Prosperity Blog

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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.”

8/10/2015 :: Ashaiman Payroll Mistake Rectified, Results in Dancing and Celebration

Pete Freeman, intern


On any given day, the Global Mamas’ Ashaiman site is alive with the whirring of sewing machines, clicking of computer mice and keyboards, and splashing of soon-to-be dresses dunked in cool dye and water. Ashaiman is a hub for a small group of full-time, directly employed seamstresses, batikers, and quality control staff. Unlike our Cape Coast location where the women are small business owners and work from their own workshops, in Ashaiman the Mamas come into a Global Mamas workshop. Here, the symphony of work-related activities is a steady buzz beginning as early as 7 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. But in late May 2015, the usual commotion was overpowered by shouts of joy and dancing after a payroll mistake was discovered and rectified.


Recently, the Ashaiman site underwent a huge transition to performance-based pay. Under this new payroll method, a Mama’s salary is comprised of a base pay and performance pay. Base pay ensures that the Mama always receives a living wage. Performance-based pay incentivizes efficient, high quality work. [Read more about this process in our 2014 annual report here.] This transition from our previous fixed wage method has not only revitalized the Mamas’ commitment to fair trade entrepreneurship, but has also led to a renewed sense of community among the Mamas in Ashaiman. The Mamas radiate pride with their work and show increased happiness


However, in May of 2015, we discovered a problem with this system: some Mamas had earned more pay than they had received in their paycheck. The discrepancy was caused by the miscalculation of vacation and sick time and affected Ashaiman seamstresses and batikers. As direct employees, the Mamas in Ashaiman receive between 21 and 26 days of paid time off (depending on how long they have worked with Global Mamas). If a Mama does not use all of her earned vacation and sick time each year, they receive payment for these hours at their normal hourly working rate. So, for Mamas who take little vacation and are rarely ill, a sizable bonus is paid on their anniversary with Global Mamas.


After reviewing the implementation of this new payment method, we realized that our payroll system was only taking the base salary into account for the vacation and sick payout and not the larger portion of performance pay. Unfortunately, this mistake began early 2014 and carried on until May 2015.


 The payroll issue was quickly corrected in May 2015. By altering the pay calculator and providing back pay to the Mamas, everyone was compensated for our accounting mistake. Some compensation payments were small, while others were very large for the Mamas who had taken very little time off. After meeting with the Mamas in small groups to explain about the payroll discrepancy, we were greeted with a welcomed, but unexpected reaction upon receipt of their unexpected “bonus”. The Mamas danced around the room, shouting, “We are happy!”It is nice when a mistake on our part can end up bringing so much joy to the Mamas.

7/13/2015 :: World Fair Trade Week in Milan

Madison Oeff, intern

World Fair Trade Week, hosted by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), takes place in Europe every other year. For this celebratory week, the WFTO names one city the “Global Capital of Fair Trade.” Milan, Italy had the honor of hosting the fair trade festivities this past May. Artisans, farmers, retailers, consumers, and advocates gathered to share their fair trade experiences and innovations. For the first time ever Global Mamas attended the conference with the goals of networking with our global partners and to gauge the European consumer response to our products. Maria Jose Vidal and volunteer Robin Ross represented Global Mamas at the conference and determined it to be a success.

Many events took place during World Fair Trade Week, including an international symposium, fashion show, cooking events, and a fair trade expo. The 2015 expo, called Milano Fair City, invited producers from all over the world to show their fair trade goods. Milan is one of the major fashion capitals of the world – what better place to display our products? First open to wholesale buyers and then later to the general public, thousands of consumers had the opportunity to see and purchase Global Mamas items.

Milano Fair City expo was a great way to spread awareness of the Global Mamas’ brand, especially to European consumers. Seeing Europeans interested in and purchasing our fashion was very exciting! The expo acted as a stepping-stone for us to increase European recognition of Global Mamas. Kristin Johnson, Global Mamas Co-Founder noted, “It was wonderful to meet many of our existing retail partners in person for the first time. We also developed relationships with new buyers, who provided great feedback about our products and prices.” We believe our products will be well received, and we’re excited about our future European endeavors.

People from all over the globe convened in Milan for World Fair Trade Week. Meeting and networking with so many diverse fair trade advocates was a huge opportunity for Global Mamas. This fair trade forum allowed Global Mamas to share strategies and ideas for the future with people engaged in similar work. “Fair trade is all about helping each other, learning from others,” Maria said. Participating in World Fair Trade Week definitely made a positive impact on Global Mamas’ international networking and exposure, and we look forward to seeing our partners and fair trade friends at future events.

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