Monday, April 25, 2011

What is this bag project Ebben keeps talking about?

Ok, so after months and months of promising you all, I have finally sat down and put together a post about the bag project I am working on.

I am working with tailors in village to create bags and accessories from their left-over material. You see, here in West Africa, appearance is extremely important, so people spend a sizable chunk of money on clothing. (Some volunteers have found that families will spend upwards of 25% of their total income on clothing and accessories--needless to say, we need to design and execute a proper experiment, but I am pretty sure we'll confirm this estimate.) For the most part, these clothes are actually tailored, which is where my project comes in.

You see, the tailors tend to just throw their scraps out with the trash. Throwing stuff out is rather common actually, so I guess that's why the tailors thought I was crazy when I told them they are throwing money away. After spending a few months getting to know them and their businesses, I decided it would be  fun experiment to start mixing some of their scraps to make a patch-work item. I then had that patchwork made into a bag.

Big Bag...

After the tailors saw that you could make patchworks from their scraps, we started to run with it. I decided to ask Daddy Bell for a sewing machine and a little bit of cash for start up for Christmas so I could really dig in and learn the trade with the tailors. Turns out I may have been a little premature in that request. I didn't end up buying a sewing machine, but I did buy a great deal of pagne (colorful printed cloth used to make clothing) and made some kick ass contacts in the pagne world of my region. With that pagne, I then went to the tailors to start working on simple bags. We made at least 20 simple drawstring bags for a store in Ouagadougou--the capital city of Burkina Faso-- and ended up selling all bags in less than two weeks. With the money from that order, we were able to turn around, and do another order of about 15 items for another customer.Unfortunately, my camera was broken for those orders, so I don't have the pictures to show you the first simple bag.(The tailors know nothing about the start-up money, but it should be noted that all start-up money has been made back, and now we are dealing with shear profits for the most part.) Eventually, we will start buying pagnes to create coordinated patchworks.


The good news is, with those two large orders, the tailors started coming around. Here, seeing is without a doubt believing. With the third round of bags, we switched from the simple two-sided/two-pagne bag to a rice-lined patchwork bag. We also added a smaller, more city-friendly bag for women, along with accessories such as cell-phone covers, iPod covers, and mens wallets. Due to circumstances out of my control, I was not able to get that order to its intended buyers. That said, the bags are still selling! More than half the the order has moved, AND the store owner in Ouaga (short for Ouagadougou) has placed another order for the beginning of May.

City-friendly bag

Needless to say, I am SO proud of my tailors! Oh, I completely forgot! THE TAILORS!

SO, I am working with three men and two women"en ville". In addition to these motivated individuals, I am working with the Maison des les Femmes' sewing room which is home to 16 girls and one extremely talented and motivated instructor. The plan is to use the proceeds from the bags to help buy sewing machines for the Maison des les Femmes. We are also going to be buying blackboards, as well as repairing whatever needs to be repaired. We are then going to have people come from the local micro-financing institution to teach the girls basic business skills! I think this is what I am most stoked about! Not only are these girls learning the art of sewing--literally couture in French--they will also be learning how to be good business women! How empowering is that? Over all, it is my hope that all who participate in the project will then turn around, and help lead the charge for the development of the community of Pama.

Draw-string bag

I am sure I have left a million holes in this post, but feel free to hit me up if you have any questions. I am working on actually typing everything up nicely in a report form. Once I have more data and what not, I'll post it as a pdf or something for you all to read.

Well, it's late here. I just wanted to get this post up before I go back to Pama.

I really am interested in your feedback so PLEASE comment, and send this link off to any and everyone you know! We have some sick models and what not coming out in the next month or so, and I am working on figuring out how to get stuff to the states.

Till the next post,



  1. Ebben, I am so proud of you! This is AWESOME!
    PLease let me know any way that I can help you with all that you are doing. xoxox

  2. Is this the start of House of Bell Pagne? Bravo to you, Ebben - seriously - what an amazing adventure you are on and you are obviously making the most of it, not only for you, but those you are serving! When do they go on eBay? Or Uncommon Goods? First step - Ouaga - next step the world! - Mags

  3. Ebben -- this is incredible! Those bags are amazing! Bring them back to the States with you and sell them here!! I'm sure they'd be a hit. I'm so glad you've found an activity you love and are sharing it with the world. You're da bommmmbbbbb! Keep us updated! - MC Wickham

  4. Empowering a country, women, and yourself. You are using your talents for great things - God is pleased. Let me know how I can help.
    ~Cousin Renee~

  5. Hey cuz!!
    I can't even tell you how proud I am of you!! What you are doing is really amazing. I am here if you need anything, whether its for emotional support or assistance. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help bring your bags to the states!! I didn't go to school for marketing/business admin for nothing!! Lol! Love you and keep up the great work!!


  6. Ebben, this is real capitalism that you are both engaged in and teaching to others . Remember that according any economist or trend analyst worththeir salt Africa will be the the continent of the future in regard to global capital investment . China alone invested 700 billion in Africa last year so keep open the idea of pursuing venture capital investment for projects such as these . I would sit down and brainstorm with the locals as well as whatever friends you have there who are business and finance majors to look at possbilities . All this takes is vision, capital and marketing and I am not talking about just you benefiting from the experience but I am more concerned with people who have never had resources or interest from people with business acumen taking advantage of this coming trend in global business interest in Africa and the venture capital that comes with it . Go Ebben, you make us all proud ! Sam Chambers

  7. Amazing Ebben, I know your Mom is so proud of you.


  8. Hi Eb!

    Soooo proud of you! These bags are beautiful on so many levels! Taylor, Jordan and I were blessed with matching creations last year upon our neighbor's return from Africa (Sharon Colombo). We intended to support Sharon's committment to serve as a missionary there, but as God would have it, WE were richly blessed...with those gorgeous bags, and the inspirational story behind them.

    God bless and keep you my dear!

    Tanya =)

  9. Ebben your project is really going well. Another example how pragmatism, idealism and capitalism have come together to help peoples lives get better. I am very proud of usual. Keep up the good work.

  10. Your gift continues to make room for you.

    As God blesses you with global exposure, thank you for sharing your experiences, stength and hope with others.

    Danny :) & Carla