By Kristen Gallagher
The first success was finding a manufacturer in Ghana to supply the calico, the 100% woven cotton fabric used to produce Global Mamas clothing and accessories. In the past, Global Mamas only bought small quantities of calico from various factories in Ghana, but as demand for products continues to increase, Global Mamas needed to find a local textile factory that would produce the calico in larger quantities instead of providing it as an "overrun" of their other wax print textiles. The challenge was to find a textile factory that would be a reliable source of high quality calico and to ensure the factory manufactured the textile according to fair trade principals.
There appeared to be hope when Global Mamas thought it had found a great supplier. But unfortunately, the factory did not follow through on its commitments and Global Mamas was in serious need of fabric. Finally, in the early months of 2007, Global Mamas had its first successful order of a large supply of calico from GTP (Ghana Textile Print), which now produces the material in generous amounts for Global Mamas. "GTP and Global Mamas have a great relationship and I hope it continues in the future," says Renae Adam, Executive Director of Global Mamas. "Finding a local, reliable manufacturer is good for us and good for Ghana as we can fuel Ghana's textile industry. We can also support other African producers as the cotton used for the calico in primarily grown and processed in West Africa."
While the search for a local woven cotton producer was like a wild goose chase, trying to find a local supplier for Global Mamas' jersey fabric wasn't much easier. After making attempts to manufacture t-shirt items with a local Ghanaian factory, the deal fell through, along with a hefty deposit made for fabric purchase. The efforts to locate other reliable and ethical manufacturers in Ghana didn't present any results.
Things took a positive turn when Adam made a crucial connection at a conference put on by the West Africa Trade Hub. She befriended the directors of Cool Ideas, the South African agents for Edun (the socially responsible clothing company created by Ali Hewson and Bono). Global Mamas received multiple samples from South African jersey cotton manufacturers and selected Prestige Clothing out of Durban to produce Global Mamas line of jersey cotton garments. Global Mamas is happy to support Africa's growing economies by sourcing its raw materials in South Africa and also still being able to take advantage of duty-free exporting of this apparel to the USA under AGOA (African Growth and Opportunities Act).
The future looks great for Global Mamas in terms of continued growth and improvement. By Fall of 2007, Global Mamas expects to have its own private labeling done on the jersey cotton apparel from South Africa. Organic products are also on the lookout for the company's possible changes. "We would love to be able to afford to produce our clothing using organic materials sourced from African manufacturers," says Adam. "As we continue to grow, I think it will become an option for Global Mamas."
By Women in Progress
Women in Progress held their annual roundtable discussion on January 24, 2006. All 24 women business owners in the Global Mamas cooperative, in addition to WIP's staff and both founders, were present.
The meeting began with praise for all of the women and a complete rundown of all of WIP's successes in 2005. WIP currently helps 24 businesses with exporting fair trade products to the US, which increases wages for nearly 120 women and girls (including their employees and apprentices). Everyone was thrilled to hear that 2005 had seen US$125,000 in sales, of which US$50,000 was paid directly to the women in labor costs. In addition, two of WIP's main retailers include the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the San Diego Zoo in California, the most prominent zoo in the United States.
The forum also provided the opportunity to openly discuss any concerns and also to review the past year and draw attention to any products or processes that could be improved. While WIP currently pays 40% of its profits directly to the women in the Global Mamas cooperative, the directors introduced the topic of quality-based incentive compensation in order to hear the women's opinions on how to improve overall product quality. Both founders, Renae Adam and Kristin Johnson, truly take pride in open communication policy of the organization and encourage the women to have a voice in all matters. The women also discussed the strengths and weaknesses of WIP's current operations. Batikers are now better able to prepare the fabric for the seamstresses so that product development can run more efficiently as a whole. To further improve operations, the women will begin meeting monthly to discuss solutions to quality problems. This will create an environment of cooperation where the women can draw from one another's expertise.
By Therese Edwards & Susan Kimber
At long last, our dreams of a second Global Mamas location were realized with the opening of our operations in Krobo in August 2006. Thanks to the hard work and diligence of many of our volunteers and Mandy Sage - who heads the Krobo location - we are now able to offer our international trade program and services to the talented bead workers of Krobo.
Bead making is one of the primary livelihoods in the Somanya/Odumase area of Ghana's Eastern Region. This industry has existed in the local economy for centuries and is still a primary source of income for many families. The technique used to make glass beads in hand made clay molds has been used in Ghana since at least the early 18th century, although today many bead makers have adapted their technique to use recycled glass. Krobo beads are widely known for their vibrant colors and high level of craftsmanship, but export opportunities for small producers, especially women, are extremely limited.
Most of the bead making businesses are small and family owned with the workshop located on the family compound. In many of the businesses, women play a major role in the bead production carrying out tasks from heating/forming the glass to designing/painting. Women also take the lead in doing the majority of the sale/marketing of the beads. These small bead-making businesses find themselves in a cycle of dependence on larger bead wholesalers. These wholesalers buy the beads from the producers in the house at low rates and then sell the beads to customers at higher rates, acquiring most of the profits. It is difficult for the small bead producers to break out of this cycle of dependency since they do not have the capital to produce larger quantities of beads or travel to larger markets to sell to the end customers at higher prices. The small-scale bead makers need a way to join forces with other producers to increase production capacity as a group, learn how to design and produce finished products, seek larger export customers and receive fair wages for beads produced.
By replicating the Global Mamas Co-operative model to the Eastern Region, WIP will be able to bring its services to an underserved community. By helping local bead makers and handicraft producers to expand their businesses and gain access to the global marketplace, WIP's programs create growth not only for the businesses in the Co-operative, but also for the community as a whole.
If successful with this expansion, WIP will be able to franchise our program to other communities so that they can model their operations after the successes in Cape Coast and Krobo.
By Kristen Gallagher
The power of the Internet, once again, has served Global Mamas well in communicating its mission. Tabeisa, and UK-based not-for-profit consortium, discovered Global Mamas online and was so impressed with the success of the co-operative that it decided to sponsor Global Mamas in helping it expand into the UK market. Tabiesa The expansion has the women of Global Mamas feeling optimistic and confident about the future of their sales and success.
Tabeisa, in partnership with the Ethical Fashion Forum, teamed up this fall to host the Design4Life competition, which aimed to bring ethical fashion design onto the streets. The competition, funded by the EU and the UK Department for Education and Skills, challenged fashion students, graduates, and designers based in the UK, Ireland, and Africa to design a cotton dress that fit the trends of European style. Nearing 100 entries, the various designs submitted were of high-quality and encompassed original batiks with unique style. London-based retailer, TopShop, was notified and was so excited about the fair trade fashion project that they agreed to sell the dresses of the winning designers.
The selection process for the winning garments was difficult for the panel of judges. The winning designers were Annegret Affolderback, a 31 year-old graduate from Middlesex University, and Julia Smith, 23 year-old graduate from the London College of Fashion. Tabeisa sponsored Smith and Affolderback to come to Cape Coast for two weeks in December to work with the batikers and seamstresses on putting into production the new winning garments. Although there were challenges to overcome, such as lack of supplies, and the overbearing heat, the two designers had a successful visit and Global Mamas is preparing for its first shipment to the UK marketplace.
By Kristen Gallagher
Every company wants it: characteristics that separate and distinguish itself from other companies. Global Mamas has made this a priority from the beginning and still strives to do so. The company sets itself apart from other NGOs in several ways, both large and small, but all being important to the success and growth of the company.
One difference is its ability to take a holistic approach to business expansion and success. The company focuses on continually creating new job opportunities, higher wages, and increasing profit margins. Many other NGOs lose sight of acquiring real, concrete results which Global Mamas strives to achieve each year through annually renewed objectives. One of the objectives for 2007 is to grow the Cooperative's raw materials revolving loan fund by finding a fair trade source for jersey cotton items in Africa.
Another key defiant to the company is its fair trade practices. Many NGOs and other fair trade organizations implement the fair trade principals at one specific, key area of the company (i.e. production). However, Global Mamas practices fair trade throughout a much larger portion of the business than that. Each Global Mama receives a fair trade certification to ensure that she is operating by the fair trade standards, paying her employees fair wages, etc. The practice and ideals of fair trade are highly respected and followed in the Global Mamas network and workplace.
Lastly, the aspect self-sustainability of Global Mamas allows the employees of the company to stay focused on the company mission. Many similar organizations spend a large percentage of time and energy on receiving outside funding in order to continue operations. Global Mamas does not rely on outside funding, Company founders Renae Adam and Kristin Johnson pushed to develop strong revenue streams for the women, as well as a revenue sharing model.
In February, all 16 members of Women in Progress met for a roundtable discussion on how to improve the process for bringing in new members. The women developed a new process for growing the organization to 24 members by the end of 2005, as stipulated by a British High Commission grant currently funding WIP’s International Trade Program. The women also discussed ways to improve the apprentice program.
Facilitated by WIP volunteer Ellen Graves, a graduate student studying organization development at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, CA, the members agreed that their top priority was to find talented women who face significant financial barriers. A candidate will attend an initial interview, where she will be evaluated on her financial need, determination to build a business, creativity and understanding of quality and timeliness.
WIP will conduct a site visit to assess the applicant’s work and financial situation. The candidate will produce a sample piece of work, which will be evaluated for quality and timeliness. All WIP members expressed enthusiasm about this new system, which will grow the organization, increase Global Mamas’ profits and improve the economic situation for more women in Ghana.
WIP members also talked about ways to improve their apprentice programs, especially teaching the girls to save for the future. The women discussed starting a “susu” program through the Progressive Women’s Credit Union. A “susu” is an informal institution through which customers can establish small savings accounts. A “susu” collector will visit the apprentices on a weekly basis to collect small sums for their own personal savings.
Women in Progress volunteers, Catherine Deane, Natalie Sturman and Gayle Pescud, created a series of design workshops for Global Mamas: Ideas Development, and Color Theory. The aim was to show the women how to gain inspiration from their surroundings and turn this into a completed design and to ultimately advance their own design and color skills. Each workshop was held twice a week for three weeks.
Natalie conducted the Ideas Development Workshop to show the basic method of creating new designs. The women learned how to create mood boards, a source of inspiration and style development, with pictures cut from magazines. The women sat together and clipped images, which appealed to them and arranged them on a poster. The effect was colorful and creative. There was much excited chatter when the women pinned their boards to the WIP office walls. Every board displayed a unique style, a sure sense of color, and an eye for design. The women were animated as they chatted about one another's selection and placement of images.
Gayle facilitated the Color Theory Workshop. She discussed the properties of color and how the mixture of different primary colors can create different secondary colors. This concept is extremely important to the batikers as they mix dyes to generate the exact color that is required for Global Mamas batik cloth. The women also learned about complementary relationships and harmonious color schemes, which is also an important concept as Global Mamas expands its product line. Global Mama, Gifty Saah, was further trained to carry out future trainings with new women entering the cooperative.
By Emilie Kimball
In May, WIP volunteers Sarah Austen, Sarah Casanolia, and Kiley O'Brien helped to set up and organize a website which would promote four cultural workshops run by the Ghanaian women members of WIP. The workshops include learning to Batik, learning the Kpatsa dance and the use of the "talking drums," learning how to prepare traditional Ghanaian cuisine, and a glimpse of a Ghanaian fishing village and insight into a fisherman's way of life.
Sarah Casanolia visited several hotels in the Cape Coast and Elmina area as well as in Accra, in order to introduce WIP's expeditions to a broader crowd to attract more attention. She left posters explaining what Ghana Expeditions had to offer in exchange for advertising the hotel on the new website. Sarah Austen and Kiley O'Brien focused on designing and writing interesting content to put on the website to interest the tourist masses.
Participation in these traditional African workshops generates income for the local women and helps tourists expand their knowledge of many aspects of the Ghanaian culture. These workshops last about a half a day (3-4 hours) and are run by motivated women such as Antoinette who leads the drumming and dance workshop. In 1999 she received the Art and Critics and Reviewers Award which is given out by the National Theatre in Accra.
Sarah Austen, Sarah Casanolia, and Kiley O'Brien created the website to generate more awareness of the Ghana Expeditions aspect of the WIP program. Check out the website now at http://www.ghanaexpeditions.com
Continuing efforts to grow its customer base and support the women of Ghana, Global Mamas has expanded its web site, www.globalmamas.com, and will develop a new collection with several items for babies and women in summer 2005.
The expanded collection will include new styles of baby dresses and women’s skirts and dresses. Alice de Kruijs, a WIP volunteer and fashion designer, is working with WIP leadership and retailers in the United States and Europe to create the updated styles. She will also develop new batik patterns and embroidery designs.
In addition, in March, Women in Progress launched a new Handcrafting section of its web site. The pages contain information on the crafts of batiking, tie-dying and sewing, designed to attract more customers and other traffic to the site.
The Handcrafting section includes directions on how to batik and tie-dye. The step-by-step instructions use photos and short instructional videos featuring the Global Mamas to describe the batik and tie-dye process.
The language in each Handcrafting section has been optimized for search engines. Using Internet research, WIP included specific key words searched most often to ensure that its site will appear higher on popular search engines like Google and Yahoo.
WIP created the Handcrafting section with the goals of educating its consumers about the way its products are created, and increasing overall traffic to its eCommerce site.
In May 2000 the U.S. Congress passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which serves to promote the economic and political development of Sub-Saharan African countries. To facilitate this, AGOA encourages Sub-Saharan African countries to work towards good governance, the rule of law, and a market-based economy. This is reflected in the criteria used to assess the eligibility of each country. AGOA also provides eligible countries the opportunity to export goods duty-free and quota-free into the U.S. In turn, this will assist economic development and strengthen U.S.-African trade relations.
In March 2002 Ghana was designated as an eligible country under AGOA. It has also been designated as a Lesser Developed Country which provides Ghana with even greater trade benefits. More specifically, as a Lesser Developed Country, organizations such as Women in Progress have the ability to export hand-made apparel sewn from the cloth of any country. As it is difficult to get cloth locally, this extended benefit serves Women in Progress well.
Under the current legislation, the benefit to Lesser Developed Countries only extends until September 30, 2004. Fortunately, a new bill called AGOA Bill III is currently before Congress, and it proposes to extend the benefit until September 30, 2007. The additional time would help Women in Progress to jump start our full-scale exporting program. Thus, we are hopeful that the new deadline will be extended.