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!

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