Q&A with Fair Trade Jewelry Designers

Q&A with Fair Trade Jewelry Designers

Ever wonder what it is like to work with a fair trade fashion brand? Let us introduce you to two women who are doing this incredible work. Jess Bowen and Gladys Adimir work for Global Mamas, a fair trade non-profit working in Ghana for 15 years. Jess, a “Sales and Marketing Manager with a side of Jewelry Design,” is based in the USA. Gladys is the General Manager of Global Mamas’ Krobo location in Ghana.

Gladys and Jess are the primary design collaborators of Global Mamas’ new beaded jewelry. We wanted the inside scoop on the design process and what makes their work fun, interesting, and challenging. We’ll start with Jess:

 

HumanKind: What medium do the Ghanian jewelry artisans work with?

 

Jess Bowen: The recycled glass beads we use are traditionally made in the Eastern Region of Ghana. For most local beadmakers it is a craft that has been passed down in their family for generations. To create each bead, powdered glass is placed in a clay mold and fired in a kiln. We are very intentional about only using beads being made by hand in Ghana. There are beautiful options in the local bead markets, but Gladys has informed me that those beads come from China, so we avoid them.

(See the beadmaking process in this previous blog post.)

 

Glass Jewelry MakingGladys and Jess (back) work on new clay molds with beadmakers Moses and Grace (front).

 

HK: How do fair trading practices influence your business?

 

JB: Our commitment as an organization to producers is something we talk about a lot and take very seriously. When we partner with jewelry assemblers or beadmakers we are committed to them—that they will have a steady income months from now, years from now, and have financial stability to make long term goals and plans.

 

HK: How do you handle the ever-changing trends in jewelry design?

 

JB: Jewelry trends aren’t always in our favor, which doesn’t mean we move onto a new country or a new craft. It does however mean Gladys and I get super creative with the skills and materials at our disposal! Some of the corded adjustable necklaces we’ve created in the past few years were in response to customer demand for more minimalist and lightweight pieces. Finding solutions to make jewelry ‘lightweight’ when you’re working with glass isn’t easy. Another challenge of creating more minimalist pieces is that the jewelry assemblers always need work! A single bead on a cord or chain may end up being a popular look, but this doesn’t create more employment for the bead makers or jewelry assemblers.

 

Beadmakers' portfolios.Each beadmaker has a portfolio of work.

 

HK: Tell us about the process of developing new designs.

 

Full Circle NecklaceJB: The past few years Gladys and I have been working with beadmakers on developing completely new shapes with the glass. We want to support traditional techniques and create sustainable jobs, but also create new, innovative designs that will reach new customers. The Full Circle jewelry sets were new bead forms created in collaboration with one of the Global Mamas beadmakers this past year. When you ask Gladys about the challenges of sampling for new collections, this set came up as a particularly tricky one to create. It’s hard for beadmakers to create the new shapes evenly, and it takes multiple rounds to get the mold and the beads the consistent shape. Also, because the new shapes are thinner they break more easily. That said, though the challenges are there, the beadmakers want to keep working at finding solutions to these issues.

 

HK: What are some challenges to your work that we might not know about?

 

JB: According to Gladys, a big challenge is maintaining good communication, particularly with beadmakers in the villages that don’t have phone reception and may only come into town irregularly. Determining fair prices can also be tricky as the beadmakers know we’re an international organization and they really up the prices on us. Gladys knows what the market rates are, so we find a fair middle ground that works for everyone.

 

Glass Bead Samples

New bead samples just out of the kiln.

 

HK: What do you love about the work that you do?

 

JB: The incredible jewelry team, hands down. Not all of the ladies speak English and my Krobo is basically non-existent, but we all understand beads and jewelry making and have a shared love for big jewelry. I love the excitement as we try on new earrings and statement necklaces that are over the top to see what everyone thinks of a new idea! There’s a great deal to be said for sitting shoulder to shoulder, working out design problems together, and troubleshooting solutions. There’s very much a feeling of all being in it together with a shared goal.

 

Global Mamas Jewelry Team

The Global Mamas jewelry assembly team.

 

Gladys Knows the Joys and Challenges of Fair Trade

As the General Manager of Global Mama’s Krobo location, Gladys Adimir's job is filled with creativity and problem solving. From a young age, she worked with her mom and her uncle making beads and selling their work around town, so she knows this craft very well.

 

“The biggest challenge in creating new designs, like the Full Circle jewelry, is that from the beginning, the producer [does not easily create] the shapes,” Gladys says, explaining that the molds for the new beads break easily and artisans must constantly build new ones. “The customers do not know how hard this work is,” she points out.

 

She and Jess, along with the bead producers, are creating new innovative designs that have never been done before. It is a learning process for everyone, but Gladys enjoys the process of seeing their sketches come to life.

 

Gladys manages two teams, the beadmakers who work from home, and the jewelry assemblers who work in the Global Mamas workshop. She has to keep up good communication with both of these groups. “It is always teamwork, and both teams need to work. We always need their feedback and ideas too.”

 

Gladys with the jewelry team

Gladys (center) with the jewelry assembly team.

 

Gladys is on the front lines of Global Mamas’ mission to provide employment for these producers She makes fair trade happen as she negotiates fair prices with beadmakers, works to create innovative designs, providing superior customer service, a high quality product and timely deliveries.

 

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