Swahili African Modern is an Oregon-based import, design and distribution company.
Swahili's African network includes individual artisans, export agents, and micro-enterprises in nations across Africa. We currently work with producers in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Senegal.
Swahili's global network includes private collectors and thousands of retail stores, museums, educational institutions, websites and catalog companies sourcing modern fairly traded African products at competitive price points. Professional buyers and store owners sell Swahili's fair trade African creations on six continents (we're still waiting for Antarctica's first gift shop to open).
Leslie Mittelberg founded Swahili Imports, Inc. in June 1995 in Eugene, Oregon. A former resident of Nairobi, Kenya, Leslie named the company "Swahili" after the people of East Africa whose artistry inspired her entrepreneurship.
Swahili's offices and distribution warehouse are located in Eugene, Oregon, in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
Swahili's wholesale catalog and ordering system are found here at swahiliwholesale.com.
The Swahili Showroom is located in the World Market Center in Las Vegas, Suite C1067.
Swahili exhibits at NY NOW twice a year, in booth 1640 in Global Handmade Design.
Swahili sells directly to Pacific Northwest shoppers through a Swahili
retail store in Eugene, Oregon's, Fifth Street Public Market.
Swahili's curated online retail offerings are found at swahilimodern.com.
Leslie Mittelberg, Founder & CEO
Papa Awori, Community Manager
Jenna Shockley, Production Manager
Liz Rubin, Inventory & Producer Relations
Betty Tessema, Inventory & Producer Relations
Mackenzie Palancares, Executive Account Manager
Hermela Mekonnen, Administrative Assistant
Billie Collins, Wholesale Operation
Krysta Alves, Retail Store Manager
Emily Hassman, Retail E-Commerce
Todd Bradford, Retail E-Commerce
Amelia Carroll, Retail E-Commerce
Darla Robbins, Communications, Development & Wholesale E-Commerce
Camilla Dussinger, Photography
T.J. Banker, Warehouse Manager
Jesse Arispe, Order Fulfillment
Scott Sturgis, Order Fulfillment, Design
Dan Thomas, Order Fulfillment
Ben Thomas, Order Fulfillment
Carmen Castano, Order Fulfillment
Oscar Banegas, Order Fulfillment
Sean Alexander, Order Fulfillment
Mary Spurgeon, Beloved Operations Manager, in Perpetuity
Swahili believes in the potential for a sustainable network of trade between Africa and the world. Since every transaction that occurs with Swahili influences how African producers perceive American business, company operations center on responsible practices that promote growth and cultural affinity.
We believe 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 extends each artisan's channel of trade from local markets to the global marketplace, all the while providing artisans with options 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 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
- ensuring the rights of children
- developing products and processes that protect and conserve the natural environment
- promoting fair trade as the standard in commercial exchanges
Swahili is also a Shared Interest fair trade loan facility holder. As the world’s only 100% fair trade lender, the Shared Interest cooperative lent over 68 million pounds in 2019 to producers in 55 developing nations around the world. Shared Interest funds are invested completely by members with UK bank accounts.
Swahili is a small company whose orders provide many African artisans with income. Even with a small staff, Swahili maintains accountability with artisans by visiting groups in person at least once yearly. These important face-to-face sessions allow us 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 reduce errors
- emphasize Swahili's ongoing commitment to each artisan's or group's success
Swahili supplements yearly visits in a variety of ways.
- Cooperative arrangements with in-country development organizations and NGOs allow us to check in with working artisans year-round.
- Digital communication allows us to communicate important information in a timely fashion. Email, What'sApp and Skype bring us closer together at all times.
- Cooperative online ordering systems viewed and edited by U.S. staff and African producers significantly reduce errors, and keep producers educated about the status of payments and shipment deadlines.
- Reporting successes, design ideas and upcoming visits by email and text maintains a positive atmosphere that welcomes producer involvement.
Swahili 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 resources.
- 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 low-cost materials.
- Artisans are advised to use production methods that increase productivity and minimize artisan discomfort
Swahili exists to create positive exchanges between African artisans and people around the world. With so many talented artisans already earning income from our orders, we face the challenge to increase exposure to current artisans' work while also enriching our network with new faces and products.
Swahili is dedicated to African artisans; their skill, determination and sharing spirit define our company's operations. We envision a day when the channel between Africa and the world opens wide enough to bring prosperity and global appreciation to all African artisans. Until then, we're perpetually Africa-bound, always on the lookout the best of modern handmade creations.
As we all weather dramatic changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel strongly that our partners across Africa have access to support through these hard times. We have created a fund to provide relief grants to artisans who need help making ends meet as they shelter in place. Our initial investment of $10,000 is being further extended by donations from caring individuals around the world. All funds collected are fully and directly benefiting artisans who demonstrate need.
Click here to donate or to purchase face masks (all profits above cost are donated to the relief fund). You can read below about how the grants are helping our partners.
Our Backstories provide an in-depth look at Swahili's people and processes. Click the links below to read!