We did it! The Women's Sewing Co-op successfully sewed a bag a day for almost a month, producing 550 bags (plus an extra 10) going to a conference in San Francisco this April. I'm extremely pleased and very impressed with their commitment and dedication to the project. I'll post after our next meeting about how they're saving (and spending) their hard-earned cash.
Check out how cool the bags look with their conference logo! Jerry and Jallah, who are still deciding on a name for their new store, stayed up all weekend making sure the Robertsport Community Works tree and url, as well as the conference brand, were silk-screened perfectly. Carrying the bags between the shop and our apartment must have gotten them plenty of neighborhood attention.
Our main concern for the project was the usual: quality control. Our assistant Solomon and I have worked out a pretty good system that takes advantage of our respective strengths: Solomon painstakingly examines each seam and hem for signs of disaster, while I hold up a bag and can instantly tell whether the pattern is facing the right direction (fish swim sideways, birds fly up, etc.) and if it's the right size. It works well.
Here is Solomon, extremely pleased to be almost done I'm sure. To make deadline last Friday, we met the women in the afternoon, bought and sorted bags, and did quality control in the car--Solomon sitting in the back (his school wasn't having class that day) checking the hems and seams, and me in the front, slowly piling hundreds of beach bags on my lap. It got a bit hot, but we did it--Jerry and Jallah came to pick up the bags that night. They worked all through the weekend and we collected the bags, some of which still had paint drying, folded them into recycled boxes (Volvic, Jameson, anything the supermarkets give us) and drove them to FedEx.
Once again, FedEx was wonderful. The bags--we think because we used different lapa, which are woven thicker, but we're not sure--weighed 6 kg more than they were supposed to. Let's just say they hooked us up.
What's next? Well, the Co-op is on vacation for a week or two, I'm writing an article about the project for Business Liberia magazine and am actively recruiting for a Liberian project manager. Email me if you know if anyone. And thanks for all the support!