Fifty-four countries. One billion people. An endless reservoir of creativity and passion.
From tropical to subarctic, barren desert to dense jungles, Africa is almost too massive, too diverse to characterize as a single entity. But just consider its broad array of handmade goods and you begin to appreciate the talents and energy of its varied peoples, from the natural resources at their disposal to their long and complex histories.
And thanks to an expanding and more accessible global marketplace, we now see these unique goods finding unimpeded distribution throughout the world—while empowering the artisans who make them. Intricately-woven, elephant-grass baskets from Ghanaian makers such as Woven Worldwide and Savannah Baskets International blend contemporary-design motifs with age-old craft techniques. Stylish handbags, hand-woven from raffia and lutindzi grass, by such makers as AAKS and Khoko Eswatini, spur us to reconsider the pillars of high-end fashion accessories. And unlike the mass-produced homewares and accessories populating the world's shelves, each of these goods tells the story of the artisan who made them.
As we gathered in Nairobi to capture these unique products for our special photo portfolio, we couldn't help but notice how different all the products were, and yet how they all seemed to fuse seamlessly together. The colors, the textures, the unyielding attention to detail. It's enough to convince us that maybe it is possible to capture an entire continent in a single photo shoot.
Photography by Maganga Mwagogo.
Tsandza utilizes fibers from bamboo and mohair to create its range of hand-woven and hand-dyed shawls, ponchos and pillows. No two products are exactly alike. The maker is a founding member of Eswatini Fair Trade, as it works to train rural women artisans and provide them with an income source while providing consumers with ethically- produced, sustainable products they won't find in factory-made products.
We are NBO, a Nairobi-based jewelry maker, embraces a DIY ethos, crafting gold- plated creations from pieces of brass, cow bones, horns and other discarded materials. As founder Michael Kimanthi explained in a conversation with the British Council, "How do you take these materials that people have no use for and how do you make something that's extremely valuable and that has something to say in the marketplace?"We are NBO, Kenya
Khokho Eswatini is what happens when high design meets the gifted talents of Eswatini's artisan communities. Central Saint Martins grad Philippa Thorne partnered with designer Sapna Shah to conceive the line of bags, which are handcrafted using a variety of natural fibers, such as the country's lutindzi grass. Fine leather workmanship often completes the product, for a look that is uniquely contempory while also being entirely handmade.
Sidai Designs collaborates with Maasai women in Tanzania to accomplish two goals. Not only does it create meticulously crafted glass-bead jewelry and homewares, but it provides economic opportunity for Maasai women and girls by training them to produce goods that will find a footing in the global marketplace.
African Jacquard marries the heritage of luxury French home linens woven in the style of jacquard with the warm colors of the African content. Traditional Jacquard looms are used to weave natural fibers, combining a variety of weaving techniques together with African-inspired geometric designs to develop unique textiles.
Tribal Textiles provides sustainable employment to artisans in South Luangwa, Zambia, to create uniquely hand-painted fabrics. Five/Six Textiles employes Dyula master weavers in Côte d'Ivoire to evolve age-old craft techniques for modern tastes.
When produced by the talented hands of a Ghanaian maker, a basket becomes more than just a storage vessel—it becomes an object of art. Savannah Baskets International is a social enterprise, set up to bring rural artisans together into cooperatives, helping them produce and market their products through export. The result is a range of styles of baskets, in both shape and colors, united by consistently high level of quality.
As Quazi Design says, "The most sustainable option is to use what already exists." With only wastepaper from magazines and newspapers, Quazi artisans use pioneering techniques to create beautiful bowls, platters and light shades. Waste, no more.