News

  • What is Ethical Leather?!

    As an ethical company doing our best to work responsibly with our artisan partners as well as the environment, we get asked a lot about where our leather comes from, so I wanted to address this question and explain a little bit about the environment for cattle in Tanzania.

    First off, all of our leather comes from Tanzanian cattle (and a few styles use goat skin as well, as it is thinner). Industrialized farming is virtually unheard of in Tanzania. Cattle production is done mostly by pastoralist peoples, who spend their days herding cattle through the vast grasslands making up much of the landscape of East Africa.

    (Herder with Cattle, photo credit Manyara Ranch Conservancy)

    Cattle play a huge part in making portions of Tanzania habitable. In the grasslands, there are months without rain, making farming nearly impossible. The only consistent plant that is thriving is, of course, grass. Cattle are able to digest the grass which humans are not capable of digesting, and convert it into energy that humans can use (meat). 

    When closely examining the leather used to make our shoes, purses, and belts, you will notice small scratches. Cattle are herded across the grasslands and through thickets. They occasionally get scratches. Their hides differ from the flawless hides of farm-raised cattle--but Tanzanian cattle have had a life of free-roaming. 

    Leather is a byproduct of meat production in Tanzania, which is a necessary product for survival for rural people in Tanzania. Though in the Western world we have a multitude of options in selecting our diets, in much of the world the luxury of choice does not exist in regards to food. 

    The leather for our products comes from hides from pastoralist herders in Tanzania, which are then processed by a family-owned tannery in northern Tanzania on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Though leather production varies greatly depending on the qualities the finished leather must exhibit (thickness, strength, suppleness), almost all of our leather components used in all of our products are made from vegetable-tanned leather. This is the most time-intensive of all tanning processes, but it also has the least environmental impact, as leather is tanned using natural tannins occurring in plant material, rather than manufactured chemicals.

    Many products branded as "vegan leather" come from petroleum-based materials, which are also produced with an environmental cost. All of our consumption choices have an impact on our environment--it is our responsibility as consumers to made educated choices. Don't hesitate, when purchasing leather goods or any other product, to ask about origins, materials, and processes. 

    While many people choose not to use or consume animal products, we have made the choice to continue the rich history of leatherworking in East Africa--in the most ethical way possible. 

     

  • Trade Agreements and Real Impact: How AGOA Works for Us

     

     

     

     

     

    (G.W. Bush and Obama renewing AGOA in 2000 and 2015)

     

    The current US presidential campaign has brought an unusual amount of scrutiny in analyzing trade agreements. In the midst of all of the talk about NAFTA, the TPP, and how jobs are being shipped overseas, I wanted to introduce a less well-known but hugely important bit of legislation called the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which is a US trade agreement with many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and a key facet in the creation and continued growth of Seeded Hand Sown. 

    If you live in the US, you may not have ever heard of AGOA, unless you are particularly interested in global economics or international trade--but I'll tell you who has: just about everyone who consumes news media in East Africa. AGOA is a gorgeous bit of legislation signed into law by Bill Clinton in 2000 (and renewed by G.W. Bush and Obama) that grants tariff-free entry of many products produced in participating Sub-Saharan African nations. To be designated as AGOA-eligible, a country has to show progress in establishing: 

    •    a market-based economy 
    •    the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process, a fair trial, and equal protection under the law;
    •    the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment
    •    economic policies to reduce poverty, improve healthcare and education, expand physical infrastructure, and promote robust private enterprise
    •   efforts in battling bribery and corruption
    •   protection of  worker rights, including the right of association, no forced labor, no child labor, a fair minimum wage, and safe working conditions.

    ...And also, the country can't engage in any practices that undercut US security or promote terrorist activity. Efforts in all of these fields are continually audited, and a nation can lose or gain AGOA eligibility depending on their compliance. The number of AGOA-eligible countries fluctuates, but approximately 40 sub-Saharan nations are participating. 

    There is a lot to gain by being AGOA-eligible. Easy access to the multi-billion dollar US market is a crucial growth opportunity for developing countries that do not necessarily have a lot of domestic spending power. Though the US sacrifices potential tariff income, we are able to use our buying power to promote our economic interests in the region, as well as promoting human rights and economic development. 

    Continuing to build strong trade relationships in developing nations is crucial to the stability of our political relationships as well. Countries with robust trade relationships don't tend to start wars with each other.

    As far as Seeded goes--Tanzania's eligibility in AGOA allows us to bring our shoes into the US market tariff-free, and the savings that we gain are directly reinvested into our workers. AGOA is a core element in our business model, and we hope more companies follow in strengthening the trade between the US and Africa--promoting practices to bring about a more just and peaceful world. The US places tremendous emphasis on quality working conditions idomestically, so we are glad to be on the ground, helping to implement those same practices for equally deserving people in Tanzania. 

     

  • Inclusive Business: Providing Opportunities to our Tanzanian Partners

    Seeded Sandals is a business. Like many small business owners, we want to harness the power of the market to improve the lives of people we love--although in our case, the people we love are not just our family and friends here at home, they are also our (very) extended family and friends in Tanzania. While profits are important, doing right by the people we work with is not up for compromise. We aren't just calling in orders to a factory overseas--we work hand-in-hand with the artisans at our workshop, and we are serious about our responsibility to these artisans.  

    (I mean, look how awesome these people are. I have no idea why anyone wouldn't want to be friends with all of them.)

     

    We believe in inclusive business practices. Put simply, inclusive businesses engage low-income communities in the market chain. In our case, this means that we have employed people in Tanzania and added them to the market chain for fashion in America. By taking a traditional craft out of Tanzania and creating a market for it in the US, we have added value to the work being done in Tanzania and are now able to pay artisans much higher wages than they would be able to command on the local market. We help give people jobs, but not by training them for completely new and different opportunities, but by utilizing unique skills they already have. 

    (Proudly made in Tanzania!)

     

    We do not rely on donors, fundraising, or grants--instead, we are a self-sustaining business. Non-profits and charities fill crucial gaps in Tanzanian society, but our mission is different. We want to empower our Tanzanian partners to choose their own destinies. We want to offer solid, middle-class jobs with a living wage, so that the artisans that work with us can make their own choices about where to send their kids to school and where to get medical care. They can help their brother make rent, and still have enough to get their hair done.

    We don't want to make decisions for the people we work with. We want to offer them the chance to make their own choices and live a life that will make them proud.

  • Tanzanian Kitenge

    Well, it finally seems that we can kiss winter goodbye here on the East Coast, but Tony couldn't wait for the warm weather to arrive and had to jet back to Tanzania for a few gorgeous weeks. At this time of year, the rainy season is just finishing up and everything is incredibly lush and green. While spring in North Carolina is lovely, I have to be honest--it's pretty dreary today, and I'm jealous! 

    Tony has been updating our Instagram (follow us at instagram.com/seededUSA) with some great shots of our new line of shoe bags with this season's kitenge, made by our talented tailor Doto:

    It's so exciting to see how they are turning out! You might notice that Doto's sewing machine looks like an old Singer treadle machine...and that's because it is. Most tailors in Tanzania use treadle machines because power outages are so frequent, even in the wealthiest parts of the city. There are plenty of low cost electric models available, but unless you want to mess with a generator or lose hours of work time each week, the old-fashioned human-powered machines make the most sense.

    Although I wish I was there to thumb through all the gorgeous kitenge myself, Tony has done a great job of keeping me in the loop--he sent me photos of dozens of patterns and I was able to choose the designs we went with from across the Atlantic. 

    Kitenge shopping is a hectic but inspiring experience, and one of my favorite ways to spend a day in Dar. Kariakoo--the main market district in Dar es Salaam--has hundreds of shops that sell fabric from all over Africa. They are packed full of cloth in small stalls like this one, where Tony purchased a lot of our fabric for this order from Mary (the shopkeeper pictured):

    The Tanzanian kitenge companies make limited runs of cloth, so if you stumble across something you like, you have to be sure to snap it up. There is no guarantee that it will be anywhere to be found in a week--or that you could find the shop again if you tried! I have a friend in Kariakoo who bought a length of beautiful Tanzanian kitenge in a gorgeous turquoise color that was highly unusual. She took it with her to cloth shops all over town to try to find more, but no one had it. Strangely, when visiting Malawi, I came across some of that very fabric in a small fabric stall in Nkhata Bay. The pattern had been released about six months prior, and some of the run had been exported across the border. I bought all they had (since I needed to keep a bit for myself!). 

    In other news about this order: in an effort to keep our products as local as possible, we are discontinuing the use of imported ribbon for our drawstrings for the shoe bags, and have hired some ladies who braid hair to plait kitenge strips into cording. We have some other exciting improvements in the works, so keep your eyes open for another post coming soon!

     

    With love and a spirit of adventure,

    Caroline

  • The Making of Seeded Sandals

    We had some interest expressed in seeing a bit more of the process behind our sandals, so we decided to give you a peek into the making of our shoes. 

    First, the leather uppers are cut and marked with the pattern, then given to one of our skilled beaders to complete the specified design. 

    (These are the hands of Fatuma, one of our most talented beaders. She was happy to let us take a picture of her hands, but, like many Muslim women in Tanzania, she is uncomfortable with having her face photographed.)

    The design on a pair of Seeded sandals requires anywhere between 2 and 8 hours to bead, and is by far the most labor-intensive part of the process--but the results are quite lovely!

    After this, the assembly begins. First, the beaded uppers are attached to the suede liner and all excess is trimmed away.

    (Note: These photos were taken during the production of a sample run, so some of these styles are not currently available.)

    The straps are then attached to the leather foot bed, which has previously been cut out of a large piece of hide (not pictured. Then the straps are inserted through holes in the foot bed, shaped to a last in the appropriate size, and the excess leather on the bottom of the shoe is thinned with a razor, then sanded to reduce the bulk and make a smoother shoe. 

    (Production Manager Shine giving a demonstration of how to thin the excess strap leather)

    (Shine demonstrates using the sander to smooth the bottom of the foot bed before attaching the sole)

    The shoe is then glued to the sole, and the excess rubber is removed. The edges of the shoes are sanded down to make a smooth edge all the way around.

    Shoes are trimmed, polished, and ready to go!

     

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