Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

Product Conception to Fruition

By Sarah Parish (Volunteer, United Kingdom)

Product Conception to Fruition

The Global Mamas slogan 'Love Your Product, Know Your Producer, Change Her Life' is firmly embodied in every sketch, stamp, and stitch from the initial design idea to the finished product. Every completed order showcases the skills of the designers, batikers and seamstresses who make up the close-knit team here at Global Mamas, but it is not a process undertaken lightly nor without a flurry of creativity and precision.

 

Earlier in the year, a group of visiting interns from America took on the task of identifying the brand’s most popular styles, Colors and patterns based on current sales data. Combining this information with an instinctive insight into upcoming trends, staff designers Jessica Galasso (Ghana) and Alice Grau (US) worked tirelessly alongside interns and volunteers brainstorming what will become the ‘must have’ items of the 2012 Global Mamas catalog. The interns and designers identified ‘Pyramid’ with its crisp lines and sharp angular edges as a potential customer favourite. The interns also suggested moving away from monochromatic color contrasts and instead embraced the idea of using vibrant colors together. As a result we are particularly excited to see the reaction to ‘Cityscape’ a popular print from last year, designed by intern turned employee Nick Ruffalo (US), appearing with a striking new ‘Mustard’ colorway.

 

After sales research and trending predictions are complete, a rigorous process of sampling old favorites and new batik patterns, with classic and fresh product designs is carried out making sure only the best styles make it to our valued customer. Of course, these products cannot make it to the retail floor without establishing costing and pricing. Global Mamas takes great pride in our Fair Trade status, so Cape Coast General Manager Melanie Popowich sits down with all of the Mamas to negotiate a fair price for their work, from the cost of thread per item to the level of sewing expertise required to create a flawless end result.

 

With all of the nitty-gritty details ironed out, it is time to start producing the first US order. An on-going stream of orders means the office is always alive with the hustle and bustle of activity. Endless yards of white fabric that represent the potential for creativity, and on a more serious note a livelihood for the Mamas, are carried off to be transformed from an idea generated months prior to merchandise ready to be used and loved by its owner.

 

The first stage of production is batiking, where the fabric is hand stamped and dyed with meticulous care and attention, which is what makes a Global Mamas product so special. Visitors can experience this process for themselves at one of our batiking workshops and it is always noted afterwards that the accuracy and detail necessary in both stamping and dyeing is much harder to master than it looks! At Global Mamas we are not satisfied with anything but the highest quality items, and it is the responsibility of the enthusiastic and thorough quality checkers working in house to stringently check each and every dyed fabric for color and pattern consistency before it reaches the seamstresses.

 

While it is a huge relief when the batiked fabric matches the sample, fabric that does not meet our high standards is not wasted, rather transformed from its original purpose into something equally impressive. Some fabric is used to make off the rack products to be sold in our flagship store in Accra, where demand is increasing at an exciting pace; or the fabric could be found in the lining of a bag; or cut into squares to make an explosion of color on

 

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Volunteer Adventures on the West Coast

By Kara Scheer

Volunteer Adventures on the West Coast

On July 8th, five Cape Coast volunteers got up bright and early to head for a day trip to Nzulezo, a village on stilts built over Lake Tadane in the Western Region. Armed with groundnut sandwiches and ready for adventure, the ragtag group grabbed a tro-tro to Takoradi, expecting to make it to the stilt village in a short three hours (because that is what the guide book informed them it would take). Unfortunately, the trip ended up taking twice as long as expected and when the village visitors center was finally reached at 2pm they found that it would be another two hours until they would be able to get a canoe to the village. Thinking it was a day trip, they did not have enough money to stay the night there and realized that they would need to figure out a way back home that night. They pooled all of their money (counting every last pesewa) and crossed their fingers that it would all work out.

 

Their spirits were lifted by the trip to the picturesque stilt village and the group managed to retain smiles even after being drenched to the bone by a random shower of rain. The taxi driver who they had asked to meet them after the trip to bring them to the main road didn't answer his phone so they were ushered into a tro-tro by a woman who worked at the visitor center. Laughing, they bonded over the rickety tro barreling down the dirt road through the jungle and taking hair-pin turns onto plank bridges, comparing it to a virtual reality ride of Jurassic Park. The comedy of the situation increased as people ran out of the bushes and packed the tro- filling it to an impressive 17 people (with an 18th hanging onto the back).

 

Almost home, they were stopped by a policeman and informed that they were overloaded. They panicked thinking that they were so close and were about to be kicked out onto the road. Calmly, the driver told them they just needed money. The girls scrambled, nervously searching their wallets but the driver just laughed and grabbed one cedi from one of the girls, which seemed to do the trick!

 

They finally pulled into Elmina, which was in the midst of a festival, and were dropped off in the milling crowd. It was 11pm and the girls hadn’t eaten for twelve hours, so they raced to Sea Top and inhaled egg sandwiches, as they quizzically stared at the hundreds of people dancing in the freezing down pour, amazed by the insanity that had taken over their usually low key neighborhood. Somehow, this insanity seemed like a fitting end to one of the craziest adventures for the girls thus far.

 

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Global Mamas Gives Back during Kotokraba Market Clean Up Day

By Melanie Popowich

Global Mamas Gives Back during Kotokraba Market Clean Up Day

More than 60 Global Mamas, volunteers and staff members came together to donate their time cleaning up Cape Coast’s bustling Kotokraba Market on Saturday, June 25, 2011. The group met in the wee hours of the morning to sweep in and around the market in order to create a clean and safe environment for market vendors and patrons. Part of Global Mamas’ commitment to fair trade is providing healthy work environments for its workers and encouraging environmental sustainability.

 

Our Mamas rely on the Kotokraba Market for their basic supplies (everything from thread and pins to dye and cleaning supplies), which is why the Mamas and volunteers decided to spend their time sprucing it up and giving back to their community. The initiative surprised market vendors and patrons, they were taken back and appreciative.

 

The Mamas took extra care cleaning the areas outside of their most beloved vendors shops. "Maggie is a god-send," said Mama and seamstress Alice Korsha outside a small shop that sells a variety of sewing supplies. "Anytime we need something she will go as far as Accra to get it for us, she’s always supporting our businesses."

 

More than 20 volunteers from around the globe joined the cleaning crew. Gretchen Sunko from the USA is volunteering with Global Mamas for four months and was honored to be a part of the special day, "I love working side by side all of these hard working women. I can’t believe what a difference we’ve made in such a small time, the streets look unbelievably clean!"

 

A special thank-you to volunteers from Holy Child School, Zoom Lion and CCMA for supporting the event.

 

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Great Growth in Krobo

By Rebecca Ritticello

Krobo’s Global Mamas – Photo by Desirae Early

Global Mamas has been operating in the Krobo area for more than five years. As with all new ventures, the bead operation started off relatively small while we learned the market and ensured that the products we exported met the high quality standards our customers expect from Global Mamas. In 2010, Global Mamas decided to move production of all of the beaded products in house. This was a great opportunity for the women because for the first time they became eligible for employer based health care and social security retirement.

 

When the decision was made to move the producers into the Global Mamas office, the office had two good size rooms and a nice covered porch. It more than met the needs of the seven women that we hired. It soon became apparent that we needed more Mamas to fulfill the orders that we were getting. The beaded products were becoming more popular and we could not keep up with the orders. The Krobo office started to hire more mamas and then we ran into a space problem. We needed a bigger office. In April 2011 a new office was identified and it is a perfect fit. The office is actually a large 3-bedroom house with a living room, kitchen, screened in porch, and garage for the grinding machine. The lease was signed on May 1st and the renovations began a few days later. On May 27, twenty-four mamas began their day working in their new office.

 

It is great to see the women happy to come to work in the morning, enjoying the comfortable working conditions and not having to worry about the weather. The new office gives Global Mamas room to grow and will allow us to hire more mamas as our order increase in the future.

 

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Transforming lives, one Voltic water bottle at a time

By Melanie Popowich

Transforming lives, one Voltic water bottle at a time

When our newest Global Mama, Ellen Eshun, gives Fante lessons to volunteers, she always starts by introducing herself as Abba atta Panyin. As she speaks you can see a small smile emerge from a normally serious face, and her chin lifts up a little. Ellen is a very proud first born twin, hence the atta Panyin. Born to Agnes and William on April 3rd 1980, she has always been surrounded by people. She is fourth born in a family of eight and at any time growing up could be found chatting with siblings, cousins or the workers that helped with the family farm in Brenu. To this day, the Eshun family still farms cassava, tomatoes and peppers. Ellen fondly remembers being responsible for cultivating tiger nuts. Along with her siblings and cousins, she was blessed to have the opportunity to attend elementary and secondary school. To pay for school fees and clothing, she sold soap to community members on the weekends. She often sold the soap on credit and collected the money the following weekend. Unfortunately, her sales weren’t enough to support her through technical school or university and at 19 she turned in her uniform.

 

With drive to provide for herself, she worked in her older sister’s provision store until she found herself pregnant at 21. She gave birth to Fredrick and then five years later Emmanuella was born. When Ellen talks about this period in her life she keeps her eyes to the ground as they were tough years and it is still painful for her to talk about. Shortly after Emmanuella was born she gathered up the strength to leave her abusive boyfriend and moved back home with her mother.

 

One fateful day, her mother met a woman looking for a house girl at the Global Mamas volunteer house in Elmina. Ellen jumped at the opportunity for a job and most importantly, the chance to earn a steady income and provide for her two children. December 11th, 2011 will mark Ellen’s four-year anniversary, another accomplishment that she is extremely proud of. Ellen’s work ethic and attention to detail are apparent when visiting the Elmina house. These attributes caught the attention of both Maria Vidal (Cape Coast General Manager at the time) and Global Mamas co-founder Renae Adams, and Ellen was asked to produce a few samples for a new and innovative product designed by volunteer Liz Lampman.

 

Ellen cuts strips out of old Voltic water bottles, paints them and then uses a heat gun to roll them into the shape of a bead. In the past two months she has produced over 2000 of these beautifully recycled beads. When she was asked to officially become a Global Mama, she was speechless. Not only will her products be sold all over the World helping her gain extra income, but she now has the opportunity to attend workshops and receive a wide range of business training from volunteers.

 

The Water Bead line is made from a mix of recycled plastic and recycled mixed beads and is available in a wrap necklace, bracelet and earrings. The line is also handmade by Ellen aka Abba atta Panyin a now self-reliant woman who provides for herself and her children all on her own!

 

Click here to read an article published in the Hudson Star Observer about volunteer and designer, Liz Lampman and producer Ellen Eshun.

 

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A "Small" History of Batik in West Africa

By Genny Cortinovis

Emma Myers, one of the founding producers of Global Mamas, proudly carries on long tradition of handcrafted batik in West Africa.

The story goes the Belanda Hitam, Malay for Black Dutchman, brought batik to West Africa in the mid-nineteenth century after serving as indentured soldiers for the Dutch in Indonesia. Returning home from 15-year conscriptions, legend says the men brought back trunks of fine Javanese batik, covered in opulent whisper-thin patterns that captured the imagination of their friends and relatives. It’s a very neat story, but unfortunately, as any scholar will tell you, textile history is one sticky wicket. Of the 3080 recruits from 1831-1872, only a handful returned to West Africa (many married Javanese women), and those that did make it back, usually returned empty-handed; the recruits were not paid until they reached their final port, which would have made souvenir shopping pretty difficult.

 

Batik is older than history, with traces even laced in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies. Most people think of Java when they hear batik, and indeed the word derives from several Malay words, but nations as diverse as Japan and Sri Lanka have had their own, sometimes isolated, traditions of the process. Batiks were as good as gold for much of history, and were enthusiastically traded among Asian neighbors as early as the seventh century. Europeans entered the mix much later, but they became the major pushers of "woven cargoes" from the seventeenth century on, and some colonial powers, most notably the Dutch (during their Golden Age), had a heavy hand in industrializing the technique.

 

Of course, this doesn’t quite explain how, or when, batik got to Africa. Dutch Scholar Ineke van Kessel suggests the fabrics came from India to West Africa by land, not sea, over the ancient trans-Saharan routes. Local populations like the Yoruba in Nigeria incorporated aspects of the wax printing into their tradition textiles, and little by little the trend caught on. When the Dutch and English began trolling the coast of West Africa in the seventeenth century, they brought their wax (wax batiks) and non-wax (roller prints) fabrics, targeting a local population already poised for their consumption. With time, they began tailoring their European-produced prints to refined African tastes, tweaking designs down to each region and port.

 

Batik, in its original handcrafted form, and its derivative roller print (often confusingly called real Dutch wax print) are ubiquitous and highly cherished across West Africa today. Prints range from abstract geometry to figurative images, and beyond. For many men and women, the patterns are a form of expression and even communication, announcing everything from their marital status and mood, to their political and religious beliefs. Up until the 1960s most wax prints were still produced in Europe, but in the post-colonial era, that all changed. Ghana boasts three of the finest wax print manufacturers in Africa: Woodin, GTP (sister of Real Holland Wax Print), and ATL (sister of ABC textiles in Manchester). Unfortunately, legal and illegal Chinese and Nigerian copies have flooded the markets of late, and many, especially GTP, have seriously suffered.

 

Global Mamas carries on the long tradition of handcrafted batik, and in many ways, our hybrid design philosophy is apropos to batik’s complicated history. Many of our volunteers bring ideas from home, and then collaborate with our local batikers to create a finished product. The resulting designs are timeless and multi-national, incorporating ideas and styles from Java all the way to Jersey.

 

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A Leap of Faith in the Shade of a Mango Tree

By Genny Cortinovis

Gina’s son looks to the creations made at the batiking workshop.

Batikers, although most certainly artists, are first chemists; they orchestrate chemical reactions, envisioning colors into being. A plastic tub is her laboratory, hydrosulfate, caustic soda, water and salt her elements. Does she want wine or brick, grass or Kelly green? She swirls the fabric into the dye bath and waits and watches. From a bath of brown liquid, she pulls out a cloth dyed deep indigo, from red she reveals yellow, which ripens to green as it meets oxygen. She has to trust in her training, but perhaps more crucially, her instincts.

 

After just a few minutes at Gina’s home and workshop, surrounded by intricate foam stamps, terracotta basins of hot wax and black cauldrons of steaming water, I was mesmerized. It was the same thrill of being in a dark room, watching an image come to the surface of a blank paper as it wading in solution. Batik, and I suppose dying, in general, has that same quality of mystery and excitement. You take a leap of faith when you drop a yard of cotton in the pot.

 

I came with a million ideas to Gina’s workshop: Could I make this shape? Would this color combination work? What would happen if I point that there, dipped this part here? The possibilities were endless, as well as, thank goodness, Gina’s patience. She would listen to me explain my idea. With her hand pensively on her chin, she would look up and imagine the process, step by step. "For those blocks of white, we should use resistance wood strips. For that patch of deep green, a finely shaved foam block." "Ok," she would say, "let’s try it."

 

I returned the next weekend with dreams of indigo dipped linen, flecked with white, like stars in a night sky. "Tie those knots tighter!" "You need larger string," she counseled. In the dye bath, out on the line. In the hot water out on the line. With each step, it got closer and closer to my dreamy blanket of night sky. Despite its flaws, I beamed with beginner’s pride, displaying it for her approval.

 

"Not bad. But we’ll do better next time." She handed me a mango, freshly fallen from the tree overhead. "Paradise, no?"

 

I couldn’t help but agree.

 

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New Products Changing Lives: Ampiah-Ajumako Business

By Heather Boyd

Two Ajumako producers modeling their braided necklace samples

The economy of Ajumako is mainly agricultural and before Global Mamas many of the women were employed through that sector and were not making a steady income. The Ampiah-Ajumako Business Center opened in January 2008 with 3 workers and has now grown to employ 11 women. The women of Ajumako create items out of Global Mamas’ scraps by weaving left over pieces of fabric, allowing Global Mamas to recycle scraps while making exciting and colorful products.

 

After successfully producing the Woven Trivets for two years, the women of Ajumako were looking for a new challenge. Jordan Croft and Sarah List, design interns, traveled to Ajumako over the summer of 2010 with new product ideas for 2011 in-tow. They trained the women on new items such as braided necklaces and accessories, as well as woven dog leashes. Jordan reported that "the women got really excited about the new products and their eyes lit up". After the women were taught how to make the products they became silent, concentrating on taking their time and perfecting their technique. The silence was only broken by the women taking turns singing. Once the women understood the construction of the necklace they took initiative and expanded the design into bracelets and earrings. The women of Ajumako are industrious and were exciting focused on the new product designs.

 

When the women of Ajumako dream for their future, they envision continuing to work with Global Mamas. Cecilia stated that she wants to continue to work with GM "to do something for my future". Sarah wants to keep working so that she will "make enough money to complete my building, take care of my children, and add machines [to the business]". For their community, the majority of the women pray for a hospital; Florence hopes that one day there will be a medical facility, so they do not have to send for someone to come to the village.

 

The women of Ampiah-Ajumako are very thankful to the customers who purchase from Global Mamas and acknowledge that without customers they would not be able to sell their products nor provide for themselves and their families. But, they also laugh and request "more work!" Esi-Joyce stated that "you [the customer] have done well!" Selina also mentioned that "I am now able to take care of my children, thank you".

 

Since the opening of the center the women have come a long way and at Global Mamas, we hope that these new products will act as a stepping stone for the women in achieving their dreams for themselves and their community.

 

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Esther Gyepi-Garbrah Invited to Speak at Fair Trade Conference in United States

By Melanie Popowich

Esther Gyepi-Garbrah being introduced as one of the panelists at the 2010 Fair Trade Futures Conference

Esther Gyepi-Garbrah is no ordinary seamstress- she is an exceptional woman with an exceptional story. She was invited to speak at the Fair Trade Federation annual conference held in Quincy, Massachusetts this September. Despite many obstacles, Esther has become one of the most successful Global Mamas and is one of the most deserved women to be selected to speak at such a remarkable event.

 

Esther began her career as a seamstress with no materials of her own; she was equipped with only a borrowed machine and worked out of her bedroom. Because money was hard to come by, Esther soon applied for a loan. Unfortunately, she was quickly swept up in the vicious cycle of paying off only the interest rate for her loan and fell victim to a loan default and declaring bankruptcy. Esther recalls this as one of the most trying times in her life, as she was "running after the wind." Her dreams of managing a successful shop of her own were fading.

 

When Esther’s dreams seemed unattainable, Renae Adam, the founder of Global Mamas, made a proposition that would alter Esther’s life forever. The proposal was simple: make ten dresses instead of one. Esther managed to complete the order and she was immediately compensated. For the first time in Esther’s life, there was money in her pocket and she felt the freedom of financial independence. In time, Esther cemented her relationship with Global Mamas and continued to complete orders, which allowed her enough revenue to pay back her loan. Her store, My Redeemer Liveth Fashion, has thrived and she has even started a very successful apprentice program. Esther does not simply teach her apprentices, but she also equips them with a machine once they graduate from her program. She believes that because she had such a hard start, she feels compelled to make it easier for the others. She learned the value of a support system through Global Mamas and makes a concerted effort to provide the same support to her employees.

 

Esther is a woman whose deep faith has compelled her to give back, especially in the wake of success. Her motto is simple, "anytime I have more, I have to give." The death of her niece, Grace, prompted Esther to start her own NGO. It has officially been registered by the Ghanaian government and its mission is to provide free vocational training for seamstresses and batikers in the most deprived areas of Ghana, primarily the villages. She identifies with the struggles of the village people and believes that they face far greater limitations when it comes to schooling and jobs. One day, she hopes to build factories that will employ and teach skills to many of these women and men.

 

From the 10th through the 12th of September, Esther brought her story and experience to the Fair Trade Futures Conference. She and co-founder Kristin Johnson were featured in a seminar on "Navigating Relationships with Producers Over Time" during which they were well received with supportive feedback from current customers. Esther and Kristin also had the opportunity to provide insight on some of the audiences tougher questions such as how to negotiate pay with producers and how to ensure that producers are well represented in the companies decisions.

 

The highlight of Esther’s weekend came Sunday morning when she joined three other producers on the main stage as living examples of "What does Fair Trade Seek to Achieve?". Esther shared her moving story with a room full of hundreds of people. Afterwards she had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience as well as speak with individuals who sought her out in person. Esther had conversations with customers, students, other prod

 

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The Evolution of Bead making in West Africa

By Elizabeth Murphy

The Evolution of Bead making in West Africa

Bead making is an industry that has long been a part of the West African culture. In the ancient times, beads served a myriad of functions: some were used as a form of currency for goods between tribes, whereas others adorned chiefs and their wives to indicate their wealth and status. Even today, beads hold significance as they are not only a form of artistic expression, but they represent defining life moments, such as birth, marriage, and death. Although the specific history of bead making in Africa has been difficult to trace, archaeologists have discovered that beads in West Africa were derived from different materials, primarily stone, glass, clay, and metal. Moreover, the methods and material used to create beads varied among the many regions.

 

For generations, the techniques employed in the bead making process have been passed down. Oftentimes, whole villages were involved in the general production of beads. From grinding glass, to washing and stringing the finished beads, to selling them to the market, the community was a part of the industry. The Krobo and Ashanti people have long been responsible for crafting beautiful, vibrant glass beads. Today, beads from this region can be identified by distinctive attributes as being one of four main styles: clear/translucent beads, powdered glass beads, painted glass beads, and seed beads.

 

Making glass beads is no easy process. Despite the fact that different tactics are employed for each type of bead (powdered glass, seed bead, etc.) the initial steps are the same. To begin, a bead maker begins the process by creating the mould, which determines the shape of the bead. To create the mould, the bead maker first pounds the clay with a mortar and pestle until it is pliable. The clay is then rolled into cylindrical shapes where it is then divided into smaller sections, depending on the type of mould being made. Once the clay roll has been made, it is ready to be formed into a mould by taking the slab of clay and patting it flat with a paddle until it is 1 ¼ inches thick. A wooden peg is pressed into the wet clay to form depressions and is left to dry at room temperature for 3-4 days. The Moulds are then sun dried for another 3-4 days and coated in kaolin to prevent the molten glass from sticking to the mould during firing. Finally, the mould is placed in a preheated oven to dry. Next, the bead maker uses the Kiln, used to fire the mould and creating the desired bead. The moulds are inserted into the one opening in the front of the dome shaped kiln. The next steps are contingent on the types of beads that are made.

 

Today, the Krobo region is still well known for the manufacture of glass beads. In fact, Global Mamas jewelry is made in the small town of Odumase-Krobo, located in Eastern Ghana. They employ many Krobo local bead makers who have inherited their skills from past generations. The popularity of these beads and jewelry products in foreign markets speaks to the timeless West African traditions and it is certain that bead making will remain an important industry in the future.

 

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