The three women’s co-ops in the Tanzania Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) Program have recently added tie-dyed products to their product portfolio. The members trained on the technique and in their first workshop, were very successful in creating unique, beautiful designs. Read on for details on this project and the members’ hopes for expanding their market.
The unstoppable enthusiasm of the Amani, Upendo, and Tunaweza RCP co-op members has led to a new tie-dye profit center. Under the tutelage of RCP Co-op Coordinator Theodora Kapinga and Iringa Entrepreneurship teacher Elizabeth Valence, the mothers from Makungu, Ipalamwa, and Ukwega villages learned the traditional skill of tie dying fabric.
Part of the lesson was the basics of local market production. The members turned over the profits from seafood and liquid soap sales over the last few months for capital to purchase the tie-dying materials to start this new offering. A grant from Global Volunteers allowed the co-ops to purchase tarpaulin and personal protective equipment from suppliers in Dar es Salaam and Iringa.
Soon after, the co-ops produced about three dozen tie-dyed shawls (vikoi in Swahili), a dozen ornamented fabrics for dresses and shirts, and a dozen trousers. Their customers are community members, including church choir members, local politicians, and Global Volunteers staff. Upendo co-op Chairperson Sarah Duma exulted the importance of the project, “It’s helped to improve our standard of living. (The co-op) has been able to make some money and hence, increase our families’ incomes.” Member Caroline Lunyungu added, “I learned about financial management and how to make a profit through different business ideas.”
Spending creative time together to learn new skills generates a valuable by-product: a boost to members’ confidence. Devotha Mwilafi of the Amani Co-op said she initially sensed the project was beyond her capabilities. “On the first day, I didn’t see myself making tie dye because my thinking was it’s for talented and educated people, not ordinary village-born people like me. But look at me now! I can make different styles of tie dye and I expect to learn more.”
“On the first day, I didn’t see myself making tie dye because my thinking was it’s for talented and educated people, not ordinary village-born people like me. But look at me now! I can make different styles of tie dye and I expect to learn more.”– Devotha Mwilafi, Amani co-op member
Another member, Sisemi Jumanne Balamwa, said she overcame her early misgivings. “In learning to make tie-dyed fabrics, our teacher told us not to worry as there is no making mistakes, because that’s part of discovery,” she said. “And there are no specific types of tie-dye styles – the most important thing is your creativity so you can produce something unique. This lifted my confidence and now I believe I can make any kind of tie-dyed fabrics,” Sisemi asserted.
Although the unique fabrics are a reliable product, the demand is lower than the consumables such as soap and seafood they’ve sold so far. “Tie-dye markets have been so challenging in part because it’s a seasonal business,” Theodora explains, with demand in harvest season and during holidays in November and December. She expects sales to increase soon. “The co-ops are the only ones who are doing any tie-dying projects in the Ukwega Ward so there is no market competition for the new line of fabrics.”
The co-op members say they can restore life to old, faded clothing they have at home as well. Salima Nyaulingo marveled, “Even the clothes that are worn and have lost their natural color can look new and be reused instead of throwing them away. I can do this even at my home with my children’s clothes.”