Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

Keeping it Green with Global Mamas

Developing the Moringa Filtration System

 Batikers in Ashaiman testing the new moringa filtration system together with Mae-ling Lokko of the Ghana-based company Willow.

Fashion Can be a Dirty Business

The fashion industry is notoriously known for it’s negative environmental impact, and at Global Mamas we’re constantly having to balance out the work we do—that we know is creating a positive impact in the lives of hundreds of women-- with the industry we’re a part of. In addition to environmentally sound practices that are a required of us as guaranteed members of the World Fair Trade organization, each year by our own initiative we continue to proactively look for ways to make earth-friendly improvements to our methods.

How We Work to Improve our Environmental Impact

 To date 60% of the Global Mamas product line is made of upcycled or recycled materials-- from repurposing old plastic and bottles, to crafting patchwork accessories from excess fabric scraps. Just in the past year we’ve experimented with using fungi to grow our own batik stamps (in place of using bed foam), in addition to developing a new filtration system using agri-waste from moringa processing as a flocculant to create a more sustainable process for small-scale batikers to filter used dye water. Our BIGGEST achievement this year of course, has been making the transition to organic GOTS certified cotton which eliminates unnecessary chemicals for farms and farmers at the ground level.

  Are You Familiar With These Eco-Friendly Innovations We Employ?

1)  The beads for our jewellery and ornaments are made from recycled glass bottles– we have an agreement with the UK and US embassies in Ghana to make sure we have a steady supply! The beadmakers also make beads from broken bead pieces and window panes that would otherwise go to waste.

 

 2) We’ve developed a range of products, from dog leashes to handbags that enable our seamstresses to use as many of the leftover scraps of batik as possible—saving them from ending up in the burn pile. Our African animals decorations are sewn using small pieces of fabric left from cutting out garments and stuffed with even smaller scraps.

 

3. The lining of many of our bags and accessories, in addition to our aprons and baby bibs are made from recycled cotton flour sacks, sourced from local bakeries in Ghana.

 

4. As well as using local products to make our shea butter beauty range, the packaging for our shea butter soap is made from recycled water sachet wrappers. Water sachets, locally referred to as “pure water” are filtered drinking water that’s commonly and cheaply sold in Ghana—and plentifully found lying around the streets.

We love the creative challenge of working in an eco-friendly manner and being able to share it with our customers. We hope we’ve inspired you to find new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle in your everyday life!

New ornament samples—stitched and filled with batik fabric scraps!

 

Meet Silk'n Fab: Our New Organic Cotton Producers

 

A farmer in South India picking mature cotton bolls.

 As we previously shared, finding the right cotton producer has been quite a journey and we’re pleased to be able to introduce you to our new Indian partners at Silk’n Fab. Anuj Kanodia and his wife Tanu jointly run this family business that’s now in its 4th generation of textile production, maintaining relationships with cotton farmers Anuj’s father started working with in the 1970s. All of their cotton is grown on farms in South India, where it’s also woven and spun before being transported to the Silk’n Fab facilities located just south of Delhi. Here the textiles are carefully inspected and packed before leaving for their international destinations. From boll to finished fabric, all of their processes are GOTS and FLOCERT certified and the company also undergoes additional audits by brands they work with throughout the year.

Rows of organically grown cotton plants at one of Silk’n Fabs farm partners.

Although Silk’n Fab still offers conventional cotton in various weaves and weights, in the 1990s the Kanodia’s played a significant role in supporting farmers wishing to convert their lands from growing conventional to organic cotton. Anuj’s father Arun, a veteran in the textile business, initiated the change: motivated by the wish to save future generations from the ill effects of the chemicals being used. While a seemingly straightforward procedure (just stop using chemicals?!) finding other ways to maintain yields and manage pests and weeds without using pesticides and fertilizers presents a learning curve. Some of the most common techniques used to compensate for the chemicals include crop rotation, intercropping, minimum tillage, animal manures, and composting.

Fabric packing area of Silk’n Fab’s facility just south of Delhi in North India.

By choosing to maintain the internationally recognized GOTS certification throughout their supply chain Silk’n Fab has both environmental and social policies that they must follow—regulating everything from labor welfare to water quality. At the processing and manufacturing stage there are many restricted chemicals, metals and agents that may be examined in greater detail on their website. GOTS Environmental Criteria also address details such as the mandatory use of recycled paper/cardboard for all packaging and hang tags, wastewater being properly treated, and no packaging, printing, or accessories containing PVC.   

The list of mandatory Social Criteria that GOTS members must adhere to is also extensive, and based on the key norms required by the International Labor Organisation (ILO).  Implementation of these standards and how they are verified by Control Union in the Netherlands (Silk’n Fabs approved Certification Body) may be studied in the GOTS “Manual for Implementation”, also available on their website.

The GOTS Social Critieria for certified textiles ensure:

  • Employment is freely chosen
  • Freedom of association & the right to collective bargaining are respected
  • Working conditions are safe & hygienic
  • Child labour must not be used
  • Living wages
  • Working hours are not excessive
  • No discrimination is practiced
  • Regular employment is provided
  • Harsh or inhumane treatment is prohibited

 

Testing different sample materials from Silk’n Fab with the Global Mamas’ batik treatment!

In addition to following the requirements set forth by GOTS and FLOCERT to maintain their 3rd party certifications, training is an integral part of Silk’n Fabs process. From fabric, to shipping, anybody employed in their Gurugram facility goes through an orientation program ranging from 1 week to 1 month, depending on the skills required to get them on board with their standard operating processes. Each department has committees that review and maintain safety procedures to keep them up to date.

Beyond talking about it, we’re SO excited to get this new organic product into the hands of our customers later this Spring. We hope that knowing the process has been thoroughly examined inside and out (before even getting to the hands of our Quality Control team) makes that new cotton feel, EXTRA luxurious!

 

Going Organic with Global Mamas

We’re proud. Excited, delighted AND thrilled to be taking our collection to the next level this spring by using organic (through GOTS) and fair trade (though FLO) certified cotton for our textile goods. Our new fabric is free of toxins, has a higher thread count, and silkier hand-- but more importantly it dovetails perfectly with our desire to be fully invested in fair-trade values across our entire supply chain. From individual bead to necklace, shea nut to butter, and now from cotton boll to finished garment, we not only know “who made your clothes,” but we have third party verification recognizing that at every level the people we partner with are happy, healthy, and making a fair living wage.

We believe organic cotton is better not only for the planet, but for our entire community: from the cotton farmer, to the Mamas in Ghana, to the end customer wearing our products with pride and joy.

 What Took So Long?

Knowing the indisputable environmental and social benefits of working with organic cotton, we’ve been dreaming and watching for the right supplier for literally… years. Our creative director, Alice, shares that she started looking for organic alternatives at least 8 years ago when we were having quality and supply issues with our then in-country cotton provider. At that time very few companies had the transparency, quality, price point, and organic status we were looking for. Others couldn’t be bothered working with an NGO of our size.

Over the years, Alice had all but exhausted our contacts trying to find suppliers in Africa. Friends at the West Africa Trade Hub connected us with weavers in Burkina Faso and Mali, and while their fabric was a unique hand-woven cloth, the texture of the fabric wasn’t suitable for our garments. A connection in East Africa suggested a supplier in Kenya, but their quality wasn’t the right fit for us. More recently our current knits supplier in Kenya recommended a Tanzanian producer that ended up being one of the options we pursued, however that producer had recently dropped their organic certification. At this point Alice started looking further afield at European and USA based mills, but there just weren’t options that met our criteria.

 

For years we’ve been seeking a new cotton supplier and we’re incredibly excited to have found one that so closely matches our own social and environmental standards.

So What Changed in 2018?

This past year the local wax print factory supplying us with their cotton yardage went out of business-- a devastating loss to the country’s textile industry. This elevated our search for a new calico supplier from an ongoing project, to a critical necessity. In recent years, with growing social demand for organic fabrics, more companies have invested in converting from conventional to organic practices and this time around Alice had better luck (and new contacts to pick the brains of), narrowing it down to three finalists. While the dream has always been to find an African supplier, the one African company that met our specifications  we learned had recently moved away from their organic certifier (which in conversations with our European wholesale partners we determined was of the utmost importance).

Out of the final two options, we chose a family run company called Silk’n Fab, based in India. They were GOTS and FLO certified, lovely to work with, and though our material costs would double, even with shipping fees, the increase would be within our search parameters. After so many years of research and careful consideration, we determined this was without question our best option. Decision made, we’re beyond thrilled to be partnering with a company that values transparency and integrity as much as we do.

 

Left: In the fabric packing room at the Silk’n Fab facility outside of New Delhi. Right: So exciting to see it in print!

Making it Happen

The past few months have been all about sampling and shipping and logistics. Silk’n Fab produces a wide variety of fabrics but we wanted to start with a fabric similar to our existing material so it wouldn’t feel like too much of a change for our customer. The design team had to test how the organic fabric with a higher thread count would take our dyes—requiring us to tweak dying times and dye quantities to produce the same color. Becoming our own importer, the leadership team dove into deciphering the intricacies of duty taxes—one of the inhibitors that for years had contributed to us focusing on using in-country suppliers. On the financial front we also had to make adjustments, going from buying cotton on-demand, to purchasing 30,000 meters in bulk (which we hope will last for the next six months!) Our most recent challenge was shipping, as this was Silk’n Fab’s first time transporting to Africa. This precious cargo inadvertently landed on the slow boat, stopping at every port on its way up from South Africa, and almost tripling the intended length of its journey while we waited anxiously to start production! When it finally arrived there was a collective sigh of relief…and at least one happy dance.

 

From cotton farms in South India, to processing in North India, then on to Ghana. We look forward to paying our new collaborators a visit in coming years!

With the first season of our organic collection in production as we write, we still have to pinch ourselves from time to time that this is finally happening. In 2018 all new garments, accessories and housewares will be produced from organic cotton, with the exception of our upcycled line of accessories and housewares which will more slowly make the transition as we continue using up nonorganic scraps. We can’t wait to hear your feedback on the new product this spring and will be sharing more about our new partners in India and the benefits of organic cotton with the New Year!