Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

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!

 

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?”

 

Prosperity Means Improving our Health

Eryn Greaney, Peace Corps Volunteer

Part of being a fair trade organization is ongoing dialogue with the Mamas about how they’re doing, not only in their work lives, but in their personal lives, too. In 2013, we heard from Mamas that they wanted support for living healthier lifestyles. Since then, Global Mamas has been working to support the Mamas’ health. We’ve provided training on avoiding ebola and cholera, hosted a yoga instructor to introduce the Mamas to yoga, and introduced a health education program.

I’m a Peace Corps volunteer helping Global Mamas meet the “health” part of its mission to provide prosperity through financial well-being, health, and happiness. I’ve been working with managers at our sites throughout Ghana to bring the Mamas healthy living programming.

Reproductive Health

Reproductive health is essential to family planning and women’s health, but reliable information and services can be difficult to access in Ghana. We’ve partnered with established NGOs to bring accurate information to Mamas and answer their questions.

At our Ashaiman, Cape Coast and Krobo sites, we’ve completed reproductive health programs guided by Marie Stopes International, a global NGO providing services to women around the world. Some Mamas have chosen to begin family planning methods, which is available free of charge.

Pregnancy

Family is important in Ghana and pregnancy is an exciting, celebratory time for many Mamas. Because it is sometimes difficult to access health care, it can also be a confusing time. We hold regular discussions on pregnancy to help Mamas know what to expect throughout their pregnancies and how to keep themselves and their developing baby healthy.

Exercise

Exercise in Ghana usually comes in the form of walking and hard work. However, stretching is something that benefits everyone, especially Mamas who are involved in the physically demanding tasks of sewing, batiking, beadmaking and assembling beaded products. I created a fun 10 minute workout video for the Mamas in Krobo. I’m no Jillian Michaels, but the women seem to love it!

 

 

 Hygiene

Another challenging aspect of women’s health is feminine hygiene. Menstrual products are often too expensive for many women in Ghana to afford, so many women use rags or other materials. We invited Days for Girls, an NGO that provides reusable cloth pad kits to women worldwide who struggle to access these products. In Krobo, 60 Mamas and their friends and family members received kits and we want to bring Days for Girls to Ashaiman and Cape Coast as well. We also celebrated Global Handwashing Day on October 15 with hand washing activities and discussions.  

 

Global Mamas Design Process

Alice Grau, creative director

Global Mamas is dedicated to delivering fair trade, handmade, and stylish clothing, accessories, and home décor. In addition to the Mamas who produce our products, our talented design team plays an integral role in bringing you the products you love. Unlike large fashion brands that have teams for every step of the design process, Global Mamas has just three permanent designers. Designers Nick and Laura work in Cape Coast, while I work in the United States. Together, we create Global Mamas products from start to finish!

The design process begins with trend research in February and March. We do extensive research on competitors, trend-forward brands, and even runway fashions to gain inspiration for the following year’s line. Our new product lines are launched each year to retail partners in February and to retail consumers in March, meaning that we are constantly moving throughout the design process, starting to research the next line as the previous line is launched.

We start by formulating ideas for new products we want to introduce, as well as new colors and batik patterns. Drawing on our research of what colors will be popular that year, we create an ideal color palette and begin working with batikers. One of the unique challenges of working with batiked cloth is that all color combinations are not achievable. Batiking is based on the layering of dye colors, meaning that some color combinations, like pink and green, would wash each other out. Working with the batikers, we test our ideal color palette and then create a practical color palette from the color combinations that can be achieved through batiking.

Starting in May, summer volunteers and interns arrive in Ghana to help the design team develop new patterns and products. We sketch our product ideas and review them as a team, discussing sales results from the previous year. Our three major elements at this time of development are color, pattern, and style. Examining our trend research, we decide how to combine these three elements to create the most exciting products.

Once we decide on certain patterns, styles, and colors, usually sometime in August, the sampling process for apparel begins in Cape Coast, lasting until October. Nick and Laura work with the batikers to create samples of all possible colors and patterns and then with the seamstresses to match these colors and patterns to different product styles. Our design team also develops our beaded products in a similar fashion. We create new product ideas based on trend research conducted by design interns, and then carry out the sampling process with our Krobo team. In beaded product sampling, we focus on trying new colors and adjusting bead layouts until we reach our favorite designs.

 At the end of September, I work with Kristin, co-founder of Global Mamas and the wholesale manager, to review the products we’ve created, selecting two to four batik patterns for each product style. We also create a product line, making sure that not only each individual product looks great, but that the line as a whole is cohesive. We liken this process to playing with paper dolls, moving products around until they look their best!

When the final products are chosen, we start working on our wholesale catalog. Nick photographs the final samples and makes them catalog ready with the help of a Ghanaian graphic designer. Laura works on making sure that the fit of each product is correct and works with Joyce, Cape Coast Inventory Manager, to compile logistical information for each product, such as the required materials, the time required to make a product, and the cost of materials. When all this is finalized in January, the Mamas finally start producing that year’s products!

Melanie Popowich: Love. In Human Form.

By The Global Mamas Family

Melanie Popowich - We miss you...
This January, the Global Mamas family lost a piece of our heart with the passing of our most treasured and loved “small girl,” Melanie Popowich.

Mel was the heart and soul of Global Mamas; our friend, mother, nurse, lifeguard, storyteller and colleague. She found beauty in the everyday and the inspiration in everything. Mel brought gravity to those around her. She shared her humor, love and compassion with everything and everyone. She exuded a boundless love and light that stretched to every corner of the globe.

Since Melanie’s passing, her friends and family have donated over $10,000 dollars to Global Mamas in honor of her dream to create the Fair Trade Zone - a textile production center. We are astoundingly grateful for their contributions and the privilege of having Melanie touch our lives.

Melanie’s spirit will forever feed our dreams for Global Mamas into the future.

 

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A Year in Reflection: Thank You

By Anna Rose Ott


Thank you. Yes, you… you’re the one we want to thank. This year, we watched you share Global Mamas’ hopes and dreams with your friends, co-workers and families. We talk about you often in our circles and have we have decided that you are the best customers in the business. In 2012, with your ever-present support and patience, Global Mamas transformed into something more than we had ever imaged. In 2012….

1. Global Mamas was the 2012 McGuffin Grant Recipient. McGuffin’s talented staff collaborated to create a great promotional campaign, Be The One, to recruit college interns and volunteers. They also re-imaged our website (yes, we were very ready) that will launch in 2013!

2. Moved Prampram production site to Ashaiman! It was a major transition for everyone involved made possible by a grant from the Embassy of France in Ghana.

3. Wisdom Tamakloe was internally promoted (yet again) to General Manager of our Cape Coasts production site. Wisdom joined GM as a Quality Control employee in 2007 and has been climbing the GM ranks ever since.

4. Developed and launched a new Internal Production Management System. Our new database, now tracks all of our raw materials, orders, payments etc. in one place! It was a major undertaking and complete transform from our old system. The new system is working magic across all production sites!

5. We welcomed our first Global Mamas Volunteer Baby, Michitake Stonewall Elliot. Jeb Elliot (West Point Academy) and Emi Yoshidomi-Elliot (JICA) met while volunteering together in Ghana in 2008. Four years, later they are happily married with a lovely baby boy. A Global Mamas love story!

In 2013, lets continue to look towards the future and envision what it could be like to live in a world, the way we dream it to be.

 

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From Retail to the Source

By Sofia Kim (Volunteer, United States) and Katie Modley (Intern, United States)

From Retail to the Source

Many people would not typically think about who made a product or where it came from upon purchasing an item. Nor would they trace the product to its source. A volunteer, Katie Modley, had the unique opportunity to meet the Global Mamas that made the products that she wears and sells.

 

She first encountered Global Mamas products at a store called Latitudes Fair Trade Store, in Old Towne Warrenton (Virginia). Katie was a volunteer at this store and was tasked with taking inventory of incoming shipments. She noticed that all of the Global Mamas products were labeled with names – the names of the Mamas that carefully handmade the product.

 

Katie never thought she would end up interning in Ghana where the Global Mamas reside. She was based out of the Cape Coast location and spent her time with the Quality Control employees. Her main task was writing the names of the batikers and seamstresses on the tags, the same names she encountered at the Latitudes Fair Trade Store. One day, one of the seamstresses, Julie walked into the office, the same name Katie wrote on products. Julie was no longer just a name but the woman behind many products sold in Ghana and in the United States.

 

After a whirlwind of meeting several Global Mamas, attending a batik workshop and seeing the rigorous standards of quality control; the concept of Fair Trade has become personal for Katie. Fair Trade is not just supporting women entrepreneurs or buying unique products with a distinctly Ghanaian flair; it now has a face or many faces. Interning for Global Mamas has allowed Katie to realize that Latitudes is more than just retail store; it is part of a global community.

 

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Product Conception to Fruition

By Sarah Parish (Volunteer, United Kingdom)

Product Conception to Fruition

The Global Mamas slogan 'Love Your Product, Know Your Producer, Change Her Life' is firmly embodied in every sketch, stamp, and stitch from the initial design idea to the finished product. Every completed order showcases the skills of the designers, batikers and seamstresses who make up the close-knit team here at Global Mamas, but it is not a process undertaken lightly nor without a flurry of creativity and precision.

 

Earlier in the year, a group of visiting interns from America took on the task of identifying the brand’s most popular styles, Colors and patterns based on current sales data. Combining this information with an instinctive insight into upcoming trends, staff designers Jessica Galasso (Ghana) and Alice Grau (US) worked tirelessly alongside interns and volunteers brainstorming what will become the ‘must have’ items of the 2012 Global Mamas catalog. The interns and designers identified ‘Pyramid’ with its crisp lines and sharp angular edges as a potential customer favourite. The interns also suggested moving away from monochromatic color contrasts and instead embraced the idea of using vibrant colors together. As a result we are particularly excited to see the reaction to ‘Cityscape’ a popular print from last year, designed by intern turned employee Nick Ruffalo (US), appearing with a striking new ‘Mustard’ colorway.

 

After sales research and trending predictions are complete, a rigorous process of sampling old favorites and new batik patterns, with classic and fresh product designs is carried out making sure only the best styles make it to our valued customer. Of course, these products cannot make it to the retail floor without establishing costing and pricing. Global Mamas takes great pride in our Fair Trade status, so Cape Coast General Manager Melanie Popowich sits down with all of the Mamas to negotiate a fair price for their work, from the cost of thread per item to the level of sewing expertise required to create a flawless end result.

 

With all of the nitty-gritty details ironed out, it is time to start producing the first US order. An on-going stream of orders means the office is always alive with the hustle and bustle of activity. Endless yards of white fabric that represent the potential for creativity, and on a more serious note a livelihood for the Mamas, are carried off to be transformed from an idea generated months prior to merchandise ready to be used and loved by its owner.

 

The first stage of production is batiking, where the fabric is hand stamped and dyed with meticulous care and attention, which is what makes a Global Mamas product so special. Visitors can experience this process for themselves at one of our batiking workshops and it is always noted afterwards that the accuracy and detail necessary in both stamping and dyeing is much harder to master than it looks! At Global Mamas we are not satisfied with anything but the highest quality items, and it is the responsibility of the enthusiastic and thorough quality checkers working in house to stringently check each and every dyed fabric for color and pattern consistency before it reaches the seamstresses.

 

While it is a huge relief when the batiked fabric matches the sample, fabric that does not meet our high standards is not wasted, rather transformed from its original purpose into something equally impressive. Some fabric is used to make off the rack products to be sold in our flagship store in Accra, where demand is increasing at an exciting pace; or the fabric could be found in the lining of a bag; or cut into squares to make an explosion of color on

 

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Global Mamas Gives Back during Kotokraba Market Clean Up Day

By Melanie Popowich

Global Mamas Gives Back during Kotokraba Market Clean Up Day

More than 60 Global Mamas, volunteers and staff members came together to donate their time cleaning up Cape Coast’s bustling Kotokraba Market on Saturday, June 25, 2011. The group met in the wee hours of the morning to sweep in and around the market in order to create a clean and safe environment for market vendors and patrons. Part of Global Mamas’ commitment to fair trade is providing healthy work environments for its workers and encouraging environmental sustainability.

 

Our Mamas rely on the Kotokraba Market for their basic supplies (everything from thread and pins to dye and cleaning supplies), which is why the Mamas and volunteers decided to spend their time sprucing it up and giving back to their community. The initiative surprised market vendors and patrons, they were taken back and appreciative.

 

The Mamas took extra care cleaning the areas outside of their most beloved vendors shops. "Maggie is a god-send," said Mama and seamstress Alice Korsha outside a small shop that sells a variety of sewing supplies. "Anytime we need something she will go as far as Accra to get it for us, she’s always supporting our businesses."

 

More than 20 volunteers from around the globe joined the cleaning crew. Gretchen Sunko from the USA is volunteering with Global Mamas for four months and was honored to be a part of the special day, "I love working side by side all of these hard working women. I can’t believe what a difference we’ve made in such a small time, the streets look unbelievably clean!"

 

A special thank-you to volunteers from Holy Child School, Zoom Lion and CCMA for supporting the event.

 

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