Clockwise: Melanie Popowich, team reviewing initial ideas for Fair Trade Zone, a view of the first building, and the staff from the Akuse office visiting the new building.

We are exceptionally thrilled to share with our fantastic community that we FINALLY have a building on our land! Before we give you a little tour of the brand-new building, we’d like to remind you of the journey that brought us here. The Fair Trade Zone (FTZ) started out as the dream of Melanie Popowich, a Global Mamas employee in Ghana. She saw it as a way for Global Mamas to increase productivity while staying true to our values and vision as a fair trade organization. Unfortunately, we lost Melanie in January of 2013 and her passing shook us to our core. In her memory, we found the strength to move forward and pave the way to the brighter future she envisioned for Global Mamas. Here is a rough timeline of our decade-long journey to the FTZ so far:

  • 2011:  Melanie Popowich dreams of the FTZ.
  • 2013-2017:  Exploratory phase with various students and groups such as North Carolina State University (NCSU) College of Design led by Kofi Boone, Architecture Sans Frontières United Kingdom (ASF-UK) led by Sophie Morley, and Willow Technologies led by Mae-ling Lokko.
  • Mar 2018:  Inception of planning, workshops, and land search. Architect, Juergen Strohmayer, is commissioned.  
  • Oct 2019:  Land acquired by Global Mamas.
  • Jul 2020: Landscape architect, Chrili Car, and German Engineers Without Borders (IoG) join the team.
  • Aug 2020:  Project funds are secured to start work on FTZ Phase 1.
  • Feb 2021:  Construction of FTZ Phase 1 starts.

The FTZ facility was designed using a participatory approach among local and international architects, engineers, and the Mamas where the Mamas voiced their opinions about workspace layout and production flow. The result is a facility design that is unlike anything seen in Ghana that will be built with dynamic and responsive structures that change over time. The FTZ will be a pioneer of sustainable architecture, design, and manufacturing in Ghana, and possibly the sub-region.

Participatory design workshops with Mamas, architects, and engineers.

Purchasing land has been challenging, with several “false starts”. We originally started looking for land near our current office in Ashaiman, but after several years of searching to no avail, the Mamas encouraged us to turn our attention towards Krobo. In 2018, we began the land purchase process in the area near the culturally-significant Krobo Mountain. We were thrilled at the realization that finally, we could start building our dream.

Krobo Mountain
FTZ land with breathtaking views of Krobo Mountain in the background.

Finally in 2021, we broke ground on our land. Unlike a common architectural design that envisions a completed, static building, the Fair Trade Zone allows for construction to be done in phases and evolve with the changing needs of the employees and the organization as a whole. This approach is more adaptive and has allowed us to start small and then continue to build as we secure more funding.

Building progress

Breaking ground at the FTZ.

The building is made using eco-friendly materials like compressed earth blocks and bamboo. It will also serve as a prototype structure that will allow us to learn how all the eco-friendly building materials work together, informing future construction. Though we still have a lot of work to do to complete FTZ Phase 1 of the construction, we are unbelievably excited to see our vision begin to come to life.

Building the FTZ with compressed earth blocks and bamboo.

After years of back and forth with the Mamas and our amazing team of architects and engineers, we have finally completed the very first building of the FTZ. The main purpose of this building is to make enough space to move the Krobo Mamas closer to our Akuse production facility. This is the first stage of centralizing production in this region.

With this wonderful progress, we wanted to take a moment to share with our community and thank everyone that has contributed to this dream along the way. It’s because of our generous supporters that we can move forward and create this space for women to explore, develop, and strengthen their capabilities. The support of our community and your belief in the impact and reach of our work keeps us moving, one sustainable step at a time.

If you would like to continue supporting our progress with FTZ Phase 1, our next goal is to outfit the first building with all of the resources needed for a comfortable work environment to transition the Mamas into the space. That includes tables, chairs, sewing machines, bathrooms, fans, lighting, etc. We are currently fundraising for $5,000 toward these expenses. In total, we need around $86,000 to complete this building, but this $5,000 will keep us moving forward.

An early rendition of the FTZ dream captured by Artist Kelsey Tyler  
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