Friday, August 19, 2011

Farewell Post

So i kind of slacked on posting the last two weeks because I was so busy getting everything ready for my departure, saying my goodbyes, and finishing up all of my summer tasks.  Here are some final pictures from the trip that has been one of the most transformational experiences of my life.  This place and these people were beautiful, amazing, inspiring, and I could seriously go on but I think you get the picture.  Enjoy!!

        I just want to reiterate what an incredible experience this summer was, and how fortunate I am that I was able to participate.  I learned so much about myself, about who I am and want I want to do with my life, I forged my own opinions, I experienced development work firsthand, and I feel like I matured a lot as a person.  I have no idea what I plan on doing with my life, but I know that this experience has changed me, and I'm excited for what the future holds because I know I'm going to have many more amazing experiences working with women artisans like Chantal and I can't wait to explore more options.  Here are some photos of my last week or so here! I will post more once I have the time!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Week with Marcella: Day 5

This was our last day all together, so we came full circle and had a final wrap-up meeting Friday morning at Ashley’s, all 5 of us. On the agenda was to ask her some lingering questions about the collection, the process of the past week, future plans, as well as go over all of the pricing she was supposed to have started before.   Marcella first started by asking her to give a name to the entire collection, which she could do by thinking about some elements that all of the products had in common and what she saw as their unifying thread. Chantal said that the blue pagne we had chosen was considered a joyful fabric in Togo, worn on special occasions such as births or to celebrate the timely passing of life. We decided to name her collection “Celebration de la Bleu.” Chantal said she had never really considered using this pagne in her designs, as she thought the one-color aspect was simple and bland and it was reserved for its traditional symbolic use. This was a general phenomenon we noticed, women are used to viewing materials and techniques in strict terms of their original function, and are now realizing that there are different ways to transform commonplace items into interesting design elements. As an added bonus because not many people have done this before means that their products will be entirely unique. Through these methods she can elevate many cultural aspects to find new value, worth and interest. Kpalimé, and the surrounding plateau region, is abundant in natural resources, spectacular scenery and artistic tradition, meaning there are infinite inspirations to be drawn and revamped in new and interesting ways. It’s so important for women in the developing world to leverage their geography, culture and natural resources to support economic growth.  Take, for example, the vegetable dyes, even though Chantal already knew how these existed, she thought she had to be the one going into the forest and collecting all of the raw materials and then making the dyes from them. She simply didn’t have the time for it.  Now she’s realizing that there are others who can do this work for her, and in this way she can give employment to others in need, freeing herself up to focus on product construction and positively impacting her community.  This concept of outsourcing and task delegation is imperative for future growth and expansion.
            In terms of future growth and expansion, we had been struggling with Chantal throughout both the summer and the week over the concept of constructing an atelier. Its looming presence undermined many immediate potential improvements in organization and production processes because Chantal put off all suggestions or plans, discrediting them until the construction of the atelier was complete. We wanted to restructure her apprenticeship program, but she said it’s not worth doing it until the atelier is complete, claiming she had no space for new apprentices and she needed to take on a high number so that she could train them all at once and have a greater impact in the community.  In this way there was a mission statement crisis; she’s been caught in the middle of needing to nurture her business and also provide for those that seek her support in the community, but so far hasn’t been all that successful in either. Further complicating matters is the fact that in this community money is both a blessing and a curse, people immediately associate her connections with western volunteers as her having surplus money that she is unjustly guarding for herself and not redistributing amongst her network of family and friends.  Aklala has struggled because it’s been woven into this web of social and community obligations, whereby not all profits can be funneled into product and personnel development, which are imperative improvements for her continuing success, but instead are providing for many dependents.    
Previously, before Ashley and I got here, Chantal told us that the women who worked for her didn’t understand that the money she was earning was being put towards the business as a whole, which would help them all in the long run. They wanted immediate pay-off and didn’t think it was fair that Chantal was keeping most of it and not equitably distributing it.  This is understandable given the circumstances where basic daily needs are commonly not being met, making the future seem irrelevant.  Unfortunately, however, this meant that many of the women previously working for Chantal became insolent, lazy, and unreliable because they thought they weren’t being adequately compensated. She has since had to start from scratch and hire all new employees and apprentices for free, most of them without existing skill sets. 
Chantal has an incredible vision to aid disadvantaged young girls in the community by providing them with skills and economic opportunity, but she doesn’t have the means to be able to do so.  What’s important for her right now is to focus on the growth and expansion of her business so that she can be more effective in her community impact.  Aklala is a product-based business, but as of now Chantal is the only one out of 5 permanent workers who can produce a bag from start to finish, and even her own skill set and production knowledge is limited.   She needs to invest in skill training, management, product development, organic materials, organization, and communication before she can even think about being able to effectively provide employment for others.  Aklala is not an orphanage, it’s a business, granted it is imbedded with a social mission, but in order for Aklala to succeed both in Kpalimé and in western markets she first needs to develop her own vocational and managerial capacities. This has been the missing link, and after speaking with her about and providing our own input, Chantal is finally realizing that she doesn’t need to focus on constructing a workshop without first having marketable products that would command orders and enable high-scale production.  She doesn’t need to devote all of her resources to building: building up a workshop, building up an unskilled workforce, just for it all to languish without successful product to sustain demand and orders. She understands and so we will now work with her to develop a system for re-organizing her existing workshop to maximize space and efficiency, and a plan to develop the personnel capacities of Aklala, so that Chantal is not so overextended by being the main director, organizer, accountant, producer, provider, creative director, and mother.  Currently she is trying to assume all of those roles and doesn’t delegate because she doesn’t trust the capacity of others to sufficiently perform.
An additional comment of note, is that she feels that none of her current employees are as committed to the development of Aklala as an organization, most still see their own personal advancement as the end goal, Liza being the only notable exception.  This makes perfect sense when interpreted as a motivational issue. Liza is currently Aklala’s only foreseeable long-term employee, thus she has a vested interest in its development and expansion, whereas apprentices have institutionalized uncertainty in their futures dependent on passing the apprenticeship exam and being hired by their matrice, and all other laborers currently only work for piece-work.  In the latter circumstances, their goal is to successfully produce in the present because they don’t envision themselves with Aklala in the long-term.  Ashley presented Chantal with the idea to give employees more of a stake in Aklala’s success by creating a slanted payment system, whereby pay is a formula-derived fraction of Aklala’s overall monthly income.  When Aklala is more successful, people will be paid more, thus motivating them to be more efficient and effective producers.  But before that system can be put into place, all of the Nest curriculum must be universally taught so they can understand the factors and conditions for producer success in an increasingly competitive market for developing world artisan exports.
Chantal looked like such a huge relief had been lifted off of her shoulders, she said she had been spending nights worrying over how to reconcile her current employee inefficiency with her greater goals of having an impact on the community by empowering young girls and women.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but she does need to be smart about it, and focus on building up Aklala as a business first and foremost, that can later be capable of having a greater community impact due to its generated demand from the quality and nature of its products. In these circumstances, she would require more women to help in all of the various processes of production, and can have a labor specialization system.  This would be ideal, as she wouldn’t be just giving handouts, but giving opportunities.  To create these opportunities she understands that she needs to develop a cohesive, environmentally conscious, beautiful and practical collection as a first step.  Now that Marcella is gone, and with the foundation for the collection in place, Ashley, Chantal and I can start tackling some of these steps to restructure and reorganize Aklala to become as efficient and successful as possible.   
What’s more is that some of these improvements have already been made, for example Chantal found out today that she got her business accreditation recognized after 4 years in the making, Chantal was considered lucky to have gotten it approved so quickly.  If you don’t have money or connections in government to register, this process can take up to 10 years.  Having an officially recognized enterprise is beneficial because it will facilitate and simplify exporting, give her legitimacy in creating contracts for her apprentices whereby it is understood that she has the mechanisms to make sure these contracts are honored, and it gives her more credibility both domestically and internationally. It’s a long process with a long checklist, but Chantal is already making some headway.
            After Ashley and Marcella left for the airport I went over to Chantal’s to work on finishing all of the pricing for the bags and all other product development expenditures. We sat underneath the mango tree snacking on grilled corn and laid out all of the products on a long wooden table. At first Chantal didn’t want to use a budget price quote sheet for every individual product, but once I explained to her how useful it would be going forward to have it all organized for reference purposes she agreed. Working together we were able to develop a reasonable price quote for each product that included price of all raw materials, labor, profit and then all additional miscellaneous expenses such as transportation, raw material purchase for vegetable dyes, labor she had to source to teach her new techniques, and other time spent in meetings with us when she could have been working, her time is extremely valuable.  It was so important that at least for the first time doing product development, Chantal was not constricted by a budget and continuous price quotes and references.  While we kept pricing in mind, it did not dictate any aspect of the creative process, and that allowed the collection to be more inventive and distinct. This contrasts with normal economic transactions and the basic form of commodity exchange that rarely serves the interests of the remote producer.  In this form of economic exchange that we are trying to combat, the relationships between producers and consumers is regulated and founded by price mechanisms.  Producers are often disadvantaged in these exchanges because their labor is not justly valued and they often do not receive enough compensation for the work that would help them to lead dignified lives.  It is the retailing firm, whom in marking up the price of the product makes the greater profit margin on the exchange because they are more directly linked to the paying western consumer.  The western consumer is more removed from the third world producer and thus product revenue is not equitably distributed.  This type of exchange leads to a hierarchy of power and entrenches producer positions of marginalization and dependency.  Often western retailers are looking for the cheapest way to produce and do not concern themselves with the ethical issues of working conditions, equitable distribution, environmental affects, and other issues of human welfare.  It is so important that Chantal is adequately compensated for all of her work, and is paid for all expenses incurred that go beyond the price tag of raw materials. In running a business in the developing world there are so many miscellaneous and unanticipated expenses that she must pay for due to a lack of sound community infrastructure and many inefficient processes of production.  Chantal must be guaranteed fair working conditions, profit, fair wages, and make sure that all costs are covered so that she is benefitting from the transaction and is treated as a corresponding western artist.  That is where Nest comes in, and over time Nest and Chantal have both been working together to establish a more equitable system.
After we went through all of the expenses of the week, we discussed her next task, which is to independently create and produce three more products to complement and complete the collection. While she will have to continue thinking about cohesiveness, this process will unleash unparalleled opportunities for her own inspiration, creation, and development, central to any artisan and product-based work.

Week with Marcella: Day 4

I’m fairly certain that Chantal worked from sunrise to sundown to finish the collection.  We ended up with around 10 products, and they all look amazing. It’s such a cohesive, fresh start that is going to be instrumental for Aklala’s development going forward. We did a photo shoot of the products and then had the women model them for us. At first they were a little shy but after a little encouragement and some cheering, they started strutting on the catwalk, swinging their hips and striking poses.  It was obvious that they liked the products and were having fun with it.
            Before we left, Marcella asked all of the women to tell us about the things they had learned throughout the week and what they would take away from this whole process.  Besides Chantal, Liza seemed like she made most understood the transformation and was the most pleased with the results.  It was written all over her face when she was looking at the pillow. I think she surprised herself at how beautiful something could turn out with the right concept and the right materials. She also told us that she really liked the natural quality of the vegetable dyes, and she said it felt much safer, and smelled a lot better, than the chemical reactive ones she is used to working with. Akou told us that she was really impressed by the pleating on the drawstring pouch, as before she had only seen it on fancy dresses, and liked the idea of reworking formerly exclusive design elements in new and accessible ways.  As for Chantal, she said that she liked finding beauty in simplicity because it allows her to be more creative rather than just relying on bright batiks to be the main element of her products.  She can find value in unexpected sources, such as the environment, recycled grain and cocoa bags, and different techniques to adorn and construct her bags. She liked that the collection still incorporated printed fabric and designs, which reflects her Togolese culture and context, but the use of more subdued colors makes the products more appealing and relevant for western markets. We can’t get too ahead of ourselves, she’s not ready to completely denounce all of her old processes and batik work, as she hasn’t seen any tangible success from her newline. How it is perceived amongst western markets will be the true test of its success, even though Chantal admits she thinks it has a better chance of selling. She’s going to conduct an experiment at the next Peace Corps trade show in November by setting up two separate booths, one for her more traditional products, and one showcasing her new collection and see which is more successful. For now she will continue to make her traditional batik, but now incorporate the vegetable dyes alongside the traditional chemical ones.
            Next we asked her if she could talk about the differences between the two processes of production and design development, before and after Marcella’s arrival.  Chantal told us that the way her existing line came about was through essentially copying a bag of her daughter Beatrice’s. The bag had wooden handles which really interested Chantal, so she paired some wood made by her brother Ruben with pagne she found in the market and viola, the sac bateau was born.  With this as a starting point, she developed other products with the same general feel, made some bags that Megan specifically designed for her, and imitated others that they found in various catalogs.  This is the way the retail industry operates in Togo, mass-produced catalogs are disseminated throughout the country’s couture shops, and customers come in, choose their desired design and fabric, and then have a product made based upon an image hung up on the wall. The new process was about starting with an idea, not an example. The idea we were building off of was simplicity and finding value in more organic and natural sources.  All of the products we initially presented to her were so basic and simple in design that she would be forced to come up with more creative and personal ways to complicate them, without solely relying on the batik.  We wanted to focus on design elements that would resonate both with western consumers but also with Chantal.  We all shared ideas, realized not everything was possible the way we had envisioned, changed things as we went and let the process unfold organically rather than rigidly copying pre-existing blueprints. 
As we were getting ready to leave the workshop all together for the last time, we asked Chantal to devise a preliminary price quote of all raw materials she purchased, miscellaneous related expenditures, and final product costs that we could examine in the morning. When she held up the budget/price quote sheet we had made for her and said she would use it in order to do all of the pricing, Ashley and I were so excited that we high-fived. This was a baby step of improvement, but we’d take it.  This week had been about fast-track changes, and we realized that not everything would stick right away.  Chantal and Aklala still need better and more effective organization, more skilled employees, a renewed focus on her personal strengths and fortés, and a sustainable way to incorporate her signature batik in a more relevant and environmentally conscious way.  These changes aren’t going to happen over night, which we all understood, but setting the process in motion was the first, and biggest step.  Working against Chantal is the fact that development is slow while markets are fast.  The goal is to take our time to build up Chantal’s skill and production capacity and provide her with safe avenues of access to markets so she can handle their pace.  If Chantal rushes ahead before she is ready, the quality of her products will be compromised, she will have to hire more piecework workers and forego profits for Aklala, and her business will flounder.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Week with Marcella: Day 3

The entirety of Wednesday was spent at the workshop with only a small break for lunch at our now regular spot. The women had thus far made one market bag, one leather bag modeled after the “China bag”, one pillowcase, and assorted bits and pieces of other products. This was a big accomplishment, especially considering the fact that Chantal is the only one undertaking most, if not all processes of production. As we added various pieces to the collection such as napkins, place settings, a canvas market bag, a pleated evening clutch with glass beads, and batik wrapped bangles, everything was starting to fall into place. Seeing it all start to come together, to see these pieces that would cater around a lifestyle and be so representative of Aklala but also have such a mass appeal is extremely rewarding and really exciting.
            Coming back after lunch, we asked Chantal some hard questions about the inspiration for her designs and what she saw as the unifying thread in all of her products before and after Marcella. Chantal first said that she felt really drawn to flowers, so she used them to represent women as the flowers in the family. “A household without a woman is dull and lifeless; it’s women that give communities their color and joy.” As for blues, which have always figured prominently in her pieces, she said she’s inspired by the sky, because the sky is the highest visual reference, and it’s a constant reminder to always look up and aspire for more. In this way she wants to empower women to elevate themselves to a higher level.  While these are beautiful messages that I’m sure have some elements of authenticity, we couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Chantal was telling us exactly what she thought we wanted to hear.   It’s like she was playing our own jargon against us, which makes sense on so many levels. Women around the world have been marginalized in the global economic order both as women and as members of underdeveloped nations. They have been put in positions of dependency that have left them vulnerable to predatory interventions that ostentatiously aim for empowerment, but have often only further indebted them and entrenched their dependent conditions. While Nest is in no way exploitative, it does come with inherent roles of service provider and service receiver. Chantal and these women are using whatever tricks they have up their sleeves to benefit from our presence as much as possible. I have to hand it to them; these women are smart. They know what are our goals are for them, and they know that if they can feign our metrics of success then future service provision will be all the more likely. So even though they’re giving us cookie cutter responses to make both of our lives easier, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for the best. For us it’s there’s no real benefit in hearing the repetition of some hackneyed metaphor if its not genuine. We want to hear Chantal’s own opinions, even if she hasn’t fully formed them yet; I’d rather get authenticity even if it’s not what I want to hear, than uplifting clichéd anecdotes.
Another issue that arose when speaking to Chantal is that she seems to have a lack of context in situating herself amongst her international producer counterparts. Part of the problem is that she doesn’t have a full understanding of who or what her competition is. This stems from an inability to locate her role in international markets due to insufficient information, as a result she relates herself to mostly other Togolese women producers. In comparison to those in her community, her business is much more advanced and connected to westerners, thus making her more successful in all of their eyes.  The catch is that Chantal’s products aren’t solely competing in West Africa, they are entering saturated international markets, and as of now she has no way to gauge her own product quality versus that of her competition.  Products from Aklala are juxtaposed next to those from artisans and factories around the world, made by producers that have had many more resources, experiences and skills in order to perfect them. But instead of this motivating Chantal to improve her own product quality, she remains uninformed and overconfident. Chantal looks at a superiorly crafted product and thinks she is just as capable of making it; in this sense, she isn’t operating with an understanding of her own limitations. Right now she doesn’t even have a lot of the skills necessary for production, even though she assumes the skill level is there because she’s had so many years of practice and training. It’s not there, and that’s more the fault of the vocational apprenticeship training system, rather than her own inadequacies, as no one has shown her how to do things better. Chantal’s work is in the very early stages of production and development, and the core of the matter is that she still doesn’t have excellent products. This issue however operates within the greater cultural context of complacency. People have become so accustomed to second-rate work and services that they are almost always left uncontested. In this setting, Chantal is a highly unique entrepreneur and the fact that she has started and is now running a successful business is fairly revolutionary.  Our challenge, however, is to present Chantal with a more accurate context of her position in the competitive western market for handcrafted goods, and then help her move beyond her current capacities and achieve success through merging high quality design and production with her traditional artistic skill set.
One of the other challenges in working with artisans in the developing world is that their situational circumstances dictate that they cant compete in pricing in international markets when pitted against factory-level production, so they must find other ways to create value for their enterprises. In Chantal’s case this can be done with the use of organic vegetable dyes, superior product design that respects cultural relevancies, and focusing on the traditional production processes. These will permit Chantal to command more money for her products, thus providing higher wages and profits for Aklala, which can then be put towards her more charitable goals.

After a long and successful day of working on products and working through our questions, Chantal was exhausted.  We knew that we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow so we didn’t want to leave her with too much homework, but we once again outlined the agenda so she could start to at least think about time management. Tomorrow would be our last day to finish all of the products before Marcella’s depart, so this was make it work time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Week with Marcella: Day 2

The focus of Tuesday was to evaluate and understand Chantal’s existing raw material situation by seeing what she had readily accessible to her in the marketplace as well as from local natural resources—as a means of honoring traditional production methods and reducing her environmental footprint. The day started off bright and early amidst the winding and crowded stalls of Kpalimé’s hub of economic and cultural activity. Markets around the world can be incredibly expressive and revealing of a community’s identity, and so it was important for Marcella to see the market to gain a greater understanding of Togolese culture and its influences and supplies for Chantal.   
            Ashley led us around the usual route, first to the beads where we found an amazing necklace of clear recycled glass, and then past nuts and the stacked pagne, gesturing to the road selling mixed hardware, all the while getting stopped every 5 minutes to say hello to someone because she’s so popular.  After extracting herself from these different conversations we finally submerged into the depth of the market.  Taking a side cut through a small alley past the predatory Moto drivers, we were at once lost inside the stalls, being hustled and bustled and making our way past containers, soccer jerseys, beads, and pagne to the structure that housed the concentration of fabric.  We walked upstairs past the mounds of used shoes, and at the sight of racks and racks of pagne and batik, Marcella immediately laughed and said, “Uh oh I’m in trouble”. I laughed and told her, “it’s ok we’ve all been there, I was in trouble maybe two days after I got here, so I know the feeling.” 
Marcella was very interested in the range of fabrics on display, especially pagne, bazin, batik, kente weavings, linen, and canvas.  For someone claiming to be in trouble, she only bought two beautiful patchwork pagnes that she didn’t even keep, as she gave them both to Chantal to use as the foundation for Aklala’s new collection. While touring the dilapidated building, we told Marcella of how the government had built a brand new replacement located on the outskirts of the market. The goal was not only to improve the physical structure but also to organize all of the marché mamas in a much more efficient setting and system. The new building is beautiful, featuring perfect construction and personalized stalls, but the women have completely boycotted it. They don’t want to change locations from their established spots to something so foreign and sterile. For most of these women, the market is just as social as it is economic, where they pass time by chatting and gossiping with friends and community members and also supporting each others enterprises. The ties that bind culture to commerce in many developing world communities are often not fully understood by policy makers. This exemplifies why you have to first talk to people to determine their needs and wants, rather than investing all this money in a top-down and ineffective fashion, based on western views and exigencies.  Now this beautiful big new building rests vacant and languishing, taking up space and funds that could have been directed to more vital ventures. After walking around and comparing different fabric qualities, compositions, designs and colors we all had a better understanding of Chantal’s material limitations and her opportunities for improving the quality of her products.
            So we plunged deeper now into the food market, colliding into a stimulating parade of grains, tomatoes, corn, garlic, rows of fruits and vegetables, fish and meats, preparation stands, beans, and yams. It was a smorgasbord of produce and a sensory overload but incredibly inspiring from a design point of view in terms of shapes, colors and textures. Fruits I’ve never seen before with names I can’t pronounce are juxtaposed next to the usual suspects of pineapples, mangoes, bananas, avocados, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, lemons, beans, limes and carrots.  We move on and weave through craft stands, toy stands, hardware stands, used clothing stands, grain stands, tchouk tchouk stands, all amidst people milling about, chatting, smiling, heckling, shouting, running, cooking, sleeping, laughing, singing and dancing.  We finally reach the end of the maze, and even though we could probably spend an entire day meandering through the market, it was time to go up to Mt. Kuma to search for colored vegetable dyes made from local plants, fruits and vegetables. 

 Motorcycles were to transport us up the windy mountain to get to the artisan workshop where the dyes are concocted.  The serpentine road is lined with lush vegetation, spectacular scenery, cascading waterfalls and abundant fruit trees and as we climbed higher we reached a clearing where a vision of Kpalimé’s cluster of clay red roofs emerged in the basin below. It felt like the lush forests of Peter Pan’s Neverland, all the while zooming around sharp turns and bouncing from the potholed roads. It was one of the most amazing rides of my life. We finally arrived at the workshop and of course the promised dye wasn’t ready yet, so while one man worked to finish, some others distracted us by presenting the different plants they used to derive the colors, and a basic overview of how they make it into a dye.  It was fascinating, one man would hold up a normal looking greenish/brownish leaf, squish it together, start rolling it around, and all of the sudden this terracotta color liquid started oozing from his palms.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  He told us that it’s what a lot of local women use for lipstick, and offered to put it on Ashley; he clearly had a crush on her.  While it was a tad bright for lip stain, it could be a beautiful product color for fall. In addition to showing us the dye process, the workshop also had a beautiful collection of artwork and local butterflies on display. The wings of the butterflies were just as bright as the colors of the vegetable dyes. We still had to wait for the paint to finish fermenting, so the men invited us to sit around a table and started playing the drums and xylophone for us. The music was so simple but so charming and I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the entire performance.

            Finally, the vegetable dyes were ready, so we climbed back on the motorcycles and started our descent to Chantal’s so she could start experimenting with their implementation and creating her own colors.  Even though we wouldn’t be able to incorporate them into the collection we were creating this week, as there was too much time and investment needed to perfect the coloring and composition for fabric use, it was such an important process to initiate and get the ball rolling. Momo accompanied us back to the workshop and explained to Liza and Akou some of the basic processes and materials that would be needed to make the dyes. Chantal let Liza and Akou learn the dye process because her fingers were glued to the sewing machine, working on product construction.
 She had ballooned off from the pagne flowers she experimented with yesterday and had made around 15 of them, adoring them all on an already printed flour sack.  This was her first day of experimenting with creating products and I think she got a littler overeager with all of these new ideas she wanted to implement. The problem was that she had too many ideas at once competing with each other, and she needed to tone it down and focus on one or two main design elements per bag, allowing each to be appreciated.  In addition, by observing her processes, we saw how beneficial having product patterns would be, as she’s currently the only one that can cut product dimensions correctly.  This means Chantal is in charge of cutting, construction and overall direction. Even if she delegates Mama to sew something, she still has to sit around and wait for the fabric to be cut as Chantal doesn’t trust her to do it correctly due to her deteriorating eyesight.  To make matters worse even her sewing can be problematic, we have witness curved and uneven stitched, incorrect product dimensions and poorly attached accents. This makes Chantal either have to go back and redo most things Mama does, or not give her tasks at all, which then just piles on her own workload.
Soon evening crept up and the sun began to set, nights without electricity mean that the workshop pretty much shuts down and everyone goes home at the firs hint of dusk. Everyone that is, except for Chantal, who kept sewing well into the darkening night because she was determined to finish the marché bag before bedtime. Before leaving we gave her a plan for the next day to finish two bags, a pillowcase, and the leatherwork and told her we would meet at the workshop early the next morning to dive head first into completing the collection.  Even though she hadn’t really completed much that day in terms of finished product, we recognized that this was the result of process and employment encumbrances, not for lack of motivation. Once again over a dinner of Belgian frites and chocolate crepes we discussed strategic plans to help Chantal better manage her time, organize the layout of her workshop, and have more basic resources such as patterns at her disposal to simplify her process. The motivation and ambition is there, improvement is possible, but there are going to be a lot challenges and setbacks to work through before all of our goals can be realized.  But we aren’t even remotely defeated, seeing their limitations, inexperience, and rudimentary processes aren’t a dead end, they’re opportunities for positive and progressive change.