A Peek into Pandemic Shipping

Written by Darla Saarela


Posted on September 17 2021

We're so fortunate to have maintained the flow of orders into Africa and shipments into Oregon since the pandemic turned the world on its head in early 2020. While working through the constraints and complications of Africa's infrastructure through the years has honed both our persistence and creativity, it really feels like our team is taking a master class in flexibility right now.

Jenna, Betty and Liz manage our logistics, which encompasses placing orders with our partners in Africa, providing payment, organizing and documenting shipments, working with our brokers to clear incoming sea containers and air shipments, and cataloging every incoming item in our system.

Easy job, right? Logistics managers don't always get the credit they deserve; their job has all the glamour of being the bus driver for the cheerleading team. Handling logistics may not be as sexy or chic as designing, marketing or selling, but people who know how to turn ideas into landed products in a cost-effective and timely fashion are truly miracle-working superstars.


Yesterday, Jenna relayed a new message from Kenya:

Kenya has halted shipping sea containers to the United States.

We have enough products sitting in Nairobi right now to fill a 40' container, with many more items in production as we speak. Some products are on special order and need to leave immediately to meet ship dates.

Uh oh.

This morning brought a little more clarification. Kenya has no containers to fill at all. There's also no space on outgoing freighters. Sea containers typically arrive in a country filled with imports, and then leave filled with exports. When that balance gets thrown off by say, a pandemic, you end up with piles of waiting containers in some places, and shortages of empty containers in others, with a growing line of exporters waiting to gobble them up as they come available.

Thankfully, our logistics team can turn the big bus on a dime, so we're now exploring how to dissect the pile ready to ship into air shipments, postal shipments and a (hopefully) future sea container, just to keep the flow moving.

In the meantime, you might notice a few nuanced changes in our operations this holiday season.

You might see products landing on our website and disappearing within a day. "Get 'em while you can," is the catchphrase of Fall & Winter 2021.

You may start to see an occasional price increase, as we face the reality of relegating the rising costs of shipping.

You may notice new unexpected products showing up on the site that we haven't advertised in advance. With our travels limited, we're remote designing now, with no samples sent in advance. Who doesn't love surprises?

You may notice us taking longer to ship your orders, even for in-stock merchandise. The good old days of shipping with 1-3 days just doesn't apply to the volume of orders we're handling now, and staffing up during the pandemic just isn't an option.

How about something positive? We're healthy, we're at work, our artisan partners are able to proceed safely with production and earning income even as other industries suffer. We have containers on the water...two from Kenya, one from Ghana, one from Zimbabwe, one from Senegal. We have the most committed network of long-suffering buyers who understand the intricacies of this handmade supply chain. We are fortunate, and we are grateful.

As we watch our world evolve in strange and wonderful ways, we see that connectivity is both our struggle and our salvation. You can count on us to be diligently waiting in line wherever needed, always doing our best to keep our beloved flow between Africa and Oregon as strong as possible.



  • Swahili logistics team deserves many kudos. Although, because of your success and proliferation of customers, my Swahili goods are no longer unique to the market as in past decades, I delight in the amount of support you provide for African crafts persons.
    Your company continues to be run with efficiency and good communication. Thanks.

    Posted by Out of Hand | September 20, 2021
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