our product line earlier in the year will allow us to deliver our products when our customers want them, while leveling out production throughout the year in a calm and strategic manner. 

Gratitude

To compound our internal challenges, the Ebola epidemic spreading through West Africa for much of 2014 has been devastating. Our hearts and prayers continue to go out to our sisters and brothers struggling with the horrors of this terrible disease. We have recorded no cases of Ebola in Ghana and for that we are extremely grateful. We are relieved that the stress and tension of the unknown is waning, but the ongoing economic impact remains a challenge. Due to the drastic drop in tourism in Ghana, we experienced a $60,000 reduction in sales at our Global Mamas Fair Trade Store in Accra. We want to thank our customers who purchased the overstock, thereby allowing the Mamas to maintain steady production during the second half of the year. We are also grateful to our volunteers and donors. Your contributions will allow us to maintain our training programs in 2015. And to all prospective volunteers and interns – come back! We miss your energy and your talent – both of which are instrumental in helping us to achieve our mission. Looking back on this challenging year, we are proud to say we came out of it stronger, with a focus on our long-term goals. We are looking forward to a prosperous 2015 in partnership with you.

Sincerely,

The Global Mamas Leadership Team

Renae Adam, Gladys Adimer, Dorcas Baiden, Jessica Fox, Alice Grau, Laura Henslin, Kristin Johnson, Rosemary Kemetse, Amos Kporshiebu, Anna Rose Ott, Nick Ruffalo, Patience Treve, & Wisdom Tamakloe

(Read the rest of our annual report at 

http://www.globalmamas.org/forms/GlobalMamasAnnualReport2014.pdf)

Building Prosperity: Planning the Fair Trade Zone

Paige Affinito, Intern

With an average annual growth rate of 66%, Global Mamas faces the rare challenge that demand has outstripped production. Because our production falls short and orders go unfilled, expansion in sales has slowed organization’s overall pace of growth. To address this problem, Global Mamas initiated plans for a new production facility with the potential to increase current production output by 54%. The vision for the Fair Trade Zone (FTZ) is to revive the Ghanaian textile industry by employing 200 women full-time in a comfortable, beautiful production center that cultivates an atmosphere of learning, healthy living, and team work.   

In Summer 2013, an international team of architecture students led by Architecture Sans Frontières (Architecture Without Borders) United Kingdom, a nonprofit focused on making international development issues integral to architecture, worked with Global Mamas, gathering ideas and potential designs for the FTZ.  Volunteers Adjoa Akowuah, Emily Wright, Kofi Ofosu-Ennin, and Lisanne de Beun traveled between our Ashaiman and Cape Coast sites observing the workspaces, solicited feedback from seamstresses and batikers, and researching materials that could be used to build theeco-conscious and self-sustaining production center.

Soon, simple cardboard cutouts and ink sketches began to resemble the ideas and hopes behind the Fair Trade Zone.  For example, a major concern for thebatikers is the size of their workspace and the fact that they have nowhere to change into their work clothes. The architects were sure to open up this space in their design and include a changing room.  

In October, the team was ready to present all their hard work and final conceptual design. With a space specifically made for a childcare center, the center fosters comfortable working environments for mothers. Separate batiking and sewing areas ensure the potent fumes from dyes will not disturb seamstresses. Recycled waste and local, sustainable materials serve as the foundations for the nearly self-sufficient site.

                       

We now have the details and initial design behind the project, but there is still much to do before lifting the Fair Trade Zone frompaper into reality.Next,Global Mamas must draw up a budget and detailed costing plans for all elements of the design.Before this can be done; however, we must face the constraints of buying land in Ghana. The organization is just now beginning to look for a temporary location to rent from the Ghanaian Ministry of Trade and is looking to purchase land in the Ashaiman/Tema area to make transit easy for employees that area already based at our current Ashaiman location.

Yoga Mamas

Amanda Bartolini and Emma Shearman, interns

At the end of 2013, we asked Mamas for feedback on how we could further help them achieve prosperity. They were especially enthusiastic of learning more about their health, which is an important part of our definition of prosperity. After bringing health education intern Adrienne last spring, we brought an introduction to yoga to the Krobo and Cape Coast Mamas this summer. Canadian volunteer Jane Good, a yoga instructor, taught the Mamas how to relieve the physical stress of the repetitive motions they make while batiking, sewing, or assembling beaded products. Jane’s specialty is Kripalu, a style of yoga that focuses on moving at one’s own pace. It is a gentle practice with a compassionate approach and emphasis on meditation and physical healing.

 

Upon arriving in Cape Coast, Jane found that yoga was new to the women there. To simplify the learning process, Jane created a 12-posture routine based on the Mamas’ unique needs. She started by introducing the idea at a large meeting in the Cape Coast office and was pleased by the Mamas’ enthusiasm. Jane also travelled to the Mamas’ individual workshops and homes while continuing to work with groups of Mamas at the Cape Coast office.

In order to leave a long-term tool to help Mamas alleviate discomfort from repetitive strain, Jane and her niece Emma created a video that can be used by Mamas in the future. To create the video, Emma and Jane visited Krobo to film the bead assemblers and quality control staff performing the different yoga poses they’d learned.

The video, set to Bob Marley songs, includes written and voice instruction. In addition to the video, Jane created a worksheet with drawings and written instructions for each pose shown in the video.

The Mamas who participated in the yoga routines have assured Jane that they practice every day and are feeling better. Jane taught the Mamas her philosophy of seeing yoga as a gift that you give yourself and left the Mamas with the advice to “take care of their bodies the same way they take care of their families and workshops.” 

Beads, Beads, Beads!

Paige Affinito, intern

 Nestled within a bustling fish and produce market is Ghana’s biggest bead bazaar, Odumase- from which Global Mamas sources many of the beads found in our jewelry and ornaments. Piles of brightly colored beads adorn rows of wooden tables; small seed beads, traditionally worn in strings around women’s waists, hang from each vendor’s walls. While some strings of beads cost as little as one cedi (about 30 cents), the older and more traditional clay beads are much more expensive.

C:\Users\Amelia\Desktop\Global Mamas\Social\Blog\Final Posts\Images\Bead Market Post Photos\Krobo Bead Market II.jpg

 Many Global Mamas work at this market selling their beads to a wide array of customers.  Last summer, a group of interns traveled to the Odumase-Krobo area, where the bead market is located, to interview the bead sellers. Emelia, a member of Krobo’s quality control team, guided the interns around the market and introduced them to each Mama. While the interns held interviews with each Mama, jotting down hurried notes on small pieces of paper amongst the hustle and bustle of the crowded market, Emelia worked as a translator.

She quickly translated the Mamas’ native language of Krobo to English, and the intern’s English to Krobo. The Mamas were happy to meet and be interviewed by the interns, eagerly describing how they got started in the bead business, their hopes and future goals for their businesses, and recommendations as to how Global Mamas can help them be more successful.

C:\Users\Amelia\Desktop\Global Mamas\Social\Blog\Final Posts\Images\Bead Market Post Photos\Krobo Bead Market.jpg

 For many, selling beads is a family tradition that has been passed down for generations. One bead seller, Barbara Tetteh, has been selling beads for 15 years! When asked what she wants her customers abroad to know about her, Barbara Tetteh said, “Selling beads is my family way, a tradition that has been passed down from my grandma to mother to auntie, and me!” She is very proud of her family’s traditional trade, as it is a meaningful part of Krobo’s culture.  

 To read more about the bead sellers in the Krobo market, visit our Krobo Meet the Mamas stories here.

 

Global Mamas Design Process

Alice Grau, creative director

Global Mamas is dedicated to delivering fair trade, handmade, and stylish clothing, accessories, and home décor. In addition to the Mamas who produce our products, our talented design team plays an integral role in bringing you the products you love. Unlike large fashion brands that have teams for every step of the design process, Global Mamas has just three permanent designers. Designers Nick and Laura work in Cape Coast, while I work in the United States. Together, we create Global Mamas products from start to finish!

The design process begins with trend research in February and March. We do extensive research on competitors, trend-forward brands, and even runway fashions to gain inspiration for the following year’s line. Our new product lines are launched each year to retail partners in February and to retail consumers in March, meaning that we are constantly moving throughout the design process, starting to research the next line as the previous line is launched.

We start by formulating ideas for new products we want to introduce, as well as new colors and batik patterns. Drawing on our research of what colors will be popular that year, we create an ideal color palette and begin working with batikers. One of the unique challenges of working with batiked cloth is that all color combinations are not achievable. Batiking is based on the layering of dye colors, meaning that some color combinations, like pink and green, would wash each other out. Working with the batikers, we test our ideal color palette and then create a practical color palette from the color combinations that can be achieved through batiking.

Starting in May, summer volunteers and interns arrive in Ghana to help the design team develop new patterns and products. We sketch our product ideas and review them as a team, discussing sales results from the previous year. Our three major elements at this time of development are color, pattern, and style. Examining our trend research, we decide how to combine these three elements to create the most exciting products.

Once we decide on certain patterns, styles, and colors, usually sometime in August, the sampling process for apparel begins in Cape Coast, lasting until October. Nick and Laura work with the batikers to create samples of all possible colors and patterns and then with the seamstresses to match these colors and patterns to different product styles. Our design team also develops our beaded products in a similar fashion. We create new product ideas based on trend research conducted by design interns, and then carry out the sampling process with our Krobo team. In beaded product sampling, we focus on trying new colors and adjusting bead layouts until we reach our favorite designs.

 At the end of September, I work with Kristin, co-founder of Global Mamas and the wholesale manager, to review the products we’ve created, selecting two to four batik patterns for each product style. We also create a product line, making sure that not only each individual product looks great, but that the line as a whole is cohesive. We liken this process to playing with paper dolls, moving products around until they look their best!

When the final products are chosen, we start working on our wholesale catalog. Nick photographs the final samples and makes them catalog ready with the help of a Ghanaian graphic designer. Laura works on making sure that the fit of each product is correct and works with Joyce, Cape Coast Inventory Manager, to compile logistical information for each product, such as the required materials, the time required to make a product, and the cost of materials. When all this is finalized in January, the Mamas finally start producing that year’s products!

Changing Focus: Setting SMART Goals

By Kristin Johnson

At the beginning of 2014 Global Mamas made a new year’s resolution:

This will be the year that the Mamas set and achieve longer-term goals.

                                             

Long-term planning does not come naturally in Ghana. The cultural norm is to focus on the short-term - plan for today to get to tomorrow. This short term focus makes sense when dealing with poverty, health care challenges, and the general instability of life in a developing nation. But even as the Mamas have begun to realize financial security through the steady orders provided by Global Mamas, they have still struggled to achieve the personal and business goals that require longer term planning.

Over the past decade, we have seen that the more successful a woman is, the more pressure she receives to help support her extended family and community with immediate needs. This drains her business and her bank account of the resources needed to achieve longer term personal and business goals. The one exception to this trend is how committed all of the Mamas are to investing in the education of their children, which definitely is a long-term goal. So even though it makes sense that the Mamas struggle with achieving their dreams that require longer-term planning, it doesn’t mean that we can’t try to shift the trend.

Using the SMART goal format to set appropriate goals.With the support of our talented volunteers, Patience and Anna Rose, managers of the Global Mamas capacity building program, developed and implemented a program focused on setting and achieving SMART goals. SMART refers not only to the fact that the Mamas are talented and intelligent individuals, but also that the goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Sensitive. The key components of the program included:

  •     Bringing the women together in small groups so that they can support each other and hold each

        other accountable. Each small group has given themselves names like Glorious (shown above)

        and Arise & Shine.

  •     Developing a clear plan of shorter terms goals that would lead to the achievement

        of the big dream.

  •     Celebrating successes as they occurred along the way.

   

From the beginning we were amazed by the great response from the Mamas, who said they very much needed the morale support offered by the program to achieve their dreams. Forty of the Cape Coast Mamas are now actively engaged in the SMART goal program. Their goals include personal ones like sending their children for post-graduate education or buying land. Others have set business goals that include training new employees, purchasing an electric sewing machine or buying fabric in bulk to get better pricing. And one successful Mama has achieved her goal, which was to bring electricity to her house [in Ghana a home owner has to pay the electric company to connect their home to the grid]. For this Mama the process was so successful that she has set a new goal – to buy an electric sewing machine by June 2015. Based on its success, Global Mamas will continue the SMART goal program into 2015.

 

 

Knowledge is Power: Ebola & Cholera Awareness Workshops

By The Global Mamas Family

Over the summer, as we received more and more news about the Ebola virus in West Africa, it became clear that we would benefit from knowing the facts about Ebola. Our training team quickly responded by pulling together a workshop and discussion program utilizing materials from the World Health Organization. In August, trainings were held in Ashaiman, Cape Coast and Krobo for all staff and Mamas.

The focus of the training was to provide us with the facts of the situation, dispelling some of the myths, and to allow all of us to share our fears. We thoroughly discussed how each of us can reduce the chances of transmission for both Ebola and Cholera (which is the major health challenge in Ghana right now) and protect our families. We also received a handout with factual information that we could share with our families and communities.

We remain grateful that Ebola has not made its way to Ghana and we pray every day for the safety of the children, women and men throughout West Africa.