Wholesale Fair Trade African Handmade


Swahili African Modern is a U.S. import, design, and distribution company promoting exchange between two networks.

Swahili's African network includes individual artisans, export agents, and micro-enterprises in the nations of Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Uganda, 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 business offices and order fulfillment services are located in Eugene, Oregon.

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, Nevada, Suite C1067.

Swahili sells directly to Pacific Northwest shoppers through a Swahili retail store in Eugene, Oregon's Fifth Street Public Market.

Swahili's selected 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

Billie Collins, Wholesale Operations

Hermela Mekonnen, Administrative Assistant

Krysta Alves, Retail Store Manager

Kate Thomas, Retail Sales

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

Chris Mueller, 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.

Artisan Advancement

Swahili 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 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 currently lends over 33 million pounds yearly to both producers in developing nations and the buyers who distribute their goods worldwide. Shared Interest funds, invested completely by members with UK bank accounts, today facilitate fair trade transactions in 36 nations around the world. In 2004 the organization founded the Shared Interest Foundation to provide business training to marginalized producers, furthering the sustainability of cooperative investments. The Shared Interest Society received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2008.

Working Directly

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 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 reduce errors
  • emphasize Swahili's ongoing commitment to each artisan's or group's success

Swahili augments yearly visits in a variety of ways.

  • Cooperative arrangements with development organizations like the Peace Corps and Aid to Artisans allow Swahili to check in with working artisans year-round.
  • Digital communication allows Swahili 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 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 remains dedicated to providing a forum of positive exchange between African artisans and consumers around the world. With so many talented artisans already earning income from Swahili 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 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 the world, Swahili continues scouring Africa--from her back roads to her high rises--always on the lookout for more amazing handcrafted products.

Our weekly Backstory email provides an in-depth look at Swahili's people and processes. Click the links below to read!