One of our One Mango Tree customers is in town visiting the cooperatives he buys from in East Africa, so I ended up spending much of the week going on his site visits with him - first to Gahaya Links (they partner with Fair Winds Trading to supply all those baskets to Macy's - and pretty much any African-made product you see at Starbucks) and then to Partners in Health (PIH) in Rwinkwavu.
In between, I spent yesterday morning at UTEXRWA - a textile factory located in Kigali. The factory is a shining example of Rwandan industry, with a spotless facility and remarkable openness about their processes. I learned about fabric production in its entirety, starting with raw cotton from ginneries in Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi:
-- from cleaning - to spinning - to weaving - to processing - to printing - to packing --
I saw how they make 50/50 poly blend (mixing in equal parts natural cotton and the blindingly white poly made in Korea and imported), and watched women in the weaving department hand-hook the fabric patterns before sending them off to the automated weavers. Into the processing department, where all those chemical baths reside - hopefully we can avoid this room with One Mango Tree's fabrics.
Then on to the printing, where they have thousands of designs etched into huge metal cylinders. I found the ones used for Obamabags (recognize the face in the image below?) - that's right, they too are a production of Fair Winds and UTEXRWA. The Obama print is off-limits.
The whole process is impressive and incredible - and a challenge to explain, particularly the spinning department, where cotton turns from fluff into longer and stronger threads. The end result? We get to choose from thousands of designs and weights, which means One Mango Tree products are about to get that much cooler - we're aiming for 100% organic - and our bags will finally be 100% East African, a combo of Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi - from soil to sale.
Check out some potential new prints here.