Sunday, June 24, 2007

Finding a Good Tailor

Especially in West Africa, finding tailors who really know what they are doing is difficult. Because the clothes here are usually so big and shapeless, they rarely use (and follow) tape measures and measurements and detailed instructions. Needless to say, it has been difficult finding the best tailors who can measure and pay attention to detail. First we started on a quest to give one bag to a lot of different tailors and if they made it correctly we’d give them more. In the end, with the sage advice of some friend of Peace Corps Baba, we decided to set up our own sewing workshop behind his store. There are 10 sewing machine, 10 tailors and two shifts per day of sewing. It’s still a new process but we’re hoping that this will give us better control over the quality of product coming from them. My personal opinion, given that they are all handmade bags, is that the small differences make them unique. Well, we can only run with that for so long until American consumers get picky about "her bag being different than mine." So, we're trying to minimize this as much as possible. Here's an idea of what the tailors have been doing:

Our first meeting - Sembe (lightblue standing) and Baba explain to the the chosen tailors which tissue to use and what the exact measurements are.

Sembe (left) and Barry (right) measure and cut the bogolan. Initially we were going to use a tailor in Bamako to do all the cutting with his laser cutter. Time became a factor and we started doing it by hand.

Benjamin Guindo taking the project to heart and doing the best measuring, cutting and sewing I've seen in Africa!

At a large workshop in Mopti, these two worked together on the bags and did a mighty fine job.

The initial stage of our workroom. 10 sewing machines were bought and assembled and then moved into the room for production to begin.

Inside the workroom with the dayshift crew. We had to explain the importance of keeping the work area clean and focusing on quality, not quantity. They all seemed to understand, but we're all actively there to encourage and support them along the way.

The workroom in motion.

The tailors initally began working individually, but we changed it to an assembly line production.

It's a long road to meet our mark, but we're working hard everyday. I left the project in the hands of Sembe and Baba while I run around Ghana on vacation. They are both amazingly competent and dedicated to their job. I can't wait to get back and help though!