Doesn’t Jordan Belfort say that the best time to sell to the public is in a recession? Well the many overheating vendors trying to interest customers in their wares at The Shed outside Windhoek this weekend might wish to disagree with him. It was (blisteringly) hot and windless, and we were competing with the rugby, the soccer, the beer, and the tendency of potential buyers to save their cents for Crimbo (that’s ‘Christmas’ to non-Brits).
Nonetheless at this wonderful craft fair, the first time ‘Sew Good’ has marketed its products to the general public, we actually seemed to do better than the traders around us – perhaps the novelty factor was kicking in. We also got some good ideas for product development from interested people who came by to chat.
Anyone with zero experience trying to launch a project from scratch, especially one in a resource-poor country in deep recession, is going to have moments that just feel like one step forwards and two steps back. I have to give a shout out to Julia Gomachas and Amory Tjipepa, who have been more than patient as we debated ideas, created prototypes, and – often – went back to the drawing board on the way to developing viable product lines. Eventually, they managed to create a little upcycled bag that fits into a tiny sack in your handbag or pocket when not in use – because we all forget to take our full-scale ‘Sew Good’ reusable shopping bag to the store from time to time and only remember we need one when we realise we are going to be charged for a plastic carrier bag just to hold a carton of milk.
They also have been hard at work experimenting with making net and organza drawstring bags that can be used to hold loose fruit and vegetables at the store weighing station – thus reducing the amount of plastic packaging you are forced to take home with you.
And I have been putting my long-dormant domestic-science class skills to use to make little applique felt birds that will be added to all the bags we sell soon at the Namibia Bird Club stall at the craft market at The Shed (19/20 October).
It’s important that we mention the support we have received today from two new donors too: the Mammadú Welcome Center arranged for us to collect a large selection of buttons, fabrics, ribbons and other sewing supplies (as well as three sewing machines that they no longer need) from their beautiful premises in Otjomuise, Katutura. We are very thankful for the support of this amazing organisation, which is doing such good work for the children in its care: https://www.mammadu.org/?lang=en.
Promotional billboard banners are not easy to dispose of in an environmentally friendly manner in Namibia and ‘Sew Good’ is exploring options to turn them into an exciting new product soon. We are grateful to Grace and Michael of Gecko Signs, in Windhoek, who were generous enough to give us one of their old banners to experiment with: ttps://www.geckosignsnamibia.com/about
Yesterday was the first time that ‘Sew Good’ has had an opportunity to showcase the items made by the three women now upcycling donated fabric into household items. The International Women’s Association Namibia (http://iwan.com.na/) very kindly invited us to exhibit examples of the project’s current products at their coffee morning in Windhoek and a number of shopping bags (to replace single-use non-biodegradable plastic carrier bags) and sets of net sacks (for purchases of loose fruit and vegetables) were bought. We also took some orders, engaged in valuable networking, and received some great ideas for future lines.
It’s interesting to see that while we have received a great deal of interest in our Facebook page, this hasn’t really translated into sales yet. It seems to be the case that when people can see the quality of the goods made by Julia, Amory and Margrieta in person, and talk to someone directly involved – that’s when the human connection is made and people really want to support the group.
The first ‘Good for Namibia’ project – the ‘Sew Good’ women’s group, embodies the grassroots approach in three ways. Firstly, it addresses the need for the most disadvantaged members of our community – often those most affected by environmental degradation, climate change, and other linked issues – to increase their incomes; learn useful entrepreneurial skills; and plan for the future through a sustainable business model.Secondly, the items created by the group (and by others I hope to assist in the future) are made in Namibia from locally available recycled materials. Therefore the profits remain within the communities that make the products and the transportation costs (actual, and in terms of the negative impacts of fossil fuel-use and pollution) are kept to a minimum. Lastly, of course, by upcycling waste the projects will contribute towards reducing pollution in our country and beyond.
The ‘Sew Good’ project has a new member, who will be focusing on hand-sewing patchwork blocks in order to expand the range of products the group can offer. Ms Amory Tjipepa works in the security control room of an estate outside Windhoek and has plenty of time on her hands to make up these items from strips of contrasting furnishing fabric while she is on duty. Clients will be able to then have the finished squares made into cushions, quilts and pet beds.
When Kenya decided to introduce severe penalties for the manufacturing, distribution, sale and use of plastic (polythene) carrier bags two years ago, it seemed like a pragmatic response to a critical issue. However, as this article shows, not only are the sanctions disproportionate (in my view), but efforts to work around the ban by introducing ‘greener’ alternatives have had negative as well as positive consequences: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-49421885. Clearly, well-intentioned legislation to address environmental issues will be caught on the back foot if it fails to take into consideration the circumstances specific to any particular setting.
The national levy on non-biodegradable single-use plastic bags previously given away gratis at Namibian retailers was due to be gazetted on August 1st this year (of course, the actual cost of providing these ‘free’ bags has formerly been absorbed into the price of products for sale). Subsequent searches online failed to produce any information regarding progress of this important legislation, which will affect pretty much every adult in the country, week in, week out: https://www.lelamobile.com/content/81105/Government-distances-itself-from-retailers-plastic-levy/
Ask for a cardboard box to hold your items; use fabric bags such as those made by the ‘Sew Good’ project; ask for price stickers to be put directly onto single loose fresh produce (such as butternuts).
This morning ‘Sew Good’ placed its first product with a retail store in Namibia. From today, interested customers can purchase our unique, reusable heavy duty shopping bags made from locally sourced upcycled material at the Zero Waste Store in Klein Windhoek:https://www.facebook.com/zerowastestorenamibia/ .
Not sure if that really requires any further elucidation, and I’m all about clarity and brevity, but let’s just reiterate anyway: you can find us on our public Facebook page (search under Sew Good Namibia) and like us, comment, tag and share, of course if you are on Facebook yourself!
After carpet bombing friends and family with the link to this blog yesterday night, this morning I can announce that ‘Sew Good’ has made its VERY FIRST SALE. Many thanks go out to Ms Uschi Bauer, a keen birder, who bought a reusable shopping bag made from material with a design of birds. I hope to be able to deliver it to her shortly and that she gets many years of use from it.