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3/11/2016 :: Welcome to a Celebration of Dreams Realized

Portion of speech made by Kristin Johnson honoring Emma Myers, Global Mamas Co-Founder

During our time together you are NOT going to hear a story of how charity changed lives. Instead, you are going to hear how a group of African women came together to create their own success – in spite of the many challenges faced along the way. We are not going to focus on the poverty that African women face every single day. Instead we are going to share stories of empowerment, determination, and dreams realized.

There is one key value that has been mightily important to the success of Global Mamas – and that is our combined determination to succeed. And there is no other Mama that exemplifies our determination to succeed more than Emma Myers. Emma is an incredibly talented textile designer and co-founder of Global Mamas.  She exemplifies the word determination. Against all odds Emma has combined her determination with her talent as an artist to realize her dreams. 


Emma and I have been working together for over 20 years. I have been a witness to her transformation from a struggling textile designer with barely enough income to provide her family with its basic needs to a successful business woman who has raised three college graduates. She has faced many obstacles along the way, but she never gave up. And she taught me never to give up. And that is why she is my hero.


                                             Front Row: Kristin                           Emma and Dede

This is a picture of Emma and I from 1993. When I met Emma she was a talented batiker, but she was struggling to make a living at her craft. One of my Peace Corps projects was to set up a women’s center that included a batik training program that would provide young women who had dropped out of the formal school system with a trade. Emma was hired to be the batik teacher and that is when she and I began a life long journey of partnership.

Over the next two years Emma and I grew the women’s center into a thriving hub of activity. I managed the business side of the batik school, while Emma trained dozens of young women in the art of batik.

I want to give you an appreciation for what life was like for Emma when I first met her, so you can understand the immense respect I have to her and her determination. Each day Emma would come to work with joy in her heart excited to share her skills. But batik is back-breaking work mainly conducted over an open fire in a country where the average temperature is above 80 degrees.

Though Emma was working full time, cultural norms and her own dignity meant that she was still responsible for managing her home. She lived in two rooms with her family of five. Each day she would cook all of her meals from scratch over a coal pot, (which is like a small barbeque). Laundry was done by hand and since running water was unreliable, water often had to be fetched from a community spout down the street. Her youngest child Dede would often accompany her to work because she didn’t have options for child care.  

And then, on the weekends Emma would begin batiking again in her apartment building’s shared courtyard in order to earn something extra for her family. That is until her landlord threatened her with eviction if she continued to work there.

Emma never complained to me about her situation. Instead she constantly demonstrated her determination to change it. She expected a lot from me, but she never expected a hand out. She has three children and every day she dreamed for a future that offered them more than what she had growing up as the daughter of a fisherman.

Through her talent and determination Emma accomplished everything she set out to do.

It was after Emma helped to start Global Mamas that things really began to change. Once Emma could rely on the steady orders provided by Global Mamas, the first thing she did was build a workshop where she could operate on her own terms without the fear of eviction. This was such a smart move as it paved the way for her future success.


Over the years Emma’s # 1 investment has been in her children. She sent them to the best junior high and high schools she could find. And she didn’t let them stop there. She sent all three of her children for a college education. In fact, when Emma’s oldest child Lorenzo graduated from Cape Coast University he was the first one in Emma’s entire extended family to earn a college degree. Emma’s daughter, Dede, (who was often at work with Emma and I when she was a young girl) has now graduated with a degree in nursing.


To secure her future, Emma and her husband Robert purchased land and began building a home Ghanaian style. By this I literally mean brick by brick. Long term financing like mortgages are not available in Ghana, so to build a home you have to finance it yourself. You also can’t save in the bank until you have enough money because the local currency devalues quickly. So when you have extra money you buy cement, make the cement blocks and add another layer to your foundation. Eventually you add the roof, the plumbing and the electricity. And then finally you finish it with windows, flooring and paint. If you travel through Ghana you will see unfinished building foundations everywhere you look. To actually finish a home is a tremendous achievement. Below is a picture of Emma standing in front the beautiful, pink house that she built for her family.  


As if that isn’t enough, Emma has been a mentor to hundreds of other women learning the artistry of batik. Below is photo is of Louisa Esi Dadzie, one of Emma’s apprentices. Thanks to Emma’s training, Louisa is now a full-fledged business owner managing Global Mamas orders of her own.


Will you please join me in acknowledging Emma for not only realizing her dreams, but paving the way for 400 other women to do so as well.

Emma is my personal hero. She exemplifies the amazing qualities of the Ghanaian women who inspire me every day. Looking back over 20 years now and imagining myself moving to Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer hoping to make a difference, I am instead so grateful for all I have learned, especially from Emma. It is your determination to succeed that has not only changed my life, but enables Global Mamas to prosper.

2/23/2016 :: My Trip to Mole National Park

Madison Oeff, intern

One of the many perks about volunteering with Global Mamas is the value placed on traveling around Ghana. The staff fully supports traveling as much as you can while you’re here; being exposed to the various places and people around the country gives you a better understanding of Ghana as a whole. So from the moment I arrived in Ghana, I travelled everywhere I could with the other volunteers. We went to the Volta region seeing sights such as Wli Falls, Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, Lake Volta, and traditional Kente weaving. We spent a weekend surfing at Busua Beach. We traveled to Accra and explored the neighborhood of Osu, indulging at its tasty restaurants. All of these were fabulous, but there was still one item on my list that hadn’t been checked off: Mole National Park.

Mole on my Mind

Mole National Park, situated in Ghana’s northern region, a massive expanse of grassland savannah, is home to over 93 mammal species. Tourists can either ride in a safari car or walk through the forests with a guide; everyone hopes to catch a glimpse of the elephants, baboons, warthogs, and buffalo that roam the park.I first heard about Mole from Global Mamas’ designer, Nick Ruffalo who traveled to Mole a few years ago. He said that the round trip would take around 6 days. 

First, he said, you travel to Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, by tro tro (a privately owned minivan that provides shared transportation along a specified route). After seeing Kumasi for a day, you spend another day traveling further north to Tamale. Once you arrive in Tamale, you would have to ride a bus for about two hours to Larabanga and voila! You’re finally only 20 minutes away from the entrance of Mole National Park. After staying at the park for a day or two, you would travel back down to Cape Coast, just the way you came. These traveling instructions both excited me and concerned me.

Flying Fast

I had a decision to make: as much as I would have loved to travel north by tro tro, I knew I could not devote an entire week to go to Mole. I resigned myself to finding a different weekend trip and to save Mole for a future trip to Ghana. The next week in Cape Coast, however, I met a man who had been in the Peace Corps in Ghana. When I divulged that I had not yet visited Mole, he said, “Oh you should definitely go to Mole. We always flew there in my Peace Corps days!”

Flying! I hadn’t even thought about that as a travel option. I excitedly looked into it, and the trip was absolutely doable: ride a fast car to Accra and from there hop on a plane at Kotoka Airport. The plane ticket was not too expensive and the entire trip would only take 3 days! Sandie Forest, another summer volunteer, agreed to accompany me on my northern journey. Plans were made, dates were set, and soon we were off.

We arrived in Accra without any snafus and boarded the small jet. As we took off, I watched Accra slowly descended beneath me. The colorful buildings, tall coconut trees, and the ocean below quickly faded into cloudy sky. The flight to Tamale was only an hour long, yet when we landed I could see that we were in a completely different environment. The palm and coconut trees of Cape Coast were replaced with dense, shrubbery and shorter trees sprouting up at random. Huge anthills made from the deep red dirt were everywhere. Our taxi ride to the hotel was a fast introduction to Tamale culture: motor bikes everywhere, Mosques every couple of blocks, and many women covered in hijabs while the men wore topi hats. In Tamale, the majority of the residents practice Islam, which is the opposite of the southern part of Ghana where the majority practice Christianity.

Safari Sightings

After staying overnight in Tamale, waking up at 4:30 am to catch the first bus to Larabanga, and missing said bus due to our taxi driver being late, we decided to charter a taxi directly to the park. The hotel we were staying at in the park was situated on a ledge overlooking miles of the savannah.  If you looked straight down, you could see buffalos walking towards huge watering hole. Antelope grazed near the pool, warthogs ate the grass outside of the huts, and baboons were everywhere! I was warned before I left to be wary of the baboons; when Cape Coast production manager Wisdom visited Mole, a baboon tried to take his food and he had to jump into the pool to get away from it! Dropping our stuff off at the room, we joined up with a group of Dutch tourists to head out into the park for the elephant safari.

 We were sitting on the top of the safari jeep in benches, and as we sped along the red dirt roads it was almost like we were on a rollercoaster. You had to avoid the hanging branches but also keep your eyes peeled for any signs of wildlife. One of my favorite things we saw was this massive white tree with sprawling branches, each crawling with baboons. This area must have been their lair because nowhere else did I see so many baboons. Moving on, we stopped the car to see what our guide called “water deer.” To me, these looked like a mix of antelope and reindeer. They were very large and bulky, but they had light tan fur with red streaks and large antlers. If you so much as moved while watching them, they scurried off into the forest. (Once, I turned around too quickly, which sent the whole herd of water deer away from us. Oops!)

Our guide had heard about of a herd of elephant heading towards the east, and so we tried to follow that path. As we drove, along the path about 100 yards ahead of us, we spot a large grayish object. All eyes are glued to the spot. We inch forward in the car and reach a little clearing – and jackpot. Not one, not two, but five elephants are moseying around a water hole. They were smaller than I expected (if you can call an elephant small), but gorgeous and graceful. I don’t know how long we watched the elephants for, but everyone was transfixed. This definitely was a highlight of my northern Ghana trip.

The next day, we were able to travel back to Tamale, board the plane to Accra, and arrive back in Cape Coast. I’m extremely glad I decided to make the trek up to Mole National Park; not only was it amazing to see all of the wildlife, but this trip allowed me to see Ghanaian culture from a completely different perspective. Even if you experience the expedited version of the trip like I did by flying to Tamale, I highly recommend visiting the northern region of Ghana – the memories and stories will last a lifetime.

1/27/2016 :: The Next Generation of Ghanaian Designers

Alice Grau, Creative Director

Designer Afua in Ashaiman

Global Mamas is proud to support the next generation of Ghanaian designers. As part of our commitment to Ghanaian talent we have hired two graduates of the fashion program at Radford University College in Ghana. In 2014, graduate Afua Biney joined Global Mamas as a design assistant and trainer in our Ashaiman location. Afua worked closely with our design team and the Ashaiman production team to ensure new product roll-out went smoothly. Her attention to detail and ability to teach complicated skills to our seamstresses were a great addition to our team. Afua recently moved on from Global Mamas to pursue her own line which received development support from Ghana Fashion and Design Week New Talent Spot:


Afua, left, trains two Mamas in Ashaiman on a new stitch

New Cape Coast Designer: Barbara

At the end of 2015, a second graduate of Radford joined our design team. Barbara Tetteh-Appain assisted our team on a contract basis on several occasions throughout 2015. After witnessing her commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs and her skill with training, she was hired on as the new technical designer and trainer. Barbara will be based in our Cape Coast location where she will help the Mamas learn skills that will help them expand their sewing repertoires.


Continuing the Relationship

We were excited to continue our relationship with Radford University College during the production of our 2016 catalog. Our Cape Coast design team hosted three interns (Angelina, Amart, and Eno pictured below) for a two-day placement to help with styling and modeling in our fashion photos. The women spent time with our designers and quality control team learning about fair trade, our products, and our business practices. Our hope is to encourage these young women to take positions or create jobs that will one day impact more women in their community. We would love to see the mission of Global Mamas spread to all corners of the design world! 

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12/17/2015 :: 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.


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 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!




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.  


11/17/2015 :: Ready, set, design!

Madison Oeff, intern


Our Global Mamas annual Design Competition took place throughout the month of June in Cape Coast, and it was a huge success. Sharing their personal style and talent, the Cape Coast Mamas could submit as many of their own designs as they had time to produce. At the end of the competition, there would be three categories of winners: an overall winner chosen by the design team, a People’s Choice Award winner chosen by the public, and a creativity award.




Batiker Entries


The More the Merrier

The designs poured in. Purses, dresses, headbands, placemats, belts, oven mitts, rompers, and yards and yards of vivid batiks – the submissions received were fabulous. In our first Design Competition, only 8 Mamas submitted items. This year, we had 18 participants! In addition to the increase in participants, our total number of submissions skyrocketed; we had 64 items submitted in total. Seamstress Hannah Dodoo set the record by entering 11 of her designs into the competition. We’re so pleased with the increase in entries and hope they continue to rise in years to come!

And the Award Goes to...

The first awards were given to the overall winners chosen by the design team. For the seamstresses, the design team was looking for new ideas in the areas of children’s clothing, accessories, and household items. The seamstress overall winner was quality control member Elizabeth Acquah with her pink and orange children’s hooded top.



Seamstress Elizabeth Acquah accepts her award


The focus for batikers was on prints that were authentically African. The batik overall winner was Elizabeth Ampiah with her diamond-shaped leaves pattern. These Mamas were given a cash prize and may be featured in our 2017 collection. When asked how she feels about being chosen as the winner, Elizabeth Acquah stood up and broke into a dance, saying, “I feel great!”


You Voted!

The next awards were chosen by our followers across the world. An online poll was launched where people were able to vote for their favorite product and batik pattern. These “People’s Choice Award” winners were Elizabeth “Esi” Arkaah for her children’s collared dress, and Cecelia Dick, for her orange and yellow interlocking chain pattern. These Mamas will have their designs featured in an online sale!


 Batiker Cecelia Dick wins the People's Choice award for batik design


Most Creative

Finally, a third honorable mention award was given out for exceptional creativity. Martha Rhule received this award for her leopard print design, and Abigail Okang received this award for her children’s flower headband. “It just came to me!” Abigail said. “The idea of a little baby wearing a cute flower headband.”


Batiker Marthe Rhule's winning leopard print


Celebration for All

The culmination of the Design Competition was an awards ceremony for all of the participants. Everyone mingled and enjoyed refreshments and each other. Then, Cape Coast manager Patience Treve announced the winning submissions. In addition to other prizes, all winners were given 3 yards of their favorite Global Mamas fabric and will have their products sold in our Accra store. The awards ceremony celebrated not only the winning designs, but also the ingenuity of all of the Mamas. Patience put it perfectly at the end of the awards ceremony, “All of you are winners. Going through the effort to produce something for us that’s totally your own makes you a winner.”


10/16/2015 :: Learning the Language

Pete Freeman, intern


When I first learned that there were more than 80 languages spoken in Ghana, I panicked. Sure, English is the national language. But I can count on one hand the number of times I heard English spoken while walking through the streets of Ghana during my first week as a volunteer. In place of my native tongue, I heard a cacophony of what I later learned was Fante, Ewe, Akan, and more.



While English is the national language, Akan and its derivatives are the most popular indigenous languages. Fortunately, the Global Mamas volunteers and I live in an area in which Fante, a government-sponsored language and derivative of Akan, is widely spoken.


It made sense to start learning Fante as quickly as possible, so I asked a shop owner across the street from our office to teach me the local language during my lunch break. She agreed, and for two weeks I spent my one hour lunch break learning from Chillin’ Chillin, whose actual name is Comfort. I made quick progress and was soon able to hold basic conversations with Chillin’ Chillin’ and other Ghanaians. I took to the internet as I pursued my own independent study of Fante. But I found no Fante dictionary and no resources for learning the language. I was disappointed. So I logged off and began to ask around.


Not long after my digital dictionary disappointment, I found the ‘dictionary’ I was looking for, though it was the furthest thing from what I expected. Patience, my boss at the Cape Coast office, offered me a tattered old dictionary that contained Fante words and phrases translated in English. I blew the dust off of the cover and got to work.


Days passed. I began to recognize simple Fante words when walking around Cape Coast. This delighted me. By this time I had spent five weeks in Ghana and was beginning to grasp the local language. I now affectionately refer to Ghana as my second home. My mother tells me that as long as our family’s house in Indiana remains my ‘first home,’ she’s fine with my preference. I have fallen in love with the Fante language and I can’t wait to return to this diverse country.

9/17/2015 :: “Lights Out” Production

Hailey Hinshaw, intern

Power outages are part of daily life at Global Mamas and all across Ghana. While Ghanaians have experienced periods of “lights out” before, it’s gotten substantially worse within the last year. Due to a variety of factors including failing power plant equipment, a dysfunctional dam, and a lack of funds, Ghana fails to produce enough power to meet its energy needs. These outages can have drastic effects on Global Mamas as electricity is essential to almost every step in the production process. In many areas, power outages can be sporadic and lengthy, creating even greater uncertainty and delays within our production timetables.


Ghana’s nation-wide power outages can drastically affect every part of Global Mamas’ production, from sewing to quality control to administrative functions. However, seamstresses generally suffer the most. When we first give the fabric to our seamstresses, they need light, an iron, and a sewing machine to produce quality products on time. There are box irons the Mamas can use during a power outage; however, these irons are heated by charcoal.  The Mamas risk ruining the newly batiked fabric with this charcoal residue or even a spark that could burn a stain into the fabric. If this happens, the products are not up to standards and they are rejected by Quality Control.


Even if the fabric can be successfully ironed and cut, the Mamas go on to sew their products with hand powered machines – if they have one. Deborah, a seamstress at Global Mamas, expressed how physically tiring the hand machines are. She said it requires more strength and more time to work on a hand machine, so you can’t produce as many products as you would on an electric machine.


To keep orders moving on time, the Mamas get creative. Sabina, a seamstress in Cape Coast, said that on days without power, “there’s no sitting idle.” All of the Mamas work hard and use every resource at their disposal. If they have a large order to complete, they often go to other seamstresses’ shops to use their hand or pedal machines. Sometimes they may even transport their own machines to other shops that have electricity to complete an order. Mamas also call upon each other for assistance. If one Mama is finished, she will sew with another Mama to help get her order finished on time. Sometimes this extra help is enough and sometimes it’s not. If the Mamas aren’t able to complete their orders it can causes shortages at our US warehouse leading to back orders and out of stock products.


After products are sewn, they return to the office to be checked by Quality Control. QC workers make sure the products are sewn correctly, that all the loose strings are cut, and there are not any stains or irregularities in the fabric. The tasks performed by QC workers do not require electric machines, but they do require good lighting. When the power is off and Global Mamas is scheduled to ship out products the next day, the workday does not stop. In fact, it often lengthens. It’s not uncommon to see candles, lanterns and even phone lights (until they run out of battery) out on the tables to help the QC workers work as quickly and efficiently as possible.


As soon as products have been passed through Quality Control, they are ready to be shipped. But sales and administrative functions also suffer when there’s no power.  Patience, Cape Coast Office Manager, was asked about the effect of power outages on her work. She simply said, “Huge!” Without internet, it’s difficult to communicate the details and status of orders to customers, and all email correspondence is halted until the next business day. You can see how difficult it is to stick to a production schedule when so many other factors come into play.


Without power, the challenges are great. But in the midst of it all, the Global Mamas seamstresses and staff have become a family. They are willing to help each other whenever possible because, as Alice put it, “they know that if I am experiencing it, then everybody is experiencing it.”

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