The Madres Solteras of El Salvador (the single mothers) or "The Madres" as they are fondly known is our first producer partner. With the removal of world-wide tariffs on clothing, American clothing retailers have been centralizing production in China. In El Salvador, this has resulted in the closure of maquiladoras and the loss of work for thousands of workers—the majority of these workers being mothers and single parents.
During our academic travels to El Salvador, we came across a group of women living in Cuidad Futura (the Future City) that had been working in maquilas but who were now either unemployed or who were looking for a way to escape the maquilas. After many conversations and brain-storming sessions, the collective was formed. These women not only have years of experience working in the garment industry and the skills to produce quality clothing but also the energy, enthusiasm and optimism that there is a better way!
We began working together in early 2005, starting with four women sewing in their own homes. As demand increased, we rented one house and then two in Cuidad Futura. Then in March 2007 we received an order for 40,000 shirts from the Canadian Students Federation. This order changed the dynamics forever. At one point, there were 23 women working with us.
The successful completion of this order helped us realize what was possible. However it also exposed some administrative and logistical shortcomings of our previous partnership. After numerous discussions, we decided to change locations and reorganize the administrative tasks. The new location is in a commercial area of San Salvador, is a short bus ride away from Cuidad Futura, is much larger and offers numerous other advantages.
In the new location, some things have changed but others remain the same. As the purchasing partner, we continue to purchase the materials and equipment, pay the rent and provide a list of shirts to be sewn. The "Madres" receive a communal payment on a per shirt basis which is then divided equally among the women. We also provide a transportation allowance and contribute to the El Salvadorean social security and pension plans on behalf of the women.
While it is early, the new arrangement seems to be working. The "Madres" operate on a semi-autonomous basis as they are responsible for organizing the production process, sewing the shirts, inspecting the quality and packing the finished product. Different members of the collective are responsible for different parts of the production, inspection and packing processes. Although the Canadian partners provide input, the majority of day-to-day operations are handled by the "Madres". The "Madres" currently consists of 10 members.