Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bag ladies

Beach bags hand-sewn from West African batik fabric by the women of Robertsport are almost ready to hit the shelves. The group of three women have grown to ten, lead by Bintu, who now has a mobile phone so I can coordinate and bring appropriate sewing supplies for her. Also, and most importantly -- they're getting paid.

Originally, the women were getting an even $2 per bag, which take a little less than a day to sew. When they revised the design to make two bags out of one cut of lapa cloth, we divided the extra profits between the women and the Community Fund -- a loan pool for the micro-enterprise projects supported by Robertsport Community Works. Now, they earn $3 per bag and they're pretty stoked -- the week after we bought the first bag, their numbers tripled to the ten we've capped the project at for now.

"The bags are perfect. You'd better bring money," Tina, second-in-command, told me laughing as we chatted on the new mobile before our Saturday meeting. I did. Now I just have to get the bags off of our shelves and onto people's shoulders. I welcome the challenge of coordinating a grassroots marketing campaign from West Africa, but please -- ideas welcome.

Saturday was the rainest day in Robertsport yet, and Nate and I spent most of Saturday afternoon running quality control in the restaurant of Nana's Lodge, which we took over as a de facto community space because it was dry. To ensure consistency, the women filled the restaurant tip jar with sand and put it in each bag, inspecting the seams for signs of stretching and chalking areas that needed a little more work. I walked away from there with 22 bags, and we'll have the styles and fabrics up on the Robertsport Community Works website for orders later this week.

Beach bags will be $10 with $8 shipping and handling anywhere outside of Liberia. We take PayPal and the bags take about 2 weeks to arrive in the States. Check back in a few days for photos of the beach bags (which will be followed in a few weeks by matching coin purses and yoga mat bags) and then email me at elie@robertsportcommunityworks.org to order.

Thanks for supporting with your orders and ideas! And thanks to Myles for this awesome shot.


  1. Hey Elie! My name is Megan and I am in Liberia working with www.theniapeleproject.org

    We used to operate at Buduburam Refugee Camp and always purchased locally made crafts to provide fair income for women in the community AND to resell at events in the US as fundraising for our own projects.

    Wanna discuss possibly setting something up that would support both our orgs? Contact me at megan@theniapeleproject.org (I live around the corner from you btw).

  2. The bags are looking great. It was the women's idea to back them up with a two-year quality guarantee. Whenever a bag passed quality control it triggered dancing and competitive mockery.

    Payday was awesome!

  3. Elizabeth....The bags sound like a good idea for early Christmas shopping. M

  4. Wow! Look at all of these comments :) I cannot wait to see all of the beautiful bags. Do they have a little inner zip pocket? I like that. You are really helping these woman. I would love to see a video of them so that I can hear their confident voices and pride.

  5. try looking at Blessing Basket http://www.blessingbasket.org/
    they've been extremely successful selling through Whole Foods, though they are producing much larger quantities. still may be of interest.


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