Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

Making of Summer 2017

Alice Grau, Creative Director

Photo Credit: Nick Ruffalo, Designer

Each of our collections originates from trend research-- anticipating how everything from high-fashion to streetwear trends will influence the clothes our customers might wish to buy in future seasons. We love getting creative with the shape, color, and prints of our product to interpret up and coming styles with our own bold, West African twist. 

 

Once our in-house designers and volunteers have developed a series of patterns we’d like to test for an upcoming season, we reach out to batikers near our Cape Coast office who are interested in helping produce samples. Mamas helping with samples receive a slightly higher price per yard for the added effort of going back and forth testing a new stamp, dye recipe, and layout.

 

The stamp is traced from a master copy then carved by the Mama from a piece of foam (we actually use chunks of foam mattresses, commonly sold in Ghana). The pattern is transferred to the cotton by dipping the stamp into hot wax and placing it repeatedly on the fabric following the designer’s spacing specifications, communicated via hand drawings or digital renderings.

 

Once a pattern is established we use the palette of dyes available in local markets (mostly primary and secondary colors) to begin sampling color. This is a delicate matter that can take many attempts and for consistent results requires the precision of a scientist. Sometimes our designers develop a recipe using basic color theory, but at other times we stumble upon an “accident” color we love and have to work backwards to figure out how it was made! The dyes are mixed with caustic soda and sodium hydrosulphite to dissolve them to the point where they can be absorbed by the cotton fabric. Because of the chemicals involved in the process the Mamas wear masks and gloves at the appropriate steps. 

 

Sometimes batikers fold their fabric into a square to submerge it in the bucket, but here you can see Mary swirling the length of fabric into the dye bath. This prevents fold lines of lighter color where the fabric may not be consistently exposed to the dye. If a batik is brought in with irregular spacing or unsightly dye lines the quality control team deems it class 2 or 3 (as opposed to export quality: class 1). In both sampling and regular product, attention to this kind of detail is required to meet our quality standards. Although fabric may not make class 1, class 2 and 3 textiles are still used in various products. One of the best tools we have to make lower classes of fabric usable is to “overdye” them in a darker color which will cover any mistakes. This improved fabric can then be used for one-of-a-kind products in our Accra store. 

 

Here a fabric sample dries on the line and you can see the color transformation from the wet material at the top, to the dry material turning a bright apple green at the bottom. An added challenge of vat dyes are that they don’t show their true color in the actual dye bath (like indigo that starts out looking yellow and then shifts to blue once it's been removed from the dye). With each of these dyes there is a significant visual shift in color when the material is exposed to air. This means accuracy is vital in measuring the dry dyes into the bucket.

 

Here Becky, a design volunteer that spent time with us in Ghana earlier this year, admires fabric produced using two of her stamp designs. Although we sampled both patterns in our colorway for summer we decided to hold one print for our Fall collection.

Once the fabric has been batiked to the designers' specifications, the finished yardage is assigned to a local Global Mamas seamstress to be stitched into the desired product. Babs, our technical designer, will go over the product and review the pattern (in white above) with the Mama before sending it off with the freshly batiked cotton.

 

Here Jennifer is working on a sample for summer. Waiting on samples to come back to the office is always exciting as different prints in different products can have a surprising effect. Sometimes we decide to hold off on designs for later collections, while at other times we love one fabric so much we want to sample it in multiple colorways. Sometimes we realize we still haven’t gotten it *quite* right and more blank cotton is sent out into the world to try something altogether new.

 

 As any maker will know, our process is one of artistry, craft, science, and a little bit of luck! After months of planning and preparations it is always with pride that we share each new collection coming from the talented hands of the Mamas. These dresses are just a few of the bold and beautiful items you will find included in our Summer 2017 collection. New items for Summer: Arriving Online June 20th!

From Bottles to Beads – Behind the Scenes with our Beadmakers in Krobo

Sophia Khan, Marketing Volunteer

 

Odumase Krobo in the Eastern Region of Ghana is renowned for its glass beadmaking and is home to the historic Agomanya bead market. It’s also where you will find the Global Mamas Krobo Bead Cooperative. This talented group uses techniques passed down from generation to generation to craft a wide variety of beads that are transformed into jewelry for audiences across the world.

 

Based in a shady outdoor workshop in Odumase Krobo, brother and sister team Grace and Moses recycle piles of old glass bottles into the beads their region is famous for. The pair have been making beads for many years as their family trade, but they’ve been partnering with Global Mamas for the past ten. In 2016 this talented duo were chosen as the Global Mamas’ “Mama and Papa of the Year” for their extremely high quality beads-- less than 1% have quality issues which is very low for this delicate art.

 

Preparing the Glass Powder

The first stage in the bead-making process is the physically demanding job of crushing the recycled glass into small pieces using what looks like a large pestle and mortar. The glass is further refined by going through the process a second time, then the fine powder is sieved to remove any larger pieces.

 

Recycled bottles are gathered and Moses grinds them into a fine powder. 

 

Filling the Clay Moulds

Next, Grace and Moses prepare the clay moulds used to shape the beads-- which in this case will be small flat discs that we use in a rainbow of colors throughout our jewelry pieces. The hole for threading the beads is preserved by inserting a small piece of cassava leaf stalk into each indention, then the ends are trimmed with a razor blade.

Small pieces of stalk are inserted into the mold so that the finished beads have a hole.

 

Once all the moulds are filled Moses adds ceramic pigment to the glass powder and mixes it thoroughly to color the beads. He then fills the moulds with the colored powder, tapping each tray to make sure there are no gaps before brushing away the excess powder with a feather-- you may have noticed that many tools used in the bead-making process are resourcefully made from things found all around in nature!

Colored pigments are added to the glass powder then the moulds are meticulously filled.

 

Firing the Beads

Grace piles the filled moulds onto a board and takes them over to Moses who places them carefully in the kiln using a long-handled spatula. The kiln is heated with a wood fire to reach a high enough temperature to melt down the glass powder.

  Keeping a safe distance the filled moulds are placed in the kiln.

After anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, Moses removes the fired beads from the kiln and leaves them to cool. The dyes which started out as pale pastels darken to their final bright hues through the course of the firing.

 

Loving the Product

Finally, Grace rinses off the beads in cold water, adding a handful of sand to smooth off any rough edges. She threads them onto a string and the finished orders are packed up and sent to the Global Mamas office, where a team of bead assemblers transform them into a wide variety of bracelets, necklaces, and earrings as a colorful accent to your wardrobe!

Grace removes the fired beads from the mold and files off the rough edges with sand.

These colored discs are specifically used to make products like our catch of the day bracelet. In addition to our ready made jewelry creations, customers can purchase bags of our beads to incorporate into their own crafty projects!

 

Grace and Moses, proud to be making your jewelry!

Thanks for supporting the fair trade, handcrafted way.

 

 

A Pan-African Solution

Alice Grau, creative director

As a fair trade organization, Global Mamas makes fair trade and ethical behaviors the core of everything we do. We have created long-term, respectful relationships with the Mamas and usually stay with the same raw materials suppliers long-term, too.

While our products are handmade in Ghana, our dream is a fully African supply chain, with all raw materials sourced from Ghana or further afield on the African continent.

Cotton growing in Tanzania, and the Kiboko workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Global Mamas has been talking about this since way before I joined back in in 2009: It’s something that our founders wanted to have happen from the beginning, but there was always a lack of availability for materials like cotton fabric or zippers.

Until now.

After two years of work, we’re excited to announce that we’ve created our first fair trade organic cotton one-pieces and t-shirts made fully in Africa! These pieces are made from GOTS certified cotton grown using environmentally sound practices by a Tanzanian company called Sun Flag. Global Organic Textile Standard, GOTS, is a rigorous standard that verifies compliance at each step of production.  From Tanzania the jersey fabric is then sent on to Kiboko Leisure Wear, a World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) certified production facility based in Kenya where the fabric is carefully stitched into durable t-shirts and one-pieces for children and babies.

 

Global Mamas founder Emma Myers batiks the lion motif.

Once the fabric is turned into garments in Kenya, the plain white cotton pieces are then sent over to us in West Africa to be adorned with whimsical batiked creatures by the Mamas in Ghana! We even created two new designs to celebrate, stay tuned for those to launch in April.

Join us in celebrating a leap forward in supporting prosperity for women in Ghana and across Africa!

 The Kiboko team outside their office in Kenya, and the finished Lion one-piece.

The Next Generation of Ghanaian Designers

Alice Grau, Creative Director

Designer Afua in Ashaiman

Global Mamas is proud to support the next generation of Ghanaian designers. As part of our commitment to Ghanaian talent we have hired two graduates of the fashion program at Radford University College in Ghana. In 2014, graduate Afua Biney joined Global Mamas as a design assistant and trainer in our Ashaiman location. Afua worked closely with our design team and the Ashaiman production team to ensure new product roll-out went smoothly. Her attention to detail and ability to teach complicated skills to our seamstresses were a great addition to our team. Afua recently moved on from Global Mamas to pursue her own line which received development support from Ghana Fashion and Design Week New Talent Spot: 

http://www.ghanafashiondesignweek.com/tutuwaa/.

 

Afua, left, trains two Mamas in Ashaiman on a new stitch

New Cape Coast Designer: Barbara

At the end of 2015, a second graduate of Radford joined our design team. Barbara Tetteh-Appain assisted our team on a contract basis on several occasions throughout 2015. After witnessing her commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs and her skill with training, she was hired on as the new technical designer and trainer. Barbara will be based in our Cape Coast location where she will help the Mamas learn skills that will help them expand their sewing repertoires.

 

Continuing the Relationship

We were excited to continue our relationship with Radford University College during the production of our 2016 catalog. Our Cape Coast design team hosted three interns (Angelina, Amart, and Eno pictured below) for a two-day placement to help with styling and modeling in our fashion photos. The women spent time with our designers and quality control team learning about fair trade, our products, and our business practices. Our hope is to encourage these young women to take positions or create jobs that will one day impact more women in their community. We would love to see the mission of Global Mamas spread to all corners of the design world!