The Wolf of Wall Street was Wrong?

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.

Many thanks to the Namibia Bird Club, which let ‘Sew Good’ share its stand, and to Anita and Gudrun (above), Judy, Uschi who kept me company and shared the beer runs.

We grow, we learn, we try not to sweat the small stuff!

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 MammadĂș 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

‘Sew Good’ has its first showcase

Julia Gomachas prepares the display of ‘Sew Good’ products for the IWAN event

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.

With that in mind, we will now be focusing on making items with a ‘birdy’ theme since the Namibia Bird Club (https://www.namibiabirdclub.org/) has generously allowed us space on their stall at the forthcoming craft market at The Shed, outside Windhoek (19th and 20th October, https://www.facebook.com/TheShed9000).

Small steps and the bigger picture

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.

This waste – primarily plastic bottles and fast-food containers – was photographed in Windhoek last week. It has collected in a rainwater channel and will block the drainage eventually, when – as we all fervently wish – it rains in a few weeks. The flooding that will then ensue as the flow backs up will inundate housing upstream, often in areas where newer, low cost housing has been constructed and informal settlements proliferate.

Local activism plays a role in advancing the goals of the global environmental movement too and so it is gratifying to see that Windhoek will host its first organised march against climate change at the end of this week. https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Environmental-Conservation-Organization/Friday-For-Future-Windhoek-102120687805024/

‘Sew Good’ expands its product lines

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.

Kenya’s experiment in banning plastic bags

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.

Confusion over plastic bag levy in Namibia

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/

Whilst it’s commendable that our legislators are getting up to speed with the need to incorporate environmental issues into policies and laws more fully, and levies imposed in other countries have had significant positive results in this regard (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/31/shoppers-use-of-plastic-bags-in-england-continues-to-fall), nevertheless we should all be aiming to reduce and eventually eliminate our use of such plastics in our lives.

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).

‘Sew Good’ makes its first sale!

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.