Thursday, March 24, 2011

The proof is in the matooke

Cross-posted from OMT Founder Halle Butvin's personal blog, Locus Amoenus

Dinner at Prisca's has become a routine for One Mango Tree visitors and interns. The first time you go, she'll cook for you - after that, it's time to pitch in. International Women's Day is a national holiday in Uganda, so we accepted the invitation to lunch at Prisca's, knowing full well that we'd be put to work as soon as we arrived. We headed straight into the family kitchen tukul, the last evidence of the traditional grass-thatched housing on Prisca's property.

inside Prisca's kitchen

Kaela got to work cutting matooke, while Martina and I provided moral support. Cutting matooke is a much harder job than it seems, as the tough green bananas don't peel like the familiar yellow ones, and they ooze a sticky sap.

Prisca & Kaela peel matooke for lunch

Before we arrived, Prisca had already made her now-famous fried chicken, dodo with simsim (greens with ground sesame paste), and sweet potatoes. With the boiled matooke, we had a ladies-only feast. We filed out of the kitchen and into the two-room brick house where Prisca's family currently lives.

watching Al-Jazeera, drinking refrigerated sodas

The living room got a fresh coat of robin's-egg-blue paint over the holidays, and Charles (Prisca's husband) connected the house to the Gulu electric lines. We watched Al-Jazeera on their little TV, and Prisca commented on Qaddafi and what she thought might happen with the conflict in Libya. The new chest refrigerator hummed in the corner, and Prisca presented us with a selection of cold sodas.

success doesn't come to you... you go to it

What seem to be normal, mundane details of a ladies lunch are actually quite extraordinary. When I started One Mango Tree, I wanted to see quick results - big changes in the tailors' lives, and fast. I'm learning that fair trade's proof comes with time - sustained, regular income is what moves people out of the poverty trap, and for good. Charles only works sporadically on construction projects - Prisca is the family breadwinner. Through careful savings and budgeting, the incremental improvements she's made have translated into big changes for her family.

the front door of the new family home

In between the kitchen tukul and the two-room home, Prisca and Charles built a large brick home. She used her 2010 savings to put in the roof, floor and window casings. Even while building their home, Prisca and Charles are now able to make spending decisions based on comfort, not necessity. Their family crowds the TV each evening to watch the news and local programs (Prisca loves the Spanish telenovelas dubbed into English - they are a big hit here). They have meat for dinner almost every night, and usually invite friends and family to join in the feast. Prisca cuts up cold pineapple as a treat for the kids when they come in from playing after school. Even the matooke we ate is telling - it's a cuisine choice from southern Uganda, and very expensive to buy in Gulu. It's one of Prisca's favorite treats - one she can now easily afford.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fabric shopping: back to our roots

Cross-posted from OMT Founder Halle Butvin's personal blog, Locus Amoenus

Since I started One Mango Tree, East Africa's {broken} supply chains have been a pretty consistent source of wonder and frustration.

supply chain problems got so bad I had to journal about them

I followed the sad history of African kitenge fabric, from its Dutch origins to bales of imitation Chinese piece-meal versions flooding the local markets. As the business grew, I tried out working with a small local fabric print workshop. I watched in fear and horror as the mismanaged business collapsed under the weight of our order. I went bigger, working with the only vertically integrated textile manufacturer in Uganda. The echo of their laughter persisted for months when they price gouged us on a critical fabric order. 2,000 meters of printed organic cotton fabric means nothing when you're clothing the South Sudanese military.

new skirts, made with Cowry print - need enough fabric to make a zillion!

So, after 4 years of trying to find the perfect fabric source, I'm still searching, and trying (really, really hard) not to source directly from China. In the meantime, I decided that we'd just go back to our roots this season, sourcing bright kitenge in 12-yard pieces from the local vendors in Kampala.

Lisa haggling with a fabric vendor

Author and artist Lisa Sonora Beam accompanied me downtown to help choose fabrics. I lived vicariously through the exhilaration of her first boda boda ride as we wound between matatus and afternoon traffic. When we arrived at Nakivubo Mews, I was shocked to see an empty construction site where Nalugo Traders used to be. I heard a woman calling out, and turned around to see Margret - one of the many vendors from Nalugo Traders - beckoning me from across the street.

stacks of kitenge - this is Lakshmi

I was amazed to see how the market had changed - the cotton, color-saturated kitenge is less common these days, replaced by synthetic silk-like fabrics, laser-cut lace in yellows and teals, and lots of glittery trims and big plastic buttons. It didn't take nearly as long as I thought to find the big vendor - today it's an over-loaded booth called Wax Africa. He buys from the Chinese bales and sells to the rest of the market vendors.

this season's source

We went nuts over the colors, deciding on five busy and bright prints - Lakshmi (red with a distinctly Indian vibe), Cowry (like the traditional Congolese, white, black, blue and green batik, with parallel lines of abstract cowry shells), Nalubaale (purple!), Mandala (one of the oldest kitenge print designs, recreated in turquoise and lime), and Gingko (a deep blue with cream and black abstract gingko leaves). When we were sure we'd bought just about every piece in the market, we packed it up and headed out, excited to start creating.

pack it up!

While this return to market fabrics is likely a brief reprieve from dealing with the big manufacturers, I really enjoyed the return - the boda boda ride, the haggling, the crazy crowded market, the clouds of exhaust from the neighboring taxi park, the almost comical insistence by vendors that "these fabrics are from CONGO!"

xo Halle

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cleveland Area Intern Needed!

Calling all fair trade enthusiasts in the Buckeye State! Our US office is looking for a Sales & Events Intern. Could it be you? Here's the job description:

Sell fair trade products and meet others involved in the fair trade movement!

We have a lot of upcoming sales events in Ohio in 2011, and we need your help in making them a success! Be a part of increasing One Mango Tree's presence in Ohio and elsewhere by identifying opportunities to sell products at events, conferences, etc. Learn the ins-and-outs of running a fair trade business! Responsibilities include:
  • Identifying, preparing for and staffing sales events in Ohio and elsewhere in the United States*
  • Assisting US Business Manager with packing and shipping web orders
  • Attending local and regional fair trade educational events (conferences, etc.) on behalf of One Mango Tree
  • Writing periodic blog / Facebook posts on attendance at sales and educational events
*Note: this position may involve travel to staff events across the US, with all related travel expenses covered by One Mango Tree.

The position is volunteer part-time, with hours agreed upon by intern and US Business Manager. The ideal candidate will be both passionate and knowledgeable about fair trade and One Mango Tree's business model and practices. She/he should be enthusiastic about promoting One Mango Tree's mission and selling One Mango Tree products. Previous sales experience is a plus!

Interested candidates send a cover letter (tell us why you want the gig!) and updated CV to

Friday, March 18, 2011

Things We Love: Mata Traders

Mata Traders are an inspiration to us 1. because they are fair trade and 2. because their clothes are gorgeous! Mata Traders empowers women economically through teaching them skills and giving them work in an attempt to transform communities and combat poverty. All of their clothing are fair trade and handmade by women in India and Nepal. They use traditional art forms and skills to create incredible products and a better world for the artisans.

The founders names are Maureen and Michelle. All of their products are designed in Chicago, where they live, and then made in local village communities. Their desire is to empower women and to be transparent with their customers about where the products are coming from. 

One of their main goals is to design products that make a women look and feel GREAT -- and they do an excellent job with that. Its a full circle, one women in America empowering a women in a developing country by buying the dress and a woman in India empowering the women in America because it makes them feel great. A reciprocating relationship. 

Michelle and Maureen are understanding about the need to make a competitive product and allow the fair trade factor to be the "icing on the cake" allowing the customers to feel extra good about what they are purchasing. 

You can also see them featured on Ebay's World of Good!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spread the Love! Our March Giveaway is HERE!

We know it’s a few days into the month but we finally have our new cross-over bags up on the website and ready for sale! In celebration of this accomplishment we are giving one away for free!

To enter the drawing, all you have to do is mention us on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog this month to help us spread the word about the work One Mango Tree is doing and the quality of our products. Any love we get helps more people to learn about us and get involved with what we are doing. We are so appreciative for your support and contributions to the company.

One lucky winner will receive a small, sweet package from our ladies in Uganda with one of our *brand new* SIPI FALLS CROSS-OVER BAGS ($22 value) tucked inside. Named for the three beautiful falls just a few hours away from Gulu in Uganda the vibrant blues and geometrical design makes for a perfect and comfortable sling over your shoulder bag. Oh, and if this deal couldn't get any sweeter: shipping's on us!

Sneak Peak: New Fabrics for the Spring Line!

We can’t wait to start creating. Be on the look-out for our new bags, clutches, coin purses, aprons, yoga bags, and more!

GINKGO – This fabric is named after a living fossil of mainly extinct trees.

LAKSHMI – This vibrant, red fabric was named for the goddess of health, wealth, wisdom, and fertility -- the beloved of India. Wherever you go in Uganda you will find merchants, store owners, and prominent Indian people.

COWRY – This name comes from the small white shells used for ceremonial purposed in Uganda, found easily in the market places and homes of the villagers.

NALUBAALE – This is an another name for Lake Victoria, signifying the importance and scarcity of water in Uganda.

MANDALA – The name for this one comes from the Sanskrit word for circle, used in Hindu and Buddhism. Most of the religious art takes a sacred Mandala form.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Showcasing: Ajok Lucy

This is Ajok Lucy. She is one of the 8 women who got a new bike this week. During the war in Uganda she was abducted and lived in the bush. Lucy has three children and cares for her two younger sisters as well. She is 22 years old. She comes from a small village about an hour away from Gulu called Odek. Life was really different for her before she came to work at One Mango Tree.

When Lucy lived in Odek she was a farmer. Every morning she woke up early to dig, usually with a baby strapped to her back. In Odek she traded her harvests for a few other small things like salt, sugar, soap, clothes, and sometimes, if she was lucky, school fees. The biggest problem in Odek was getting enough money for school fees and getting clean water. Lucy hopes to earn enough money to buy her own sowing machine and build her own house. She also wants to buy a cow and chickens for fresh milk and eggs. Her dream is to learn how to make clothes and sell them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Word About Our “Fair Trade” Model Policy:

As a company committed to following a fair trade model, we are committed to seeing that no unjust action is involved, that there is no child labor, and that each person in the creating process is paid a fair wage. Equally, we want to see that our customers are paying a fair price for the products they receive.

But we believe in following the fair trade model, not just because we want you to pay a fair price. It is the way we do our business, where the objective is not “profit-at-any-cost”, but helping women in Uganda rise out of war-tarn communities and families to escape poverty and promote sustainability.

We look at business as a tool to support people, by providing training to artisans, helping our women improve their skills, strengthening their business skills through loans and savings education and practice, and strengthening their social impact.

Our hope is that our commitment to Fair Trade will inspire you to get involved with One Mango Tree, support our women by buying our products and spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, word-of-mouth, or whatever outlets you may have. It is our joy to provide you with handmade products directly from our women in the workshop in Gulu and that as you enjoy your products you will spend time on our site getting to know each of the women who handcraft your items.


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