The Fashion Revolution is here, and everyone can join in! New apparel for babies and kids (and adults too) from Global Mamas has arrived at our stores—every piece is made from organic cotton, hand batiked in vibrant colors and sewn by talented “Mamas” in Ghana.
We chatted with Jess Bowen from Global Mamas about the important work of the Global Mamas community, which starts with the mamas and continues to the people who wear their clothes.
Global Mamas works with the mission of creating prosperity for African women and their families. These women achieve prosperity by creating and selling unique, handcrafted products of the highest quality. Being able to do the work they love and being empowered by financial independence leads to greater happiness. They realize their dreams of having the opportunity to support their families, send their children to school, improve their health, and save for the future. Global Mamas products are full of life and love. Each item is hand-crafted using traditional techniques, maintaining local artisanal skills.
1. What inspired founders, Kristin Johnson and Renae Adam, to start Global Mamas and work with women artisans?
While serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in Ghana over 20 years ago, Kristin and Renae fell in love with the country and lived in daily awe of the Ghanaian women with whom they worked. These women worked tirelessly each day to run their businesses then returned home at night to take care of their children and their homes without the help of frozen dinners, microwaves, or washing machines. Kristin and Renae dedicated their three years in Ghana to projects that would make their lives easier, like setting up a women’s based credit union and building a water pipeline.
“I think everyone who works with Global Mamas would say they have prospered. Global Mamas made a family; it united women. Global Mamas will stand high and tall every day. Ask each of us, without GM where would you be now?”
– Ghanaian founder Hannah Dodoo (2nd from left in photo above)
Renae and Kristin moved back to the US in 1995. They returned to Ghana several times for visits, but it was never long enough. Finally, in 2003, Renae moved back to Ghana to start Women in Progress (the original name of Global Mamas). Since the beginning, Renae has been instrumental in partnering with the founding Mamas, Alice, Elizabeth, Emma, Esther, Hannah, and Florence, to start and grow the organization. She still resides in Ghana with her husband and two children. Kristin lives in the United States with her family, but spends her days counting down to her annual trip to Ghana and expanding sales of Global Mamas products.
2. How is Global Mamas organized and how many artisan groups do you currently work with?
At different locations we have different models that continue evolving over time depending on what is working best for that community. In Cape Coast we partner with many small women run businesses: the Mamas come into our office to gather materials (we provide raw/batiked cotton up-front which acts as a kind of micro-loan) then they go back to their homes and workshops to create the product before returning it to be reviewed by our Quality Control team. At our Ashaiman location the batikers, seamstresses and Quality Control experts all work together in a shared workspace. In Krobo our jewelry assemblers work together at one location while the beadmakers usually have home workshops where they’ve built their kilns.
As a vertically integrated brand, we intentionally keep the majority of our jobs actually in Ghana with 90 staff and about 350 Mamas in country, then just 3 full time staff in the U.S. Keeping most of our team on the ground in Ghana means we’re able to offer to the Mamas extensive training and capacity building (in healthcare, small business management, bookkeeping etc.) which we believe is an important part of our work. It also allows us to offer unique opportunities to international volunteers as well as “Together Tours” in which wholesale customers get to come and visit us!
3. What sorts of products do the women make?
All of the techniques we use are handicrafts traditionally being taught or handed down through the generations by artisans in Ghana. Batik, a textile technique involving the layering of dye and wax, is used to create the fabric for all of our cotton garments, accessories, and home goods. Recycled glass beads made from old bottles and broken window panes are crushed into a powder then fired in locally constructed kilns to make our jewelry and ornaments. Shea nuts are gathered by women’s cooperatives in the north to create our all-natural shea body products. Every level of our production, from batiker and beadmaker to finished product, is verified and guaranteed by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO).
4. What is your personal favorite product and why?
One of my absolute favorites is our Reversible Children’s Elephant dress. (I’ve been campaigning to have it made in adult sizes!) On one side are neon green elephants, on the other are blue. And because of the simple shape kiddos can keep wearing it as they grow taller as a kind of tunic.
5. When women work, the impact of the investment is greatly multiplied. What benefits or positive changes have you seen in the communities where the women work/live?
Time and again we see the amazing accomplishments of financially independent women in Ghana that have been given the opportunity to succeed. The Mamas choose to invest in the futures of themselves and their families, which results in sustainable, intergenerational change within their communities. 100% of the Mamas’ children are attending school-that’s 207 kids! The Mamas paid school fees for an additional 134 children who are not their own.
6. We love your commitment to empowering other women. What advice would you give to girls who are interested in getting involved in causes they are passionate about?
Everyone has to start somewhere. Get going, don’t stop, and hang onto your values! There will always be shortcuts and diversions with whatever path you decide to follow…and we know from experience that doing it ‘right’ doesn’t always mean it will be easy. (Though it DOES, however, make it easier to be fully transparent!)
7. What woman has had the biggest impact on your life?
Every Mama has her own story shaped by determination and drive to create a better future for her family. Each one is different and admirable in its own way. This month we’ve been sharing the story of Julie Mustapha and her daughter, Aisha. In the past year, Juliana celebrated Aisha’s graduation from the University of Ghana in Legon with a degree in Biochemical Engineering. Aisha is now looking at employment opportunities with the Ghana Army.