Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

Meet the Interns: Global Mamas Summer 2018

Each year in Ghana we welcome interns to our Cape Coast office to share their particular talents as they relate to the work we do.  We're always inspired by their creativity and passion, and in return hope to share with them some insight into the impact and intricacies of our organization! This year we've asked these lovely ladies that have just arrived to share a little about themselves, in addition to their favorite garment from the new 2018 collection. AKWAABA (welcome) to Ali, Abby, and Erika!

 

 

Meet Abby: Summer 2018 Marketing Intern

I’m Abby, a rising junior from the University of Notre Dame. At school, I’m majoring in Marketing and Economics, as well as pursuing a minor in Collaborative Innovation. Global Mamas’ fair trade business model is what first attracted me to their company, their mission of prosperity for every Mama making me fall in love. As the president of a women’s hall with a community of 270 women, empowerment of women is very important to me, and working toward achieving that goal is something I try to accomplish in everything I do. Recently, I’ve become very interested in ethical supply chains within the apparel industry. Informed consumerism and transparent business operations are two qualities I would like my future career to include. Having been in Cape Coast for a little over one week, I’ve seen these qualities in every aspect of Global Mamas and it’s something about the company for which my admiration has continued to grow.

 

For my new 2018 product pick I selected the Verona Dress in Fissure Black. While I am constantly fascinated by the elaborate patterns and colors that the Mamas batik, my personal style is more simple and minimalist. What I love most about this piece is that it’s almost oxymoronic: the colors are simple but the batik gives a new level of intricacy to a striped pattern that I’ve never seen before. One other thing I love is the cut of this dress-- I can’t resist a good fit and flare. I’m always on the hunt for simple and unique garments to spice up my wardrobe, and this piece makes the perfect prey.

 

 

Meet Erika: Summer 2018 Business/Finance Intern

I’m Erika, a rising junior majoring in Management and Finance in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. In lieu of spending a semester abroad, I was looking for an opportunity to spend my summer interning at a company whose mission matched my values. As a self-supporting student, I am grateful to experience the independence and additional freedoms that result from being employed and financially secure. Global Mamas provides women in their community the incredible gift of prosperity, which is far more valuable than a simple salary. Being a Mama equals care that extends above and beyond a paycheck and provides an avenue for these women to learn other useful skills such as financial management, bookkeeping, or wellness. My admiration for Global Mamas grows with every new Mama that I meet, whether at the office or on a site visit. Their intelligence, creativity, and craftsmanship never cease to amaze me!

 

 My favorite new Global Mamas product is the Coastal Skirt in Chroma Mustard. Whether I’m meeting friends to study together at a coffee shop or walk around the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, this skirt keeps my outfits cute and casual.          

   

 

Meet Ali: Summer 2018 Marketing Intern

Greetings from sunny Cape Coast! My name is Ali Mefford, and I am one of the Global Mamas summer interns. While I am originally from Edwardsville, Illinois I now spend most of my time in Bloomington, Indiana attending Indiana University. Now entering my junior year, I have set my sights on pursuing a major in marketing and a minor in fashion design. I first heard about Global Mamas in my freshman year of college through the Alternative Breaks Program(ABP) and Global Mamas became instantly appealing to me as it connected both my love of sustainable and fair-trade fashion with my desire to make a positive impact on this world. This past year when I discovered an internship program IU offers with Global Mamas I applied as soon as the application became available.  After undergoing a competitive interview process, I was selected to take be a part of this incredible opportunity and so far have been having the adventure of a lifetime!

For my new favorite product pick, I chose the Eli Dress in Fisheye Wine. I am a major sucker for all things that are either maroon or wine toned, so when I saw this dress it immediately became my favorite. Not only is the cut of this dress flattering on many body types, but it also pairs so well with many of our amazing accessories.  From adding a wine colored twist headband for a really matched look, to making a bold statement with a Manye stacking bracelet, there are endless options for styling this dress. 

Celebrating 15 Years of Exceptional Impact!

  

How it All Began

Fifteen years ago, back in 2003, eight Ghanaian and American women put their heads together to solve a problem.  The Ghanaian founders were talented seamstresses and batikers living on an erratic income from week to week, never knowing if there’d be enough orders to meet their families’ needs – often there was not. Inconsistent work made long term planning an impossibility and short term finances an ongoing worry. In the local market, their handcrafted goods were competing with a flood of cheap secondhand garments from the western world and mass produced printed textiles from Asia.

Handcrafting: In addition to providing sustainable income, sales of Global Mamas’ products support

handcrafted techniques in an increasingly mass-produced world.

 

Global Mamas was Born

 With the number one goal of providing sustainable livelihoods to women in Cape Coast, Global Mamas was born-- so named by the Mamas themselves. With a shared love and respect for one another, working within a fair trade framework was the obvious choice for our community. Over the years we’ve stayed true to our original mission of creating a life of prosperity for African women and their families by creating and selling handcrafted products of the highest quality.  Each year we’ve continued to push ourselves to find new ways to make our impact more meaningful through capacity building, health care education, and most recently with our transition to organic fabric. But at the end of the day, it is our never wavering commitment to providing steady, reliable income that brings peace of mind and creates thriving families and communities for craftswomen in Ghana.

 Natural growth: With consistent orders many Mamas take on apprentices to create opportunities and meet demand.

Here’s to Another 15 Years!

We’re proud of the work we do and appreciate your recognition of the effort required to maintain our high level of transparency and professional integrity. Our exceptional impact in Ghana would not be possible without the ongoing support of the individuals, retail partners, volunteers, and donors that partner with us in sharing the work of the Mamas. Throughout our 15th year we’re excited to share more stories of Mamas like Deborah to bring home the impact that YOU make possible.

 

Deborah with apprentices Ruth and Grace.

The future of Global Mamas, and the powerful future of Ghana! 

 

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!

 

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!

Converting Your Wardrobe: An Ethical Fashion Primer

Saeunn Gisladottir, Marketing Volunteer

Each year the Fashion Revolution grows and it’s exciting to see increasing numbers of consumers wanting to move away from fast fashion and begin making more conscious choices about where they spend their dollars. Like you perhaps, they’ve started looking into who made their clothes, and what their purchases are contributing to—one-sided profits for big business executives at the top of the supply chain, or a fair and steady income for the actual makers and their families.

Ethically you may be on board with the slow fashion model, but as you start looking for options you may find yourself coming up short. The expense may start feeling prohibitive, or you may feel your options are limited. 

After spending all week thinking about the Fashion Revolution we thought we’d share some tips we’ve found useful in transitioning our own shopping habits over time.

Start Small

Deciding you want to become more aware of your buying habits as a consumer doesn’t mean emptying out your closet and restocking it with ethically produced products. Wear what’s in your wardrobe, love what you have, then when you need to replace something, or purchase a piece for an event or special occasion, search the fair trade labels you know, check out the suggestions of your favorite bloggers (ideas below!) and see what you can come up with.

Other alternatives might be checking your local thrift stores, favorite vintage shop, or online secondhand retailers like ThredUp that place a huge variety of gently used garments at your fingertips. Buying used garments gives them an extended life before they end up in a landfill and may allow you to wear brands whose fit you enjoy but ethics you don’t want to support directly. As your collection shifts, eventually your fast fashion pieces will become redundant and be replaced by more ethically conscious pieces …but this doesn’t have to happen in a day!

 

Start small! Kickoff your commitment to an ethical wardrobe with your jewelry.

Rethink Your Strategy

In fast fashion when you’re looking at a garment and find yourself thinking “That price is just TOO good to be true!”…chances are, it IS too good to be true. Unfortunately, more often than not, someone further up the supply chain is feeling the financial impact of your savings. Making the shift from shopping rock bottom prices, to buying from ethical fashion labels that are ensuring a fair living wage to their producers means that the price tags you’re shopping will, inevitably, look a little different.

If you’re shopping on a budget, what this may mean is only buying pieces you really need and will use to their full extent. Buying a dress for a higher cost, but that you will wear more frequently than a cheaper option, will pay off in the long run.

In addition to helping your pocketbook, purchasing garments in smaller numbers also has a positive environmental impact. In her book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World,  Lucy Siegle suggests the thirty time rule: not buying anything unless you can imagine yourself wearing it thirty times. This certainly poses a challenge to society’s shopping norms and goes against all the advertising—but we know you can do it!

According to the Center for Textile Recycling the average US Citizen throws away 70lbs of textiles per year. Slow fashion has a positive humanitarian and environmental impact!

Find Your Pricepoint

As with any market, within the ethical shopping sphere there are brands with garments available for a range of price points. Price is impacted by how a business functions, the size of their style runs each season, the distance they’re shipping, import/export taxes, the materials they’re using, etc.…there are a vast number of unseen variables going into how they determine their retail price. With a growing number of socially conscious fashion businesses located around the world we truly believe you have financially accessible options—though it may take time to find them.

If there’s a brand you truly love but you can’t find anything in your price range, another option to consider is joining their mailing list to be alerted to special offers and upcoming sales. The producers have already been paid in full when fair trade items go on sale which means the artisans you’re trying to support aren’t being directly penalized by your savings.

  Before products ship from Ghana the Mamas have already been punctually paid in full for their work-- a business practice integral to the principles of fair trade.  

Where to Begin Searching

With an abundance of information on the internet, it can be hard to know where to start when looking for the right label to shop. One verification consumers can feel confident in is the World Fair Trade Organisation’s (WFTO) Guaranteed Product Label. This label is an internationally recognized status attained by WFTO members after an extensive external audit. With this label consumers know that Guaranteed Members like Global Mamas and People Tree are 100% fair trade and fully dedicated to a transparent and accountable supply chain.  

Other businesses are members of regional ethical trade organizations like the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) that focuses on North America. Although these members have not had in-country audits with their producers (as with the WFTO Guarantee), each year they reaffirm their dedication to the principles of fair trade and a board reviews their business practices. You can browse the FTF partner list here

Fashion Revolution and Ethical Consumer have also partnered up to publish a Fashion Transparency Index which ranks companies according to their level of transparency based on self-declared answers on a questionnaire and publicly available information about their supply chain. The index is a research and communication tool, not an auditing measure, and it surveys 100 of the biggest global fashion companies.

If you want to dig deeper in your search there are additional independent brand-ranking organizations such as KnowTheChain, Rank A Brand, and Project Just, where you can learn how the brands you already shop rank on different issues. Keeping in mind that no data is perfect it can be good to compare a few different rankings to get a more accurate picture.

Fashion Revolution's 2017 Transparency Index shares information about the supply chains of 100 popular brands. 

Bloggers Lead the Way

Rather than “reinventing the wheel”, another great resource are the wonderful fashion bloggers that specialize in ethical clothing. They can inspire you with creative outfits and tips on how and where they’ve gone about finding solutions that work with their lifestyle. Some great blogs to check out are listed here to get you started, including The Peahen and Sustainably Chic.

Shopping ethically will take a bit more time and work, it is nevertheless a decision you will not regret. Read more about the real individuals who made your clothes through resources like our “Meet the Mamas” page and we guarantee it will immediately validate  going the extra mile to curate your wardrobe.

 

Some useful sites for ethical shopping (though not always FTF or WFTO members):

The Good Trade- Online publication for ethical shoppers based in LA 

Better World Shopper- Providing environmental and social impact of a wide variety of businesses 

The Ethical Fashion Forum's Directory List

Dress Well Do Good - Brand suggestions from a pair of ethical bloggers