Callia Has Gone Rural! Sourcing Organic Papyrus Seed from Korhogo
The Importance of Local Sourcing to Callia’s Mission
Callia’s mission is to create economic opportunities for low-income African women. Initially, we believed that simply employing African women to hand-make our jewelry would accomplish this mission. As a result, our first collection in 2015 used primarily imported materials. Women’s only role was to assemble these materials.
However, we quickly realized we could impact a far greater number of African women by sourcing women-made materials. So, in 2016, we began exploring the local bead markets to identify women-made materials that could replace imported components. Specifically, we searched for local, women-made beads to replace industrially made chain, which was a key design element in Callia’s first collection.
Callia’s market search identified three natural materials: papyrus seeds, seashell sequins and termite beads. All of these are organic or mineral materials that occur naturally in West Africa. They are also collected and processed by women.
Establishing Callia’s First Local Supply Chain
Having realized that local sourcing was key to Callia’s mission, in 2016 the team traveled to Korhogo, in the extreme north of Côte d’Ivoire, to meet with rural women’s groups. The objective of this trip was to learn the artistry and ingenuity behind the organic papyrus seed beads that Callia uses in its jewelry, and establish a direct supply relationship with women makers.
Driving north from Abidjan and over 350 miles (560 km) of rough roads, we met with representatives from CARE International. This American NGO aims to increase the economic viability of Ivorian women by training them on savings and credit management.
In order to build up its rural supply chain, Callia partners with CARE, which identifies rural women’s groups to supply organic beads for Callia’s jewelry. By targeting existing CARE groups, Callia ensures that its women suppliers are trustworthy, motivated and have received important training to help them manage their revenues responsibly.
On the first sourcing mission in 2016, Callia met the Targokah women’s group, whose 50 members participated in CARE trainings on savings, credit, group management and conflict resolution. They were also traditional producers of papyrus seed beads. Elderly women who are no longer able to work on their family farms produce these beads. They harvest the seeds annually, then process them into beads in small batches, selling their beads on market day and using the income (typically $3-8 per week) to buy food and pay their grandchildren’s school fees.
Callia conducted a market analysis that revealed that these women earned only 10% of the final market value of their beads. The remainder was absorbed by middle men who bought beads from the rural areas and sold them on the urban market. Callia resolved to source these beads directly from women’s groups. Paying a 50% premium over the market price, Callia was able to increase these women’s revenues, while also reducing the cost of its jewelry.
Since establishing its partnership with the Torgokah women’s group, Callia has provided technical training on quality control. This includes both pest control and optimal “grilling” levels to avoid weakening the seeds. Callia has also trained the women on improved weights and measures, to reduce the labor required to prepare the beads for delivery.
Since 2016, Callia has grown this supply chain to include 100 women, who now supply organic papyrus seed beads to Callia on a regular basis.