Africa Fashion Guide
A social enterprise promoting sustainability within Africa's fashion and textile industry.


February 10th, 2012

An Interview with Ghana’s Global Mamas – COOPERATIVE Profile

The United Nations have declared that 2012 is the Year of the Cooperative. This is especially important to myself due to my interest in international development work. Also, by now many people know I hold a soft spot for Africa and so my personal focus in relation to women’s initiatives and development work was the foundation for me setting up this social enterprise Africa Fashion Guide in the beginning – to create an awareness and to undertake various development projects behind the scene. (Keep posted in 2012 to hear about quite a few projects we are working on!)

The United Nations say that such ‘International Years’ are declared by them in order

to draw attention to and encourage action on major issues. The International Year of Cooperatives is intended to raise public awareness of the invaluable contributions of cooperative enterprises to poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration. The Year will also highlight the strengths of the cooperative business model as an alternative means of doing business and furthering socioeconomic development.

Another known fact is my personal love of Ghana and have tried to visit as often as possible over the last few years. So on a recent trip to Ghana I directed my focus on bringing together all these interests and decided to visit an infamous womens’ cooperative in Ghana and find out more what this type of organisation means to women in Africa. I sit with Esther at the Global Mamas headquarters in Cape Coast, in Ghana West Africa. Global Mamas is a fair trade project supported by Women in Progress that empowers women in Africa. Esther Gyepi-Garbrah is introduced to me as an ‘original Mama’ from Global Mamas and  she is also, I find out to be, the Executive Director of Firm Grace Foundation.

Cape Coast is a lovely coastal area with the famous Elmina Castle and a strong history and relation to the African Slave Trade. And this is where the Global Mamas headquarters is based. In 2003 Global Mamas launched with six producers. Today the Global Mamas network is comprised of 627 women (and a few men) working together to penetrate export markets. The women are provided fair and deserved payments for their high-quality work. Sales of the Global Mamas’ products provides artisans in the Global Mamas network with financial and managerial support, including:

  • Coordination of the production of over 180 products in hundreds of designs for over 300 customers in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Ghana.
  • Up-front payments for the production of the high-quality goods by providing raw materials.
  • Sourcing of raw materials in bulk through a Raw Materials Revolving Inventory Fund resulting in reduced costs and increased product quality.
  • Practical training in quality control, new product development, fair trade business management, computer literacy, strategic planning, bookkeeping and marketing.

Global Mamas say that it:

transforms the lives of women in Africa by creating sustainable income opportunities which lead to financial independence. Global Mamas reduces the economic inequality of women by significantly increasing wages and generating new jobs through the production and export of fair trade products. This in turn improves the standard of living for women, their families, and the larger community. We believe that helping women gain financial independence is the most effective way to create prosperous communities

On arriving in Cape Coast after a 2.5hour drive out from Accra in an air-conditioned van-sized bus. I arrive there with Clare, an Ethical Fashion Forum consultant, my Ghanaian friend, and also Japanese volunteer for Global Mamas, Michiko. I had spoken and met Michy (as she prefers to be known) at the West Africa trade Hub seminar. She is a French and English speaking, 35 year old Japanese woman – who looks surprisingly young for her age. She had come to Ghana for a two-year volunteer program working with Global Mamas. It was organised by a charity organisation in Japan. This is her first time in Ghana and myself, and Clare, make plans to go to Cape Coast with her and see the Global Mamas operation.

The Global Mamas headquarters is a surprisingly austere building, in my opinion, with a simple logo sign, only to find it closed. But this would make sense as today is farmers day in Ghana and hence a national holiday. We meet Mary a ‘Mama’ who will take Clare and 2 other girls on a batik course for 3 hours. At a sum of 27Ghc (about 13GBP) this proves to be out of my dwindling budget the day before I fly back to London.

  image: Global Mamas Cape Coast Headquarters – copyright Africa Fashion Guide

Speaking to Michy (Michiko) who will go on to the Elmina base – the town that houses an old slave fort which is now a tourist attraction – the Global Mamas headquarters is simply just that, a base to go to but the mamas all work from their own bases and workshops separately in a kind of cooperative manner. I had assumed all ladies came to the GM headquarters and worked from there but this is not as I thought. It then is highlighted to me by Clare that, the English couple (Tim and Lydia) that we met at the West Africa trade Hub Apparel Seminar set up the base in Pram Pram (a town about 1 hours drive from Accra). This GM site initially was to be a workshop for 40 women growing ideally to 100 women within the 2 years that the couple would be staying in Ghana working on this project. Lydia and Tim, a newly married couple from the UK had looked to do something ‘more meaningful’ with their lives. They contacted various charities and made a leap dedicating two years to set up a second base for Global Mamas – an NGO and Fair-trade operation in Cape Coast, Ghana. They came to set up and manage the operations which  big challenge but one that should prove very rewarding I am sure.

I am then called by Melanie, a GM member of staff and she informs me that I will be meeting with an original Mama who will show me around her workshop and set up in about an hour. In the meantime I go to the Oasis Café up the road just by the beach, for breakfast and wait there. The scene here is of serenity. The warm atmosphere, the cool breeze, the fishermen out to sea and the people all huddling around on the beach to view and buy the catch of the day. Wow what an environment. At 11am we go back to the GM headquarters to meet Esther.

Esther has her business in Cape Coast called ‘My Redeemer Liveth Fashion’ and tells me that more than 100 people works with Global Mamas which gets many applications coming in daily. Esther gets more work from Global Mamas than from her personal clients.

(At this time of doing my video recording – my equipment battery dies to my dismay so I turn to my pen and notepad.)

In her workshop she has 6 permanent workers and 1 apprentice. 3 workers are based in the workshop. She also has a temporary worker who works with her when they have big orders form the schools who commission her for uniforms etc.

image: Workshop in Cape Coast – copyright Africa Fashion Guide

I ask Esther about how things work with them and Global Mamas. She tells me that Global Mamas provide a pattern and a sample to their seamstress ‘Mamas’ but they are not allowed to use it for their own product.

I wish to know more and question her ‘What are the challenges in Ghana as a producer?’ Her response is very interesting.

Esther says ‘It is something we are always fighting and striving for at Global Mamas. It doesn’t exist in the business world I am in. We want to sell but the patronage is not well and you have to pay your workers. Even though I work for Global Mamas it is not easy.

I have an NGO of people working from the village especially the illiterate ones so I have to put up a centre and an education centre as well as a place for volunteers. The same income I have must be used to build the centre and to pay taxes, workers etc. it is not easy. If I sell product for Global Mamas the challenge is business is slow, patronage is slow for personal work.’

So I ask her then ‘What are the positives working with Global Mamas and benefits working in Ghana?’

She replies ‘We have been able to achieve my dream helping the needy ones, which is how I have started the NGO.’

So where did you get the skills or training to set up the NGO? I ask intrigued.

She laughs ‘I have had that question last week. I think I am talented and working with Global Mamas, interacting with volunteers there on merchandising, has added spices to my talent’.

That phrase ‘added spices to my talent’ is one that I pick up on and love the use of it. I wonder and ask her ‘Do you see what your competition is doing?

Wherever I go there are people I meet and I learn from them. Like the dress you are wearing, interacting with you, when I go I will cut that style. If you are not willing to learn and compete with people it is not good and you remain where you are. It is learning new skills that helps you to do more production and helps you to get more customers.’

What she tells me makes me understand that there is an entrepreneurial spirit in Ghana where small businesses do have dreams, are working towards them and do see the need to network more and to learn more skills.

She continues ‘People ask often “do you go out for new customers” but I have never done that. People and customers come to me. But when the NGO website is up I’ll look for new big customers. This is why the charity was set up … to give skills and create job opportunities. Life in business is miserable when you go to the village it is different … out of 100% only 1% will learn the skills but then they take it out of the village. But if they stay in the village they can share these skills. As no one has enough money to buy things. This is why I am trying to find a new market outside … to create job opportunities.’

At this stage she presents her brochure and booklet to me about Firm Grace Foundation. There are 7 villages in Elmina. Her village is 4-5 miles walk. She explains ‘Village people provide life for us, they provide us food but they are suffering themselves. Charcoal is one of the main occupations in the villages often the villages in Ghana do farming and charcoal processing.’

In the picture in the booklet, are 3 girls. She tells me that these 3 girls from the village she works in has 4 or 5 children between them and that the 2nd girl is expecting another. These girls plus others hope Esther’s project will help them and reduce teenage pregnancies. The 1st girl in the picture is learning dressmaking.

It is a big project she is embarking on. Esther uses her shop to train the girls where the building project is on. People are able to come from far away and go and start their own businesses as well.

The booklet is made by Mary, a Canadian woman, and a director at Cape Coast Global Mamas. Esther herself funds the NGO. The challenge she says is the same income she receives she must use to fund the project and also to pay the women back at home.

In 2009, Esther won the Global Mamas of the Year Award at the Global Mamas annual party.

With all this positive information I ask her ‘In your opinion is Africa the future of the textile industry?’ She quickly replies ‘Yes! Because we are all humans and have a future but because of fate some people don’t have a future when we think of the needy ones. So we must try to help them. I don’t understand why some people enjoy life and some suffer … we should enjoy the life all have, some enjoy and some don’t.’

We leave the GM headquarters and go to meet Hanna one of her workers and ex-apprentice at her workshop.

image: Esther’s ex-apprentice Hanna in her workshopcopyright Africa Fashion Guide

This time I direct the questions more towards Hanna but being Fante speaking and not much English and me not speaking any Fante and limited Twi language means we do have to speak via Esther a bit.


 image: Esther’s ex-apprentice Hanna in her workshopcopyright Africa Fashion Guide

Q – Hanna, how many years have you worked with Esther?

Hanna tells me ‘for 3 years, but I never sowed before the apprenticeship’. Esther is her second teacher.

Q – What skills did you learn?

‘Ladies wear and basic level technical skills. In Ghana, people learn everything what we call basic. Here we learn the free hand cutting’.

I am interested in the way they cut here. This ‘free hand cutting’ technique which doesn’t use patterns and I ask her to show me step by step whilst I photograph her at work. She happily agrees.


 image: Esther’s ex-apprentice Hanna measures me in her workshop copyright Africa Fashion Guide

Step 1 – she takes my measurements and negotiates how I like it to be fitted – tight or loose?

Step 2 – I give her the cloth. The seam allowance in Ghana gives 1” 2” or 3” (inches). Esther gives 2 or 3 inches allowance, as the customers would be annoyed at you if you don’t and so waste cloth. She also leaves the allowance quite big in case the customer does put on any weight and to make sure it lasts long. She says to me that ‘in your place you may not have people to adjust clothing or you people buy it on credit’

image: Esther showing the seam allowance used in various garments copyright Africa Fashion Guide

I then ask Hanna ‘how many customers do you have?’. She has 20 regular customers, ‘more than 30 in a month possibly. Could depend if there is a funeral for example. Everyone wears the same fabric and this is an opportunity to get new customers’.

After Hanna mocks me up a skirt based on my measurements, we then move on to Esther’s shop and workshop not far away. She wants us to avoid a woman who she is sewing for a funeral order.


image: Esther and myself outside her store & workshop in Cape Coast, Ghana copyright Africa Fashion Guide

Once at her workshop I meet her tailors and apprentice who are working quite relaxed on this national holiday. Most tailors I see in Cape Coast all seem to be working also.

image: Esther workshop with her apprentices – copyright Africa Fashion Guide

image: Esther’s workshop with her tailor sewing a bag for Global Mamas stores made from used flour and rice sacks – copyright Africa Fashion Guide

She also shows me a picture of when USA ex-President George Bush visited Ghana, which has her in the photo. I am very impressed.

image: Image inside Esther’s workshop – copyright Africa Fashion Guide

Noticing the time I realise that I must head back to Accra to do last minute goodbyes and so after taking a few photos I make my way a short distance down the road (avoiding the free-range goats) and get on a ready bus back to Accra. Hot and sweating, but in deep thought about the experience I have had and with a desire to do more within the textile industry for developing communities.

Global Mamas recently put up an advert as they presently need help to raise funds to purchase equipment needed to create 23 sustainable jobs for women in Ghana in their growing textile & sewing fair trade workshop in Prampram.

$ 17 Buys a Batiker’s Supply Kit (Dying Bowl, Apron, Mask, Gloves)
$ 24 Buys a Seamstress’ Supply Kit (Tape Measure, Scissors, Seam Ripper, Needles)
$ 51 Builds a Custom Batik Stamping Table
$ 86 Buys a Cast Iron De-Waxing Pot for Batik Fabrics
$ 333 Buys an Industrial Electric Sewing Machine

Last year many of you helped Global Mamas expand their NGO into a small fishing village in Southern Ghana called Prampram. Since then, they’ve employed 13 women and one man (who obviously receives a lot of attention!) They’ve also had a number of volunteers from all over the world work with the women on business techniques, financial planning and design.

Their goal for 2012 is to hire an additional 23 women and expand their current workshop to include a rainwater collection system and eventually a portable building extension. Here is a short video about the project as well as an inspirational story from one of their Mamas.

The site that is managing Global Mamas fundraising campaign is called Global Giving.

It is reasons like this that makes me know that platforms like Africa Fashion Guide are doing the right thing promoting these projects. I am excited to get going with our own AFG projects over the next year or so and encourage you to watch this space and stay connected.

Global Mamas is an awesome project that is effective and well known now with a good reputation. They have a store front too in the popular bustling Osu region in Accra, Ghana. So if in town do give it a visit.

Global Mama store – Osu region in Accra, Ghana

If you are encouraged to volunteer with Global Mamas then do contact them via or Or if you have volunteered already with them then do send us your story, comment and share your thoughts as we would love to hear your story too.

Author: Jacqueline Shaw




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  1. Great interview,

    love what the Global Mama’s are doing, well done Africa Fashion Guide for bringing this to use

    Would love to visit them one day!

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