Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

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.

 

___________________________

 

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.

 

___________________________

 

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.

 

___________________________

 

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

 

___________________________

 

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.

 

___________________________

 

Great Growth in Krobo

By Rebecca Ritticello

Krobo’s Global Mamas – Photo by Desirae Early

Global Mamas has been operating in the Krobo area for more than five years. As with all new ventures, the bead operation started off relatively small while we learned the market and ensured that the products we exported met the high quality standards our customers expect from Global Mamas. In 2010, Global Mamas decided to move production of all of the beaded products in house. This was a great opportunity for the women because for the first time they became eligible for employer based health care and social security retirement.

 

When the decision was made to move the producers into the Global Mamas office, the office had two good size rooms and a nice covered porch. It more than met the needs of the seven women that we hired. It soon became apparent that we needed more Mamas to fulfill the orders that we were getting. The beaded products were becoming more popular and we could not keep up with the orders. The Krobo office started to hire more mamas and then we ran into a space problem. We needed a bigger office. In April 2011 a new office was identified and it is a perfect fit. The office is actually a large 3-bedroom house with a living room, kitchen, screened in porch, and garage for the grinding machine. The lease was signed on May 1st and the renovations began a few days later. On May 27, twenty-four mamas began their day working in their new office.

 

It is great to see the women happy to come to work in the morning, enjoying the comfortable working conditions and not having to worry about the weather. The new office gives Global Mamas room to grow and will allow us to hire more mamas as our order increase in the future.

 

___________________________

 

A "Small" History of Batik in West Africa

By Genny Cortinovis

Emma Myers, one of the founding producers of Global Mamas, proudly carries on long tradition of handcrafted batik in West Africa.

The story goes the Belanda Hitam, Malay for Black Dutchman, brought batik to West Africa in the mid-nineteenth century after serving as indentured soldiers for the Dutch in Indonesia. Returning home from 15-year conscriptions, legend says the men brought back trunks of fine Javanese batik, covered in opulent whisper-thin patterns that captured the imagination of their friends and relatives. It’s a very neat story, but unfortunately, as any scholar will tell you, textile history is one sticky wicket. Of the 3080 recruits from 1831-1872, only a handful returned to West Africa (many married Javanese women), and those that did make it back, usually returned empty-handed; the recruits were not paid until they reached their final port, which would have made souvenir shopping pretty difficult.

 

Batik is older than history, with traces even laced in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies. Most people think of Java when they hear batik, and indeed the word derives from several Malay words, but nations as diverse as Japan and Sri Lanka have had their own, sometimes isolated, traditions of the process. Batiks were as good as gold for much of history, and were enthusiastically traded among Asian neighbors as early as the seventh century. Europeans entered the mix much later, but they became the major pushers of "woven cargoes" from the seventeenth century on, and some colonial powers, most notably the Dutch (during their Golden Age), had a heavy hand in industrializing the technique.

 

Of course, this doesn’t quite explain how, or when, batik got to Africa. Dutch Scholar Ineke van Kessel suggests the fabrics came from India to West Africa by land, not sea, over the ancient trans-Saharan routes. Local populations like the Yoruba in Nigeria incorporated aspects of the wax printing into their tradition textiles, and little by little the trend caught on. When the Dutch and English began trolling the coast of West Africa in the seventeenth century, they brought their wax (wax batiks) and non-wax (roller prints) fabrics, targeting a local population already poised for their consumption. With time, they began tailoring their European-produced prints to refined African tastes, tweaking designs down to each region and port.

 

Batik, in its original handcrafted form, and its derivative roller print (often confusingly called real Dutch wax print) are ubiquitous and highly cherished across West Africa today. Prints range from abstract geometry to figurative images, and beyond. For many men and women, the patterns are a form of expression and even communication, announcing everything from their marital status and mood, to their political and religious beliefs. Up until the 1960s most wax prints were still produced in Europe, but in the post-colonial era, that all changed. Ghana boasts three of the finest wax print manufacturers in Africa: Woodin, GTP (sister of Real Holland Wax Print), and ATL (sister of ABC textiles in Manchester). Unfortunately, legal and illegal Chinese and Nigerian copies have flooded the markets of late, and many, especially GTP, have seriously suffered.

 

Global Mamas carries on the long tradition of handcrafted batik, and in many ways, our hybrid design philosophy is apropos to batik’s complicated history. Many of our volunteers bring ideas from home, and then collaborate with our local batikers to create a finished product. The resulting designs are timeless and multi-national, incorporating ideas and styles from Java all the way to Jersey.

 

___________________________