Prosperity Blog

News and stories from Global Mamas

COVID-19 Update from Global Mamas

  

TO OUR GLOBAL MAMAS COMMUNITY:

First off, we want to check-in. How are you doing? We hope you are hanging in there. This is an unprecedented time for us all and we are all doing our best to navigate the changes each day. Please know we’re sending our love, and are here by phone/email/messenger if you need a friendly voice. We’re grateful for your continued support as we face this new challenge together.

   

UPDATE FROM OUR TEAM IN GHANA

At this time our top priority is mitigating the impact of the virus on our community’s health-- both physically and financially. 

• As of March 17th, Ghana has 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19, all from recently arrived travelers. We will continue educating and preparing for how potential spread will impact the health and well-being of our community.

• Every office location and Mama has been educated on COVID-19, including how to keep themselves safe and how to prevent spread. Office locations have been provided with extra cleaning supplies to support heightened hygiene measures.

• Should we begin to see community spread in Ghana, offices will be closed and employees will be encouraged to stay home and practice social distancing.

• Our US office is taking extra precautions to ensure that our work space only has one employee present at a time. All touch points are cleaned thoroughly between shifts. 

• Each Global Mamas location has reviewed their expenses and committed to eliminating all non-essential costs.

• All travel plans have been cancelled organization-wide. 

• As production declines we will be fundraising in order to pay a stipend to Mamas who own their own businesses to help them cover basic needs. We will make interest free loans available as we are able. 

  

MITIGATING FINANCIAL IMPACT

As transparency is an integral aspect of our business we want to be open about how COVID-19 is affecting our financial well-being, and the part our current Facebook fundraiser will play in providing a stopgap to the Mamas during this difficult time. Contributing factors to our current situation include but are not limited to:

 A Ghana government travel ban on short term travelers. With decreased foot traffic, sales at our two brick and mortar stores in Ghana are already suffering.

• Cancellation of our volunteer and internship program for the foreseeable future. This is a huge loss for the capacity building programs we offer the Mamas-- both in terms of the financial and intellectual support volunteers and interns provide. 

• Trade show cancellations and temporary store closures in Europe have resulted in a significant drop in EU sales. 

• Retail partners in the US are facing state-mandated closures. This means we’re braced for reduced orders from North American customers in coming months. 

• During the 2014-2016 Ebola Epidemic we borrowed money to finance operations to prevent losses to the Mamas. As we are still repaying this debt we are unable to borrow additional funds without putting the future of Global Mamas at risk.

Our 76 person employee team (producers, quality control staff, production managers, Ghana store staff, US wholesale office staff, etc.) have committed in solidarity to a pay cut to help share the burden of the financial losses. We will have tiered pay cuts (a higher percent cut for higher pay), and will graduate the pay cuts as needed starting out with a small reduction and increasing over time if orders don't resume. Many of the Mamas are independent business owners and rely on global demand for their products, which is dramatically lower for the time being. To ensure that the Mamas are able to continue covering the needs of their families, we aim to pay monthly stipends for as long as we are able. When we factor in these stipends, and continuing to pay our staff at a reduced rate for several months, we are looking at ending the year with a loss of $60,885-- even after factoring in some recovery of sales throughout the year. 

If you have the financial capacity to donate to our Facebook fundraiser we'd be grateful- though we're conscious that with widespread layoffs and current upheaval, this might not be possible. Other ways you can show your support are by shopping at a retailer near you carrying our product, or by following our updates on social media (@global_mamas) and sharing the love with likes and encouraging comments. Thank you for facing this challenge alongside us! We're willing good health for you and yours and encourage everyone to take all due precautions to look after themselves.  

Women's Day 2020: Building a Gender Equal World

With the unwavering support of our community, Global Mamas keeps pressing for gender equality for women in Ghana.  We believe greater balance of power depends on greater economic independence for women-- you can read more about this issue here.

Beyond the direct opportunities we've provided for hundreds of women over the past 17 years, it is humbling to see how many of the Mamas have chosen to reinvest resources in women and girls from their families and communities. 

  

Global Mamas batiker Martha Rhule's employees with their children. 

 EDUCATING FUTURE GENERATIONS

 Although progress has been made, girls still on average have lower educational levels than boys in West and Central Africa. Girls marrying or dropping out of school early are more likely to experience poor health, have children at younger ages, and earn less in adulthood.  With the financial means to do so, 100% of the Mamas children are enrolled in school- both boys and girls.

   

Global Mamas seamstress Deborah Asmah's apprentices. 

PROVIDING EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 The Mamas earn on their own terms- whatever works best for themselves, their families, and employees. Depending on the goals they have for their business Mamas often train apprentices and hire additional workers for their shops. Often in Ghana those trained in batik or making womenswear, are women.  

  

Krobo General Manager Gladys points out details needing special attention from Global Mamas weavers.

BECOMING ROLE MODELS

 Advanced training in technical skills and money management together with health and wellness workshops enhances the Mamas self-esteem and their ability to participate in decisions affecting their homes and communities. In advocating for themselves they become strong role models for others.

  

Global Mamas seamstress Vida with family, together with the land she purchased, and house she built.

BECOMING LANDOWNERS

Even with inclusive laws in place to protect womens rights to own land in Ghana, barriers remain. Often a woman's only claim to the land she relies on for food, income, and shelter is through her relationship to a male relative. As Mamas become landowners they have increased social, economic, and political power.

 

Thank you for joining us to make EVERY day Women's Day as we continuing pressing for gender equality in Ghana. 

Presenting New Fabric Techniques in 2020

 

Global Mamas designer Abigail Okang uses the new watercolor technique for a SS2020 sample.

We were thrilled to transition to certified organic and fair trade cotton in 2019, but it wasn’t easy. The biggest challenge we continue to face is that the cotton absorbs the wax used in batik more deeply, making it harder to remove. Global Mamas staff spent weeks problem solving and eventually developed a new de-waxing process that works, but it is more time consuming. So our talented design team has taken this opportunity to explore new techniques for our Spring 2020 collection that use less wax. We are very proud to present their designs!

 

Upcycled plastic bags are used to bind cotton in a resist technique to create the new Tides fabric.

Exploring New Techniques for 2020
Our overarching goal in this sampling process was to reduce the amount of wax being applied to the fabric, while using techniques still applicable to batik artists:

  • Watercolor- Fabric is soaked in water, laid flat, and dye is directly applied on top of the cotton so that it disperses and creates a watercolor appearance.
  • Painting- Dry fabric is laid flat and dye is directly applied with a paint brush.
  • Marbling (what we call Iceberg)- Slightly damp fabric is laid flat, then scrunched Dye is applied directly, then cotton covered for an hour while the dye slowly disperses.
  • Tie & Dye- A resist dyeing technique in which fabric is folded or twisted then bound.
  • Spattered Wax Application- Instead of applying wax with a foam stamp (heavier application), a wooden broom is dipped into the wax and slapped down on the fabric.

 

Our Design Team has developed various tools to help batikers consistently replicate our unique textiles. The batik stencil (left) includes stamping directions and an overview of the finished fabric layout.

Creating Consistently With Our Unique Model
Global Mamas Cape Coast office alone partners with around 60 small women-run businesses in the surrounding community. From a profitability standpoint this isn’t the most efficient model, but our mission is to support and sustain these small businesses and the financial independence of the women at their helm.

To achieve consistent results from one Mama’s workshop to the next, Global Mamas’ Design and Quality Control teams put a great deal of work into providing tools and techniques to support batikers and seamstresses in achieving our top quality standards. For our signature batiks, stencils are created so that foam stamps may be precisely replicated (see above), dye recipes are created and distributed, and instructions are provided on how to stamp using terms like “full drop” and “half drop” to communicate the overall repetition of the design.

While we love the subtle variability inherent to handcrafted goods, if a batik is so far outside the acceptable range set by our Quality Control team that it no longer looks like the same fabric in our catalog-- it’s an issue! As many of these new techniques rely more heavily on the artistic eye of the batiker, they may work for brands working with just one or two in-house producers, but they are much harder to train on across a broader group working in many locations. Keeping this in mind, Global Mamas designers Abi and Nick worked closely with batikers located near our Cape Coast office to test the feasibility of these new methods: carefully considering which options were truly viable with our unique production model that would ensure successful outcomes for the Mamas.

 

We all loved this hand painted sample, being developed here by Global Mamas designer Nick and batiker Aggie Arthur. Unfortunately this fabric didn’t make the cut as it could not be consistently replicated.

New Looks Coming for Spring/Summer 2020
We’re pleased to report a range of these new fabric techniques DID make the cut for our 2020 collection, which is coming soon to stores across the globe. We look forward to sharing this new line of distinctive textiles to help you continue living life in full color!

Introducing Fibers of Change

The Volta River with a thick covering of water hyacinth in the foreground.

Introducing Fibers of Change
This fall the Global Mamas team, in collaboration with USAID and the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC), is embarking on an exciting new endeavor combining two goals that are an inherent part of our mission: creating sustainable livelihoods in communities with limited economic opportunity while at the same time acting as environmentally conscientious ambassadors of the biodiversity and rich natural resources in Ghana.

Fibers of Change, our new initiative that’s taken root along the banks of the Volta River, will use water hyacinth (locally known as the “poison flower”) as the staple raw material to develop an all-new collection of natural fiber products for Global Mamas customers around the world. 

 

Consultants & community partners harvest hyacinth from the Volta near our new Akuse office.

The Challenge:
Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is regarded as one of the worst aquatic invasive plants in the world, with the ability to double its size in less than two weeks. Deceptively beautiful, this aggressive weed clogs waterways and negatively affects water transport, power generation, health, agriculture, and fisheries. In Ghana, both chemical and biological interventions have been implemented in an attempt to control the plant, neither of which have proven successful or sustainable on a large scale. While the negative impacts of the plant are many, there are no known ecological dangers associated with the removal of the species.

The Additional Challenge:
One of the main river systems in West Africa, the Volta River Basin, encompasses underdeveloped economies that are some of the poorest in the world. Nearly 42% of the Volta River Basin is located in Ghana, with the densest populations along the Lower Volta River in Ghana’s Eastern Province where 77.7% of the economically active population are self-employed in agriculture and animal rearing as their primary economic activities.

Although loss of biodiversity in this area has many factors, the root cause can be identified as human activities. Community members have no choice but to deplete natural resources in order to meet the financial needs of their families. This financial dependence, partnered with a steadily increasing population, has put detrimental pressure on natural resources.

 

Freshly harvested hyacinth stalks dry in the sun in preparation for weaving and twining.

Our Solution:
With initial support from USAID, Global Mamas has set out to do what we do best: finding ways to turn this abundant natural resource into sustainable livelihoods. Since no one in Ghana was already making products from water hyacinth, we’ve hosted consultants from around Africa to learn how they’ve been using the water hyacinth to create marketable products in their own communities.

With an ambitious goal of launching our first round of water hyacinth products at the NYNow trade show in February 2020, the water hyacinth team is currently working through the labor-intensive process of setting up best practices for both harvesting and processing the plant. As papermakers and weavers become more confident in their skills we look forward to developing an expanded range of future products supporting environmental and economic initiatives that benefit communities in the Eastern region of Ghana.

Thanks for following along on this new adventure and keep an eye out for updates on how to support this project going into the new year! 

Global Mamas designer Elizabeth working on a new runner combining hyacinth and batik.

 

Winning Designs by the Mamas

Our annual Design Competition began in 2007 as a way to generate new product ideas. With so many talented makers involved in our organization we wanted to provide the opportunity to participate for any Mama or staff member interested in sharing their creative input. Each year winning designs are included in our catalog and the winner receives both recognition during our annual “Mama of the Year" awards in addition to a monetary prize.

Following the success of our 2007 competition, this event has become a tradition! In this year's Design Competition blog we wanted to focus on three winning Mamas from previous years that have their designs in our current collection. 

 

Martha Rhule: Designer of the Unity Batik

Martha Rhule became a Global Mamas batikers in 2010 after a friend introduced her to our organization so that she could have greater financial stability. Although both a talented batiker AND seamstress, Martha decided to focus on developing her expertise as a batiker. Today Martha is an accomplished textile artist that has trained multiple apprentices while producing consistently high quality work. She has also created multiple bestselling batik designs.

Martha won the Batikers Award in our 2010 Design Competition for her Pebble pattern, then the 2017 Design Competition for her Unity pattern (pictured here). Martha says the Unity design was inspired by some brickwork she noticed while sitting one day at her sewing machine. The actual layout of the batik shifted as she played with sampling the new design. At first the pattern was more spread out, but as she stamped the logos closer and closer together she preferred the outcome. In our 2019 catalog Martha's Unity pattern is prominently displayed in a diverse range of product, from women's dresses to pillow covers.

[SHOP MARTHA'S UNITY BATIK.]

 

Hannah Dodoo, Designer of the Button Basket

One of Global Mamas’ eight co-founding women, Hannah is an accomplished seamstress that draws inspiration from experiences abroad, including travel to the US and Germany where she learned to sew in 1976. Hannah won the Seamstress Award in 2016 for her Frontier Bag and won the 2015 Design Competition for her popular Button Baskets in our current catalog. 

As a creative individual with a passion for design, Hannah constantly finds herself brainstorming new product ideas. With her 2015 contest submission Hannah recognized our catalog could use more home décor which is how she landed on her Button Basket design. Hannah’s inspiration for the Frontier Bag evolved from her experience traveling and needing a secure way to carry and store her personal belongings. 

[SHOP HANNAH'S BUTTON BASKET]

Felicia Dede: Designer of the Felicia Earrings

Felicia has worked as both a jewelry assembler and quality control ‘champion’ for the Global Mamas Odumase Krobo Office. This team works with local beadmakers to produce our range of recycled glass jewelry and ornaments. Before joining Global Mamas in 2013 Felicia was a teacher at primary school in Krobo but wasn’t happy in the role.  Having studied visual arts at technical school when she heard of an opportunity at Global Mamas from a neighbor she decided to pursue her creative interests.

Although batikers and seamstresses have participated in the annual Design Competition for some years, getting the jewelry assemblers and beadmakers involved at our Krobo location is a more recent endeavor that we hope to continue. Felicia’s submission for the 2018 competition were these winning earrings that the design team paired with a coordinating necklace to be able to offer customers a matched set. Felicia says her inspiration for the earrings comes from one of her visual arts courses at school. 

[SHOP FELICIA'S RECYCLED GLASS EARRINGS]

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2019 Design Competition submissions are due 6/28/19 and final decisions on who our award winners will be happen the following Friday. We can't wait to see all the creative ideas that will be shared this season!

 

 

Meet the Mamas: Featuring New Global Mamas Batiker Dorcas Quianoo

Dorcas Quianoo, mother of three, is one of the newest Global Mamas batikers. 

When Global Mamas brings new Mamas into the ‘family’, we take the commitment seriously. This means we hire with intention and only when we know we have the capacity to offer long-term, regular work for a new partner.

During Fashion Revolution week we wanted to introduce Dorcas Quianoo, one of the newest batikers to join our Cape Coast team. She started with Global Mamas in summer of 2018 and has been a part of batik production for the new 2019 line which is online now! Batik designer Nick Ruffalo was able to get in a quick interview with her during a training earlier this spring.

N: Why did you want to do batik?

D: I wanted to learn hairdressing but the school was full; they only had room for batik and beadmaking so I learned both.

N: How did you get trained in Batik? How long have you been batiking? When did you start batiking for your own business?

D: I went to vocational school in Tema to learn batik. My father was working as a policeman in Accra, but he’s retired now in Moree [just outside of Cape Coast]. I started my own business right out of school in Accra where I worked for a few years. I was making batik to sell at market and making good money. I’ve been in Cape Coast now for 12 years, but I’ve been selling food for the past 6 years. It was difficult work. I would wake up early to prepare and come home late to wash dishes.

N: Why did you want to come to Global Mamas and leave your food business?

D:  I learned batik, so I wanted to use what I learned to work. The money is now better in batik. Before, the money in food wasn’t reliable; my income wasn’t enough to pay back the bank for borrowing money. I left food because I was tired; preparing and cleaning up took all my time. Batik is also hard work, but at least there is time to rest at the end of the day. I receive steady orders from Global Mamas. It’s difficult sometimes with rejects, but otherwise it’s nice.

For years Dorcas had her own business preparing and selling food, but the income wasn’t reliable.

 N: What is something you’ve been able to do in the past year that you haven’t been able to before? What accomplishment are you proud of?

D: I have begun saving to build my own workshop. Right now, I have a table under a mango tree. I want to expand.

N: Have you enjoyed your work? What is one thing you enjoy about working for Global Mamas?

D: It’s nice to be back in batik. When I receive rejects, I like that they call me and will discuss it with me.

N: Do you support anyone?

D:  I support my three children: 2 girls, 1 boy. The eldest girl is now a beauty technician. She can do manicures, makeup and hair. My younger girl is 6 years, and the boy is 4 years. I also help support my junior brother’s son, who is 3 years old. He will start school soon and I will help him.

 N: Do you have any employees? What are your plans for your future business?

D: No, I do not have employees, but I want to grow and hire them. My goal would be to grow to have 5-10 employees. It would be great.

N: What is one long term goal you hope to achieve with the help of orders from Global Mamas?

D: I want my kids to finish school and graduate college. I also want to buy land and build a house.

We’re so pleased to have Dorcas on board and look forward to sharing how she reaches her goals in coming years. Thank you for joining us in wishing her a warm welcome to our community!   

Getting used to Global Mamas quality standards has been a learning curve, but Dorcas appreciates being able to have conversations about changes that need to be made. She’s pictured here working on a new sample with Global Mamas designer Abi. 

Bringing Out the Best In Our Leaders with Busara Africa

Christiane Ahousassou started as a Quality Control Champion at our Cape Coast location but now oversees the full quality control team. She ensures consistently high quality product is distributed from our largest location.

Leadership Training with Busara Africa

With the financial support of the Embassy of France in Ghana, this past month Global Mamas leaders engaged in leadership trainings in collaboration with Busara Africa. Busara Africa is a regional consultancy firm based in Ghana that provides responsive leadership development services. Over the years our organization has gathered together an amazing team, and in addition to providing capacity building opportunities for the artisans, we also support the personal growth and development of our talented leaders and staff.

Technical Designer, Barbara Tetteh, who provides training to Global Mamas seamstresses as part of her position in Cape Coast, shares a thought with Accra Store Manager, Dorcas Baiden, during a brainstorming session at the leadership meetings in Accra. 

Supporting Global Mamas Leaders

Many of the leaders participating in these workshops have worked their way into a leadership role by developing skills and experience over time. Gladys, General Manager of our Krobo location, started with Global Mamas as a jewelry assembler but now manages the full jewelry assembly team, scores of beadmakers, and is responsible for ensuring multiple domestic and international orders are shipped out each month. Christiane, Cape Coast Quality Control Manager, began in quality control but now oversees the full team, guaranteeing all batik fabric and sewn products being made at our largest location meet specs before being delivered for wholesale orders.

 Without question, every leader on our team is passionate about the work we do providing opportunities for women in Ghana. Each one has clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and over the years has shown tremendous growth through feedback from colleagues and hands-on experience. By offering the Busara trainings our intention is to provide these leaders with additional tools and techniques to better understand themselves, their colleagues, and how to kindly and effectively manage the employees and artisans they work with on a daily basis. 

 Jennifer Aheteku started as an office assistant at our Ashaiman office but has now been promoted to Inventory Manager. In this role she releases orders to batikers and seamstresses in addition to helping with HR duties such as managing vacation and sick days, and performance pay.

Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading the Organization

Busara trainers divided the training into three consecutive sessions: leading self, leading others, and leading the organization. In past months Global Mamas leaders have already gathered twice to cover the first two sessions and will complete the third in March. Through small group activities, presentations,  games, Global Mamas case studies, and lots of brainstorming, the group talked through many practical tools and techniques that could be useful within the specific framework of our organization and when applied directly to their everyday roles.

Topics Covered in “Leading Self”:

  • Emotional intelligence: expressing and controlling our own emotions, as well as understanding and appropriately responding to the emotions of others
  •  Using time management skills and learning how to prioritize effectively
  • Rethinking leadership: recognizing leaderships is not about title or position, but more about influencing others to achieve a shared goal
  • Managing boundaries: determining your own boundaries and recognizing others’
  • Managing pressure and stress
  • Maintaining trust and credibility, values and integrity

Topics Covered in “Leading Self”:

  • Utilizing effective delegation of tasks
  • Using effective communication
  •  Being self -aware and recognizing your personality and behaviors
  • Engaging in active listening
  • Creating a cohesive team through team building
  • Managing conflict and holding difficult conversations

Designer Barbara and Inventory Manager Jennifer participate in an exercise demonstrating the need for good collaboration and communication. This also illustrated the need for sharing clear expectations with employees— ‘blindfold expectations’ are those where it may be hard for employees to understand and accomplish the task expected of them.  

In this exercise participants were asked to select a certain number of traits that they identified as their ‘true values’. The two key traits consistently selected by Global Mamas leaders were ‘honesty and integrity’.

We’re Powered by Our Amazing People

Global Mamas could not have grown the way it has over the past 16 years without the engagement, passion, and dedication of the amazing leaders and staff that have put their energy behind our impact. As with any organization that has grown organically while doing its best to stay focused on its mission and values, there have been bumps and challenges along the way. These leaders hold us together and keep us moving forward. WELL DONE to the entire team; and we can’t wait to learn more from our third session with Busara Africa! 

"Global Mamas' leadership team's participation and engagement was amazing. They had the confidence to freely express themselves without fear, knowing very well that their boss was in the same training session with them. I must recommend; that was bold and reassuring."   Consulata Otieno – Leadership Trainer, Busara Africa (Shown on the left). 

 Special thanks to Busara Africa and the French Embassy in Ghana for their support.

Partners in Ethical Practice: Naasakle International

 

A meeting of one of the shea nut 'picker' co-ops in Damongo, Northern Ghana.

When Global Mamas works with outside partners we’re intentional about selecting organizations working in-line with our values. This means businesses operating with full transparency, following the principles of fair trade, and prioritizing the well-being of the people involved with their work. Aligning these values up front makes it easy to be on the same page while doing business.

Meet Naasakle International: Our Bulk Shea Suppliers

We’ve now proudly partnered with Naasakle International to source our bulk shea butter for 10 years. The business was founded in 2000 by Eugenia Akuete after returning to her native Ghana to care for her ailing mother. As a midwife, Eugenia’s mum frequently used shea as a part of her midwifery practice.In the process of nursing her mother back to health Eugenia rediscovered this nutrient-rich butter, commonly referred to in Ghana as “Women’s Gold.” After decades in the US and UK, Eugenia saw far too clearly how easily these hardworking women could be exploited. She decided to dedicate her life to propagating self-reliance by partnering with hundreds of cooperative members, offering them fair wages as well as training for both quality and personal finances/health.

Eighteen years on, Naasakle International is now headed by Eugenia’s daughter, Naa-Sakle, and supplies hundreds of tons of conventional and organic certified shea to cosmetics producers globally. During these wintery North American months when shea products are in such demand to soothe the skin, we wanted to highlight some of the reasons why we’re proud to help connect their co-operatives with our customers around the world.

Shea Nut processors in Damongo. Left to right: Tahiru Aminatu, Bamibanirba (Opportunity) Atongo, and Adam Howa.

 Putting People First

Naasakle purchases shea nuts from co-operatives of women in Ghana’s Northern Region surrounding Damongo, where the nuts natively grow.  In 2017 they sourced nuts from around 1500 women, but as of 2018 will be buying from around 5000. Their goal is to support as many women as possible, as holistically as possible, while being able to maintain steady, sustainable growth (sound familiar??)

 

 For shea nut pickers, this business is their primary source of income, and by selling directly to Naasakle they cut out the middlemen at market that typically take a cut of the money. To establish a fair price for the nuts Naasakle does a market survey, collecting price points from surrounding areas, and adds a premium when necessary to achieve fair prices, historically, that premium has been  an additional 20%.  There are no binding agreements that pickers HAVE to sell to them, and if a woman thinks she can find a better price for the nuts, she is welcome to do so. If she wants to save the nuts and thinks the price will be better later in the year, she can also wait! As part of the Global Shea Alliance, Naasakle uses scales to weigh their purchases and engages in consistent, transparent buying practices with transactions that are clearly documented— something that should be the norm but is not common with other buyers.

 

 After partnering with certain pickers for some 9-10 years, many of the original women are growing older and Naasakle has created a retirement plan so that they can stop work without feeling financial strain. Other benefits for pickers beyond premium payments includes training organic practices and sustainability as well as an education fund, and a savings program. Together with local community members, Naasakle has started building warehouses (using local labor and readily available materials) that belong to the women-run co-ops. Here pickers are welcome to store other commodities, but the intention behind these structures is to allow the nuts to be safely stored, giving women the freedom to decide if and when the market is right for them to sell.

 

Keeping Jobs Local

 Rather than taking the shea processing off site once the nuts have been purchased, Naasakle keeps it local, providing additional jobs in communities where there is a need for employment. One of their main processing centers is in Damongo and employs 27 women who process nuts in the traditional way. Processors wages are a 20% premium on area averages, just as the pickers receive a 20% premium on their nuts.

 

 Instead of buying butter from the processors by the kg the processors are paid as employees. Naasakle pays their taxes, contributes to retirement funds, offers paid sick leave, production bonuses, and Christmas packages. They’ve also set up savings programs, invited  doctors in to provide health trainings, and pay for national health insurance policies for the employee and up to 5 dependents (many of these matriarchs care not only for their own children, but grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc) –alleviating financial strain.

 

 More Than “Just Business”

 For those of you that buy our bulk shea because you love the product, we hope learning a little more of Naasakle’s story and the conscientious way in which they choose to do business makes your purchase that much ‘sweeter.’  We are proud to partner with sister organizations that also go above and beyond in their business practices, by providing additional resources and support to women in Ghana.  We look forward to supporting them in expanding opportunities for families in the North in coming years.

 Click here to read individual stories from the Mamas in Damongo.

 

Fair Trade Zone Progress: Land is in Sight!

This month for Giving Tuesday (November 27th) our attention remains focused in on the Fair Trade Zone (FTZ), a campus style facility we are creating in Ghana’s Eastern Region to provide sustainable income opportunities for 200 craftswomen. Our vision is to create a model environment for ethical production following the principles of fair trade which incorporates eco-friendly construction, a preschool facility for the Mamas’ children, in addition to many more educational and capacity building features.

 

 

Building the Fair Trade Zone with a modular design will allow us to grow in coming years. 

 

Buying Land in Ghana is Complicated

If you’ve been following us for more than a minute you’ll know the FTZ dream has been in progress for many years. We originally started looking for land near our current Ashaiman office back in 2011, and actually had a group of Ghanaian and international architecture students dive right into the initial design-- never dreaming of the complications that would arise from “simply” acquiring land, a work still in progress 9 years later.

 

Architectural students presenting plans for the Fair Trade Zone to the Mamas back in 2011.

 

 Over the years we’ve become familiar with many of the pitfalls of buying land in Ghana as we persist in reaching our goal. A major complication is due to land being passed down between tribes and families, meaning ownership is not always clear. Multiple families may be claiming the same area, and in places where a plot hasn’t been registered, or ownership is vague, it’s hard to re-register it in a new name. This vagary ends up leaving gaps for corruption to sneak in, with individuals trying to sell land that may not be theirs to sell.

A Final Home for the Fair Trade Zone

 At the request of the Mamas in our Krobo office, we shifted our land search from the very expensive Ashaiman/Tema area to the more affordable area of Krobo. In that area we have had three very promising plots of land that we thought were viable, but all ended in complications due to a lack of clarity around who actually owned the land. Although we didn’t put any money down on these attempts, we’ve sacrificed a great deal of time and resources in the lengthy investigation process.

 Finally, we are mere steps away from buying five acres of land in Krobo (near Krobo Mountain on the road to Akuse) from the rightful owners. After years of court battles, the Aklomuase family won a Supreme Court case that awarded their family with hundreds of acres of land around the Krobo Mountain area.

 

Summer 2018: Members of the Fair Trade Zone Planning & Design Team with chiefs from the Aklomuase family.

 

 We agreed on the price and location (site plan) and signed a Contract for Sale. The family encouraged us to move some stones to the land (to look as if we were starting to build something) and put up a huge signboard to let everyone in the area know that Global Mamas intended to secure the land. The idea was to see if anyone would come forward claiming to own the land, and up until now, no one has made such claims. According to our lawyer, that is a VERY good sign. We have now paid a 50% deposit on the land.

 

 Putting up the sign for the Fair Trade Zone: August 2018!

Next up is getting the indenture (the deed) and site plans signed and approved and submitted to the Lands Commission to register the land in the name of Global Mamas. Once registration is complete, we will make the final payment and the deal is done! We expect this all to happen before the end of the year (YES, THIS YEAR!)

 

Funding Next Steps with Giving Tuesday 

Of course, once we have the land we face the next adventure - building on it! We are close on acquiring funds from a local organization for an initial structure, a three room building with a covered, open-air space for batiking. But, we will still need to make this building a home. For that we need your help. We have to get connected to the local water system (for the batikers), and to the power grid (for the seamstresses), and we need to get the space organized for a staff of 60. This means sewing stations, batiking stations, quality control tables, storage, bio-gas toilets, and more.

 If you are interested in helping toward this endeavor, keep an eye out for our Giving Tuesday campaign at the end of November. You can donate directly to the fundraiser, or start your own to get your friends and family to help out too.

 

How Technology Shaped the Fall 2018 Collection

Abby Smith, Marketing Volunteer

Fashion and technology, both dynamic forces in our modern world, are constantly changing. This season at Global Mamas, in light of production challenges and the need for increased productivity, batik designer Nick Ruffalo led the way in spearheading a new process to fuse the two together.

 The Old Manual Process

Research for new textile and product design begins about one year in advance of the season, to give the design team and producers plenty of time for idea development and sampling. Sketching, color and print testing, and garment sampling are all time-consuming, manual processes. Each year around 15 to 20 batik designs are sampled in up to ten different colorways. Next is the marriage of product and pattern, turning the new textiles into actual products from our current catalog, or new items that will be introduced the coming season. Requests are put in for specific batik and pattern combinations, with one garment being sampled in an array of new batiks. According to Nick, there can easily be 15 print and color combinations in one style, with samples that are not selected becoming one-off pieces for sale in our Accra store. With over 200 products, this can lead to an enormous number of samples.

 

Batik designer Nick Ruffalo and Creative Director Alice Grau narrowing the Spring 2019 collection

When samples don’t turn out as the team expected, modifications on selected pattern and product combinations are requested for additional sampling rounds. As this process of sampling and modification continues, the collection becomes more focused. Nick describes this part of the process as a “meticulous puzzle”: in its completion, the entire line is a cohesive collection of best-selling styles, emerging trends, harmonious patterns and colors, as well as strategically placed accent colors. Through a series of long meetings, constant editing and tweaking is done until the entire collection is finalized by the design team.

Addressing Challenge with Technology

Although the team knew the switch to organic fabric this year would be a transition, several unforeseen obstacles arose forcing a shift in the typical production calendar. Before committing to the new organic cotton, it was sampled with the batik process in small batches. However, unexpectedly when produced in larger quantities removing the wax became more complicated. This meant lost yardage, do-overs, time spent trouble-shooting alternative techniques, and additional fabric being brought in from our new supplier in India. In the meantime orders for the new products made with organic cotton continued arriving from wholesale partners abroad which meant there weren’t enough Mamas available to begin sewing and batiking samples as early in the design process as they would normally occur. Since most of the process in the past required progressive cycles of physical sampling, the design team needed to figure out how to expedite these stages with limited resources. Their answer? Technology.

 

Print mapping 2019 print/color combinations of the bestselling Eli Dress.

Print Mapping: Saving Time & Resources

This year Nick used Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to “print map” the early rounds of sampling, narrowing the sample selection digitally rather than having them physically produced. After translating the hand-drawn batik patterns into the program, Nick can apply the design to print map layouts for any of the Global Mamas products. With the patterns and products in place he can easily manipulate the color to any combination the team might request saving incredible amounts of time and resources narrowing down the vast array of combinations in the early stages of sampling (although it will never completely replace physical sampling completely).

“I’ve been advocating for us to use this for a long time,” Nick says of this technological shift. Suspecting it might be applicable to the process, he taught himself how to print map some time ago and quickly realized its numerous benefits. Using print mapping this season Nick had more time to concentrate on the actual design as less time was spent training batikers on new patterns that may not even make the catalog.

Continuance in the Future

Next season, Nick is looking forward to continuing with print mapping and anticipates this process will allow the team to start production even earlier. This will set off a chain reaction—allowing retailers to receive more product earlier in the season and provide higher turnover for the new line. With this creating a less hectic work environment, Nick would love to use the time he saves to work with more batikers and help them advance their skills. He identifies collaboration as one of his favorite parts of the design process and hopes to work with more Mamas next season.  

Fall 2018 fabrics and samples as modeled by staff and friends of the Global Mamas Accra store.