Prosperity Update

News and stories from Global Mamas

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.




New Products Changing Lives: Ampiah-Ajumako Business

By Heather Boyd

Two Ajumako producers modeling their braided necklace samples

The economy of Ajumako is mainly agricultural and before Global Mamas many of the women were employed through that sector and were not making a steady income. The Ampiah-Ajumako Business Center opened in January 2008 with 3 workers and has now grown to employ 11 women. The women of Ajumako create items out of Global Mamas’ scraps by weaving left over pieces of fabric, allowing Global Mamas to recycle scraps while making exciting and colorful products.


After successfully producing the Woven Trivets for two years, the women of Ajumako were looking for a new challenge. Jordan Croft and Sarah List, design interns, traveled to Ajumako over the summer of 2010 with new product ideas for 2011 in-tow. They trained the women on new items such as braided necklaces and accessories, as well as woven dog leashes. Jordan reported that "the women got really excited about the new products and their eyes lit up". After the women were taught how to make the products they became silent, concentrating on taking their time and perfecting their technique. The silence was only broken by the women taking turns singing. Once the women understood the construction of the necklace they took initiative and expanded the design into bracelets and earrings. The women of Ajumako are industrious and were exciting focused on the new product designs.


When the women of Ajumako dream for their future, they envision continuing to work with Global Mamas. Cecilia stated that she wants to continue to work with GM "to do something for my future". Sarah wants to keep working so that she will "make enough money to complete my building, take care of my children, and add machines [to the business]". For their community, the majority of the women pray for a hospital; Florence hopes that one day there will be a medical facility, so they do not have to send for someone to come to the village.


The women of Ampiah-Ajumako are very thankful to the customers who purchase from Global Mamas and acknowledge that without customers they would not be able to sell their products nor provide for themselves and their families. But, they also laugh and request "more work!" Esi-Joyce stated that "you [the customer] have done well!" Selina also mentioned that "I am now able to take care of my children, thank you".


Since the opening of the center the women have come a long way and at Global Mamas, we hope that these new products will act as a stepping stone for the women in achieving their dreams for themselves and their community.




The Evolution of Bead making in West Africa

By Elizabeth Murphy

The Evolution of Bead making in West Africa

Bead making is an industry that has long been a part of the West African culture. In the ancient times, beads served a myriad of functions: some were used as a form of currency for goods between tribes, whereas others adorned chiefs and their wives to indicate their wealth and status. Even today, beads hold significance as they are not only a form of artistic expression, but they represent defining life moments, such as birth, marriage, and death. Although the specific history of bead making in Africa has been difficult to trace, archaeologists have discovered that beads in West Africa were derived from different materials, primarily stone, glass, clay, and metal. Moreover, the methods and material used to create beads varied among the many regions.


For generations, the techniques employed in the bead making process have been passed down. Oftentimes, whole villages were involved in the general production of beads. From grinding glass, to washing and stringing the finished beads, to selling them to the market, the community was a part of the industry. The Krobo and Ashanti people have long been responsible for crafting beautiful, vibrant glass beads. Today, beads from this region can be identified by distinctive attributes as being one of four main styles: clear/translucent beads, powdered glass beads, painted glass beads, and seed beads.


Making glass beads is no easy process. Despite the fact that different tactics are employed for each type of bead (powdered glass, seed bead, etc.) the initial steps are the same. To begin, a bead maker begins the process by creating the mould, which determines the shape of the bead. To create the mould, the bead maker first pounds the clay with a mortar and pestle until it is pliable. The clay is then rolled into cylindrical shapes where it is then divided into smaller sections, depending on the type of mould being made. Once the clay roll has been made, it is ready to be formed into a mould by taking the slab of clay and patting it flat with a paddle until it is 1 ¼ inches thick. A wooden peg is pressed into the wet clay to form depressions and is left to dry at room temperature for 3-4 days. The Moulds are then sun dried for another 3-4 days and coated in kaolin to prevent the molten glass from sticking to the mould during firing. Finally, the mould is placed in a preheated oven to dry. Next, the bead maker uses the Kiln, used to fire the mould and creating the desired bead. The moulds are inserted into the one opening in the front of the dome shaped kiln. The next steps are contingent on the types of beads that are made.


Today, the Krobo region is still well known for the manufacture of glass beads. In fact, Global Mamas jewelry is made in the small town of Odumase-Krobo, located in Eastern Ghana. They employ many Krobo local bead makers who have inherited their skills from past generations. The popularity of these beads and jewelry products in foreign markets speaks to the timeless West African traditions and it is certain that bead making will remain an important industry in the future.




The Start of Shea Butter: Testing a New Territory

By Elizabeth Murphy

Members of the Christian Mother's Association processing shea butter in Northern Ghana.

When it comes to personal care, women want what is best. Every year the United States spends over 8 billon dollars on women's cosmetics and the figure continues to grow each year. This massive consumption speaks to the universal desire of women to take care of their skin and body. Consumers are beginning to understand the importance of using natural products, as it is healthier for the body. Global Mamas, recognizing the need for authentic, organic personal care products, saw an opportunity and chose to explore this new territory.


Northern Ghana is rich in both resources and opportunities. Women-based shea nut cooperatives are common in this region due to the abundant wild karite trees, which are the critical component to shea butter production. Many Africans refer to shea butter as “liquid gold”. In addition to containing antioxidants, vitamin E and minerals that work to moisturize and restore the natural beauty of skin, the shea butter also holds natural UV protection and reduces the appearance of wrinkles and stretch marks.


Poverty and market fluctuations, however, had been preventing these women from taking part in the actual transactions. These women tended to be among the poorest in the world. Global Mama's identified the state of the economy and decided to implement a poverty reduction strategy to overhaul the situation. The organization planned to assert itself as a quality producer of shea butter products while simultaneously helping to improve the livelihood of the women.


Global Mamas formed advantageous partnerships with Naasakle Ltd and the West African Trade Hub. Both would provide direct access to export markets in North America for women's cooperatives in the Northern Region of Ghana, while also helping to manage the training in production, quality control, and marketing initiatives. Global Mamas hopes that once the business model has been successfully replicated, the Global Mamas Shea Butter Export Program will be expanded to other shea butter producers in West Africa. In the meantime, over 500 women's lives have been positively impacted by the presence of Global Mamas in the Northern Region.


Global Mamas Slippery Slope Shea Butter is offered in several scents such as tropical, lavender and vanilla. Global Mamas Dandy Lion Black Soap is made with shea butter and cocoa pod ashes that give it a natural cleansing power, universally beneficial for all skin types. The line of shea soap, called Global Mamas Trunk Scrub, is also made without chemicals, preservatives, or color additives to uphold the tenet of producing quality products in a sustainable way. Global Mamas is excited about its new skin care line and is working hard to create superior shea butter products while bettering the lives of the women.




From the North Pole to the Equator – A long awaited trip to Global Mamas

By Leah Brickhouse

From the North Pole to the Equator – A long awaited trip to Global Mamas

Sweden sent us off to Africa with one of the coldest days in Gothenborg, -10C. Ghana welcomed us with open arms, to a balmy evening of 29C. That is how the adventure started for us - Tomas, the Fair Trade Educator / Photographer, and I, the Fair Trade Agent for Global Mamas in the "north pole", aka Scandinavia.


My first encounter with Global Mamas was at a Christmas market in Washington, D.C. four years ago. I fell in love with the colorful batiks, the women´s stories, and the mission of Global Mamas. After moving to Sweden, I started Sol Sisters - a socially responsible business focusing on fair trade, organic, and locally made products. Of course, when I moved to Scandinavia I brought Global Mamas with me and started promoting and selling their products. So, after a few years of involvement with Global Mamas, I thought it was time to travel and meet everyone in Ghana.


The fair trade movement has picked up a lot of momentum over the past two years of living here in Sweden. You can find fair trade products in all grocery stores and there is strong consumer push for more fair trade clothing in other stores. Tomas´ job is to educate people on what "Fair Trade" is, what it means for the producers, and why it is important to purchase fair trade products. He travels around Sweden presenting fair trade concepts at schools, unions, work places, and clubs. While he focuses on FLO (Fair Trade Labeling Organization) products, his interest in coming to Ghana was to gain experience with fair trade producers and organizations involved with fair trade around the world.


Our reception in Ghana was wonderful! The people were very warm and friendly. The weather was perfect - hot and sunny. Just what we needed after coming from the dark, cold winter of Sweden. I loved the fact that there where free range animals in the cities - sheep, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, pigs and more. Now, I know what happened to the chicken that crossed the road, she ended up in my dinner. The food was fresh and locally produced. One morning in the Volta region, near the waterfalls at Wli, we had a breakfast of fresh pineapple and bananas from the garden, and organic coffee from the village at the top of the waterfalls. The access to fresh, locally produced foods in Ghana was a lot easier and cheaper, than in Sweden.


The majority of the population tavels by shared public transportation in the form of buses, cars, shared taxis, tro tros (converted trucks and buses), bush taxi´s, shared motorcycles, and shared bicycles. We often had to wait for a bus, taxi, or tro tro to fill up before it would leave. There were often no set departure schedules and time was never an issue. You just seemed to get to where you were headed "on time". Travel appeared to be stress-free with little or no need to arrive at a specific time - life just seemed to work out as it was supposed to.


During our 15 days in Ghana we traveled to Accra, Cape Coast, Elmina, Edumafa, Mankassem, Krobo, Hohoe, Wli, Ho, and the famous Akosombo Dam. We interviewed many of the members of the network in Cape Coast, Krobo and Accra, and we were lucky to see the birth of a new production site in Edumafa. My first time entering the Global Mamas office, meeting with the staff and eventually the members of the cooperative, was an emotional experience. I was moved to tears of joy and relief, at finally being able to meet the real people I had been in contact with, and about whom I had read stories and sold their products over the past few years. The pictures and voices were now alive, and these individuals have inspired me even more.





First Anniversary of Accra Store

By Maki Kawamoto

Maki Kawamoto (JICA Volunteer) with Fafali Tamakloe (Sales Representative) in the colorful Global Mamas store located behind Koala in Osu, Accra, Ghana.

On August 1, 2008 Global Mamas launched a new store in the touristic Osu area of Accra. One year later we are very excited to share our great success with you.


From the very beginning, when the volunteers Matthew Sturm and Megan Collins spent over 12 hours a day designing and setting up the store, it has been meticulously developed. Maki Kawamoto, our JICA volunteer who currently manages it, has streamlined the ordering and inventory processes and is continuously analyzing sales and rearranging products and racks as well as ensuring that the store is supplied with a wide variety of products to meet all tastes.


Store customers range from tourists walking in the area, who, after passing by the store get captivated by the huge variety of our colorful products, to expatriate mothers running into each other at the store before attending their kids' friend's birthday parties. Volunteers from international organizations also stop by the store to buy presents for their relatives. "Our customers love the unique designs and bright colors of our products" says Rosemary, who was recently promoted to Store Manager; "many tell us they are able to point out a Global Mamas print when they see it out on the street."


The store has also become our 'fashion laboratory', where we are able to test and perfect new samples through our customers' feedback, analyze the potential of new styles through sales, and then launch a new product line containing only the best sellers. Something as simple as a comment from a customer can improve the lives of many women in the program.


We are also very pleased by the amazing welcome our slightly rejected products (those that did not meet standards for export) have received among our store customers. According to one of our customers "the quality of Global Mamas products is so high that in most cases the difference is not noticeable." Since all proceeds go directly to the women who produce the products as well as the non-profit programs that assist the women with business development, it has been wonderful to have the opportunity to sell these products locally and at least earn back the investment made to produce the flawed products.


The steady growth of the store sales in this past year has translated in the creation of jobs and increased the income and standard of living for many women and their families in Africa; to all of you, THANK YOU!




Global Mamas Launches a Pet Line!

By Global Mamas

Your dog can support fair trade too!

2010 is around the corner and Global Mamas has exciting news to share. Global Mamas is expanding its line of products to include our four legged friends! Global Mamas will be launching a wonderful fair trade line of pet products in 2010. These playful products will include bright batik dog backpacks and dog bandanas, all-natural Sudsy Mutt Shea Butter Shampoo Bar and recycled water-sachet-lined feeding mats. We are actively seeking new retail partners who will be a good fit for these products and hoping to showcase this product expansion in pet-friendly media. The focus is to expand Global Mamas and create more job opportunities for existing and future Global Mamas. These efforts will also allow Global Mamas to reach an entirely new customer base and include our four-legged friends in the fight to end poverty.