Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

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.

 

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!

 

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!

Ancient Shea & Modern Moringa: a Winning Combination

Sophia Khan, Volunteer & Renae Adam, Co-Founder 

 

A classic: our vanilla body butter and on the right, ripening shea nuts.

 

Rumor has it that Cleopatra took jars of shea butter wherever she went to keep her skin in tip top condition and it’s certainly true that it’s long been used for as a beauty product for hundreds, if not thousands of years across the African continent as well as being an ingredient in many modern beauty products too.

 

We took it upon ourselves to investigate, on the ground in Ghana, the stories of shea butter passed down through generations and to find out the role of shea today.

 

Suzzy Korsah, quality control expert at our Cape Coast office and shea butter lover!

 

Shea Butter Use in Ghana

We start our research close to home by speaking with Mamas in the Global Mamas Cape Coast office where the majority of our batik apparel and accessories are produced. The Quality Control team told us that shea is known as ‘nkuto’ in the local language. Suzzy Korsah, senior QC staff member, says “Nkuto is powerful and is used for e v e r y t h i n g! In the olden days in the villages, shea butter was the only source of cream and it was used for everything from a skin moisturizer and hair pomade, to healing rashes and wounds. Women would take metal combs and put them in the fire, and dip in shea butter to comb through their hair. This would stretch their hair and make it soft, curly and beautiful.”

 

Rose Odoom, overseeing exports in the Global Mamas Accra office, reminisced, “We kept a large jar of shea butter in the house and everyone in my family used it twice a day after bathing to make our skin and hair very smooth and soft and protect from other sicknesses”. She said “the market sellers would get the shea butter from the North and my grandmother always knew how to pick the best quality shea butter by its fresh scent.”

Gladys Adimer, heading our Krobo office where all the Global Mamas beaded items are produced said that when she was a young girl, she learned the wonders of shea butter from her forefathers and foremothers. She exclaims, “It can heal so many things! When your arm or leg feels hot [swollen/inflamed], you use shea butter to massage and relax the muscle and then it feels normal.” She also remembers her elders “grinding some special leaves on a stone and mixing with shea butter to put on boils to make it break quickly and get the bad water out.”

Gladys adds, “Today if you go to hospital they advise you to use shea butter for your babies because it’s natural and other creams will give rashes”. Suzzy remarked, “I used shea butter on my son from when he was born.” She adds, “The real magic one is when your baby is suffering from a cold, you can put ‘small small’ shea under his nose and behind his ears so he can inhale it and it will help with his breathing and catarrh.” Gladys recalls her mother treating a baby’s cough by melting shea butter and giving a little to the baby for drinking or putting it on the forehead.” Suzzy also says that women having problems producing enough milk rub shea butter on their breasts to help stimulate milk production.

 

It is easy to see that this all-natural, affordable, “African gold” is still as popular as ever among young Ghanaian women, just as much as their mothers and great grandmothers. More recent scientific studies have more clearly defined other benefits of shea butter that our ancestors had the wisdom to uncover so many years ago. Such benefits include reducing the effects of aging, preventing stretch marks, healing scars, and having natural SPF.

 

All parts of the moringa, or "drumstick" tree have their uses. Moringa seeds reportedly have 7x more vitamin C than oranges, 4x the vitamin A in carrots, 4x the calcium in milk, and 3x the potassium in bananas! 

Moringa: An Introduction

Just when you thought our shea products couldn’t get any better we introduced antioxidant rich moringa into the mix! Emily Cunningham of True Moringa dives into the list of this miraculous plant’s many uses. She shares, “the moringa tree is native to India and was introduced to Ghana only a century ago. With the help of humanitarian groups such as the WHO and Peace Corps moringa trees have spread quickly. They’re a fantastic dietary supplement with leaves that contain more iron than spinach, more protein than eggs, and more vitamin A than carrots, gram for gram.” One method being used to spread the growth of this wonder-plant is by educating school-aged children and sending them home with moringa seedlings to plant and share with their parents. The hope is that the leaves of this “superfood” will start being included in their daily diet to provide added nutrition. 

 

Experience the benefits of our 100% Ghanaian shea/moringa collaboration with the Made in Ghana Gift Box (right). Available online through True Moringa.

More than a Nutritional Supplement

Beyond using moringa leaves as a food additive, there are double benefits for moringa farmers as there's a demand for the oil that can be extracted from the moringa pods. Similar to shea butter, moringa oil is packed full of nutrients and medicinal properties and is quickly finding it's place in the cosmetic industry.

Since moringa oil is a relatively new phenomenon we sought feedback from Valerie Gueye, a public health specialist in Ghana. She says, "When our family relocated to Ghana from Senegal nine years ago, friends frequently asked me to bring them moringa powder as a dietary supplement. Out of curiosity I purchased a bottle of the oil at a local organic market and found it to be a light, non-greasy moisturizer. It is now part of my normal routine." After living in the West African region for nearly 20 years she considers herself lucky to have easy access to all-natural products like shea butter and moringa oil.  

A Beautiful Partnership

Just last year in collaboration with natural beauty blog Beauty Lies Truth and our friends over at True Moringa, Global Mamas developed our limited edition line of Global Beauty Butter. This natural plant-based moisturizer features the skin soothing effects of fair trade shea butter, cold-compressed moringa oil, and lemongrass oil. These ingredients are all 100% Ghanaian sourced ingredients. More than 70% of the retail price of Global Beauty Butter sold goes to directly empower our Mamas and fair trade partners through wages, training, and other benefits. Even bigger social bang for your buck, the profits from Global Beauty Butter sales are put into the Shea Helps Empower (SHE) Fund.

Sales of Global Beauty Butter have funded the extension of electricity to the CMA Shea Butter Cooerpative processing center which now powers their grinding machine and provides security lighting.

 Early in 2017, the SHE Fund released the first round of funding for the most pressing project identified by the skilled shea producers of the CMA Shea Butter Cooperative to improve the safety and efficiency of their cooperative’s production center. They used the funds to extend electricity to their building which they are now using to power their grinding machine and provide security lighting. The women have already determined their next SHE Fund project – repairing the foundation and roof of the shea production center and to date we’re 26% of the way there. You can treat yourself to the natural wonder of Global Beauty Butter and support this project at either Global Mamas or TrueMoringa.

Sustainable Impact with Ethical Fashion

Sophia Khan, Marketing Volunteer

Sometimes it feels overwhelming to make a difference as an individual in the face of large corporations and fast fashion advertising. However, the good news is that even seemingly small actions like choosing one brand over another can be significant. While in the grand scheme of things caring about clothes and fashion may seem superficial, voting for what you believe in with your consumer dollars can certainly make an impact.

We see evidence of this as Fashion Revolution enters its third year commemorating the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, and the conversation around the true cost of fast fashion gains momentum.  The annual #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign encourages consumers to ask for greater transparency in the supply chains of clothing brands, and to seek out sustainable options that align with their values.

Learn more about Fashion Revolution and their Transparency Index here.

At Global Mamas we strive for complete transparency in how we produce each item in our catalog. For the last 14 years, not only have we been able to tell you who stitched your clothes or assembled your jewelry, but we can also tell you who printed your fabric, made your beads, and checked the finished product in quality control.

We take pride in making the human connection between producers in Ghana and customers around the world. Having the global community recognize the importance of working in this way—with respect for producers and consideration of environmental impact -- is what Fashion Revolution is all about. 

Theresa Tawiah (left) is on the team that makes your jewelry in Krobo. Suzzy, "Quality Control Champion," reviews batik swatches with batiker, Aggie. 

So, let’s get back to how you can make an impact on today’s fashion industry…PURCHASING POWER! If collectively, we are choosing to spend our dollars with ethical brands, the industry at large will have to change to keep customer loyalty. To influence big brands the change might be gradual, but for small brands like Global Mamas, your impact on our sustainability is acutely felt. This Fashion Revolution week, as you wear our batiks and share the stories of the Mamas, we wanted to give you some concrete numbers to show the influence of your purchases in 2016:

•      300+ Mamas were directly supported in communities across Ghana.

•      Although 85% of the Mamas have only a high school education, they made on average 3x the minimum wage.

•      100% of the Mamas’ school aged children attended school—237 kids!

•      Mamas sent an additional 117 kids (that were not their own) to school.

•      46% of producers were able to save for the future after covering daily expenses.

Martha Rhule supports her nieces Katrina and Lucy as they study Accounting and Business at Cape Coast’s Polytechnic School, in addition to contributing to the education of their 2 brothers.

After 3 years of saving her wages from working with Global Mamas, in combination with her husband’s income as a truck drive, Vida Donkoh was able to build her own home. Now that she no longer pays monthly rent she puts any extra money in the bank to go towards her children's education.  

While these are just a few examples, each Mama has a story about how this work has changed her life. As their children are able to progress through school, the impact of fair trade on the future of these families and communities in Ghana is undeniable. And that comes back around to you! Your support, your spending, your dollars.

With such an amazing community of ethical fashion producers growing up across the world, in Ghana and beyond, there has never been a better time to know who made your clothes while staying in style. This Fashion Revolution week we support and encourage you to continue making change by initiating the conversation, “Who made your clothes?”