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Our Mission: The Business of Good
Swahili Imports works directly with artisans across
to reveal the brilliance of modern African design to the world.
Who is Swahili Imports?
Swahili Imports is a U.S. import and design company that promotes exchange between two networks.
Swahili Imports' African network includes individual artisans, export agents and micro-enterprises in the nations of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, South Africa, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Sudan.
Swahili Imports' U.S. network includes private collectors and over 2000 retail stores, museums, educational institutions and catalog companies sourcing modern fairly traded African products at competitive price points.
Leslie Mittelberg founded Swahili Imports in June 1995 in Eugene, Oregon.
Swahili Imports business offices and order fulfillment services are located in Eugene, Oregon.
Swahili Imports wholesale catalog and ordering system are found here at
Swahili Imports sells directly to Pacific Northwest shoppers through a Swahili retail store in Eugene, Oregon's Fifth Street Public Market.
Swahili Imports is a privately owned company. Revenue details are provided upon request.
Social and Environmental Responsibility
Swahili Imports believes in the potential for a sustainable network of
trade between Africa and the United States. Since every transaction that
occurs influences how African producers perceive American business,
company operations center on responsible practices that promote growth
and cultural affinity.
Swahili Imports is a member of the Fair Trade Federation
, a group of like-minded companies and organizations that adhere to:
providing fair payment to workers in developing nations
- educating artisans and workers to increase their potential for advancement
developing products and processes that protect and conserve the natural environment
promoting fair trade as the standard in commercial exchanges
Swahili Imports is a small company whose orders provide many African
artisans with a vital supplemental income. Even with a small staff,
Swahili Imports maintains accountability with artisans by visiting
groups in person at least once yearly. These important face-to-face
sessions allow the company to:
confirm that payments are being received and properly allocated to individual artisans
discuss problems, implementation of new designs and strategies for future development
conduct training sessions with export agents, team leaders and artisans
to further streamline operations, increase production capacity and
emphasize Swahili Imports' ongoing commitment to each artisan's or group's success
Swahili Imports augments yearly visits in a variety of ways.
Cooperative arrangements with development organizations like the Peace
Corps, Aid to Artisans and the West African Trade Hub allow Swahili
Imports to check in with working artisans year-round.
Digital communication allows Swahili Imports to communicate important
information in a timely fashion. All producers and group representatives
are required to maintain access to email, fax and phone.
Online ordering systems viewed and edited by U.S. staff and African
producers significantly reduce errors and keep producers educated on the
status of payments and shipment deadlines.
Reporting successes, design ideas and upcoming visits by email and
phone maintains a positive atmosphere that welcomes producer involvement
Swahili Imports works with producers across Africa who value their
natural environment and employ sustainable methods of production.
Artisans are required to abide by local and export regulations
governing the legal harvest of hardwoods to ensure compliance with U.S.
import standards and to uphold proper management of their local forest
Artisans are encouraged to utilize materials fully by converting scraps into salable products
Artisans are encouraged to utilize recycled, reclaimed and highly
renewable materials in product design, and to isolate new sources of
Artisans are advised to use production methods that increase productivity and minimize artisan discomfort
Swahili Imports believes that hardworking African artisans, producers
and export agents hold the key to their own personal success, and that
the path to success requires a steady, committed pace. Swahili Imports
extends each artisan's channel of trade from local markets to the global
marketplace, all the while allowing artisans to work from the comfort
of their own homes and communities. Secure in the knowledge that the
fair payment they receive will not be reduced by traveling expenses,
childcare costs and haggled prices, most artisans in the Swahili network
promote their family's future by using earnings to put food on the
table and pay educational expenses for their children.
Swahili Imports recognizes the merit of benevolence and currently
donates a portion of profits to two transformational non-profits working
directly in Africa:
The Makindu Children's Program
established by Winnie Barron in Brownsville, Oregon, cares for over 400
orphans in Makindu, Kenya, through a highly effective community
placement program. Older women with no other way to earn an income are
paid to take orphans into their home, and the program augments that care
with daily meals, showers, health care and school lessons. Through
enthusiastic community involvement, the Makindu Children's Program has
enhanced the lives of all area residents by providing a hopeful future
for the community's marginalized children.
Friends of Kenya Schools and Wildlife
in 2002, when Director Gwen Meyer and her husband John Neumeister spent
three weeks in Kenya. Friends of Kenya Schools and Wildlife grew out of a
desire to help address the poverty and inequity they saw during that
first visit. In collaboration with Kenyan Mike Lawrence, owner and
operator of Westminster Safaris, they formed FKSW in 2003 with some of
the $4000 in donations they received as wedding gifts. Since 2006, FKSW
has worked in partnership with the Network for Eco-Farming in Africa
(NECOFA), a local organization based in the town of Molo, Kenya.
Caravan to Class is a non-profit organization founded in 2010 to rebuild a school
in the village of Tedeini, outside of Timbuktu, Mali. Immediate success
in Tedeini has allowed Caravan to class to expand its efforts to build a
permanent and thriving educational infrastructure in all the villages
surrounding Timbuktu, with outreach particularly focused on increasing
literacy among the nomadic Tuareg.
During every online order, Swahili Imports
customers are invited to choose which one of these non-profits should
receive a $5 wholesale donation or a $1 retail donation. Since Swahili
Imports initiated its Partners in African Prosperity program in late
2006, over $8000 have been directed to vital African non-profits.
Swahili Imports remains dedicated to providing a
forum of positive exchange between African artisans and American
consumers. With so many talented artisans already earning income from
Swahili Imports orders, the company now faces the challenge to bring
greater exposure to current artisans' work while further enriching the
network with new faces and products.
Swahili Imports is dedicated to African artisans, as their skill,
determination and sharing spirit form the backbone of the company's
operations. Envisioning a day when the channel between Africa and
America opens wide enough to bring prosperity to all African artisans
and an appreciation for African craftsmanship to all Americans, Swahili
Imports continues scouring Africa--from her back roads to her high
rises--always on the lookout for more amazing handcrafted products.
Swahili Imports business offices and warehouse are located at:
388 E 3rd Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401
Leslie Mittelberg, Founder & CEO
Papa Awori, Community Manager
Percy Attafuah Appau, Product Designer
Jenna Howell, Inventory & Producer Manager
Nichole Letherer, Executive Account Manager, French Translation
Darla Robbins, Communications & Development
Mary Spurgeon, Operations Manager
Jesse, Scott, Aom, Allen, Michael & Jake, Order Fulfillment Team