Product (RED) project in Mali! - U2 Feedback

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Old 10-12-2007, 11:55 AM   #1
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Product (RED) project in Mali!

Ok, I'm seriously thrilled about this. Several of the volunteers that I worked with while a volunteer in Mali ended up staying in Africa and working on various projects with other groups. One of them just forwarded this press release to me this morning.

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It’s in the bag: Hallmark ships record order from Mali

By Leah Quin

Mali’s handcrafts industry is abuzz this year, as artisans across the country prepare thousands of handbags for Hallmark, the largest greeting-card company in the U.S. The bags, made from traditional Malian mudcloth called bogolan, will debut this month at Hallmark’s Gold Crown stores under the PRODUCT (RED) label, part of a widespread commercial initiative launched by Bono and Bobby Shriver to raise money for The Global Fund, providing AIDS relief in Africa. But for more than 200 producers, mostly tailors and cloth dyers, the benefits are already real: months of steady work earning more than twice or three times Mali’s minimum wage.

The sheer size of the order – a total of 120,430 bags and 126,000 bead strands for greeting cards, sent in weekly installments – makes it one of the largest single handcrafts purchases ever made in Mali. But the order is groundbreaking in other ways too. It’s the first export Mali has shipped under a provision of the U.S. African Growth and Opportunities Act aimed at handmade textiles, which gives the order duty-free status in the U.S (see related story). It’s also the first time Hallmark has done business in Africa – getting assistance along the way from a unique group of organizations, including the West Africa Trade Hub, USAID, the U.S. Peace Corps, MBAs Without Borders and Africa Now.

“Without the technical assistance and on-the-ground support, this project would not have been possible,” said Frank Masterson, capacity resource manager for Hallmark. “It was important to us to find an authentic item to sell, to not only give money back from our other items but help in economic development along the way.”

Bogolan designs – which have shown up recently on Converse sneakers and Givenchy dresses in Paris – fit the bill, said Hallmark’s art director, Erin Dennis. The handmade traditional cloth has a contemporary feel, she said, and black-and-white versions complimented the color palette for Hallmark’s (RED) line. In May 2007, Hallmark contacted the Trade Hub for potential sources of bogolan bags. WATH’s Vanessa Adams and Elitza Barzakova, both former Peace Corps Mali volunteers, provided information, photo samples and financial quotes from three countries in West Africa before Hallmark selected Mali Chic and Farafina Tigne, both Hub clients with extensive exporting experience. The deal was sealed in June, when a team from Hallmark traveled with Adams and Barzakova to workshops in four Malian cities, where the hand-woven cloth – made from 100% Malian cotton – would be dyed, cut and sewn into casual handbags.

Team effort

To help the businesses handle the order, including tight deadlines and strict quality control criteria, the Hub worked with the Peace Corps Mali Small Enterprise Development program director to place two current volunteers, Vina Verman with Mali Chic and Sara Rosen with Farafina Tigne. The two helped bridge the inevitable language and cultural gaps between Hallmark and the Malian businesses, while providing business education and on-going assistance to the Malian owners and staff. On a hot afternoon in late June, for example, Verman explained to Mali Chic workers in Bambara the importance of ensuring all the bags’ handles are the same length, and reported potential problems to Mali Chic’s owner, Fatim Bouare. During a conference call with Hallmark later that day, she relayed the steps taken to reduce inconsistencies in bags already shipped.

The Hub also placed a short-term MBAs Without Borders volunteer, Amy Donahue, with Mali Chic at the beginning of this process to assess production capacity, assist with costing, accounting procedures and bank loan applications. Hub staff provided cultural context during a July evaluation by Africa Now, which Hallmark hired to determine if the bags were being produced under ethical working conditions, i.e. no child labor or withheld wages – with fully satisfactory results. Throughout, the Hub stepped in where needed: for instance, to broker compromises on make-or-break decisions like pricing and payment terms.

Lasting improvements

The learning curve was steep on both sides. To manage the unprecedented demand, Mali Chic and Farafina Tigne boosted their production capacity, adding workforce, night shifts and more sources for bogolan fabric production. They trained quality control agents and tracked error rates for tailors and dyers. New accounting systems allowed both companies to pay workers by output on a regular, usually weekly basis. Workers have responded positively: In July, Bouare said tailors asked her to find similarly sized orders so they can plan on continued income.

“If I’d known how hard it would be, I might not have done it,” Bouare said. “But now I know we can handle large orders like this. It has given me confidence for the next time.”

As the quality of weekly shipments improved, Hallmark placed more orders for bags and added beaded strands to decorate greeting cards, assembled by Farafina Tigne. The final shipments should go out by November, though Hallmark is already looking for their next African (RED) product. The experience is one Masterson and Dennis said they would recommend to others wanting to do business in Africa.

“You’ve got to be patient: It’s not easy, with everything already laid out – the logistics, design and quality control,” Masterson said. “You develop a close working relationship with people and communicate a lot, even over-communicate if you want to be successful.”

“It’s been so rewarding, being able to talk directly to producers instead of dealing with some factory,” Dennis said. “It gives you a real awareness of what people are going through, how this can affect their lives.”
I can't really describe how happy and proud I am. Not only because Elitza, Vanessa and Leah were co-volunteers during my two years and I'm so glad to see them continuing to do such cool things. But also because I worked with these very artisans when I was a volunteer. The whole time I was there, there was a lot of discussion about taking advantage of AGOA and it's so exciting to see it finally bearing fruit. You can be skeptical about "development" work, but this is the kind of real-life change that truly makes a difference. This is the kind of thing that I want to go back and do when I finish my MBA.

And now I have to go find out how to buy these bogolan bags so I can support the artisans in Mali.
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Old 10-12-2007, 12:00 PM   #2
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there's a hallmark store here ya know

i t hink it is really awesome that they are doing th is. when i saw the new hallmark products i was really excited about the bag the most, because i love crafts from other places. to your friends!
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Old 10-12-2007, 12:44 PM   #3
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Is this it?



The links won't post for some reason but you can go to hallmark.com, they have a whole page about the bags and other info about all the (RED) products they will have
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Old 10-12-2007, 12:46 PM   #4
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yes that's the one! isn't it purty?
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Old 10-12-2007, 12:49 PM   #5
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It is pretty, I wonder how much they will be. They also have (RED) musical cards, I LOVE those musical cards. They have one with a version of Over The Rainbow that I love, I have to get that.

Haha, they have Let's Get It On too
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Old 10-12-2007, 01:22 PM   #6
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Yep, that is it.

From the website: "Bogolan (or mud cloth), a traditional fabric art form, is handmade by artisans in Mali, West Africa. Cloth is handwoven into strips from 100% unbleached Malaian cotton, hand-tinted using clay from the Niger River and then laid out in the hot West African sun. *By choosing this bag, you're helping artisans provide for their famlies, carry on a centuries-old craft and boost Mali's developing economy. This is the first export to use Mali's African Growth and Opportunities Act textile visa."

As I was just explaining to one of my coworkers, there are so many people involved in the production chain. Subsistence famers grow the cotton, often poor women (widows, single mothers, etc) in cooperatives card the raw cotton and make it into thread. Then it is woven by hand on a traditional loom into strips of cloth. Then the cloth is dyed with traditional techniques using mud and plants. Then it is sewn by tailors into a finished product. Then the product is purchased by a local handcraft export group who then sells it to a company like Hallmark. Basically, when you buy one, you are indirectly supporting every person involved in that chain, not to mention the families that their income provides for.

*sigh* This is making me homesick for Mali. lol.
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Old 10-12-2007, 02:40 PM   #7
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Perfect example for a value added approach to GDP.




Great idea. I wish they will eventually discover Germany as a market for Product (Red).
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Old 10-12-2007, 07:50 PM   #8
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i got a bag today!! :giddy: i loves it! thanks for the info sula ;D
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Old 10-12-2007, 07:58 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by sulawesigirl4
Yep, that is it.

From the website: "Bogolan (or mud cloth), a traditional fabric art form, is handmade by artisans in Mali, West Africa. Cloth is handwoven into strips from 100% unbleached Malaian cotton, hand-tinted using clay from the Niger River and then laid out in the hot West African sun. *By choosing this bag, you're helping artisans provide for their famlies, carry on a centuries-old craft and boost Mali's developing economy. This is the first export to use Mali's African Growth and Opportunities Act textile visa."

As I was just explaining to one of my coworkers, there are so many people involved in the production chain. Subsistence famers grow the cotton, often poor women (widows, single mothers, etc) in cooperatives card the raw cotton and make it into thread. Then it is woven by hand on a traditional loom into strips of cloth. Then the cloth is dyed with traditional techniques using mud and plants. Then it is sewn by tailors into a finished product. Then the product is purchased by a local handcraft export group who then sells it to a company like Hallmark. Basically, when you buy one, you are indirectly supporting every person involved in that chain, not to mention the families that their income provides for.

*sigh* This is making me homesick for Mali. lol.
So fabulous!!! How did you get started going over there?
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Old 10-13-2007, 10:26 AM   #10
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Originally posted by unico
i got a bag today!!
Do you mind telling me how much it was, if that's not to rude to ask? Are they only at Gold Crown Hallmarks?
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Old 10-13-2007, 02:04 PM   #11
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On the website it says they are $19.99. Which I can tell you from experience is definitely more than fair considering the amount of hand-labor that goes into making one of them.
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Old 10-13-2007, 03:53 PM   #12
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yes, sula is right mrs. s. it was just $19.99
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Old 10-14-2007, 04:13 PM   #13
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I got my bag today! I got the Kalikali bag
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Old 10-15-2007, 08:51 AM   #14
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Wow, only $19.99? That's definitely more than fair. I will look for one hopefully today, it seems like this could actually make a difference there. Not as much as sulawesigirl and other people have done, but it makes me feel like I can do some small thing.
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Old 10-15-2007, 08:57 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by Pearl
I got my bag today! I got the Kalikali bag
that's the one i got!
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