Welcome to Swahili!

Swahili African Modern is an import, design and wholesale distribution company based in Eugene, Oregon, USA.

Proudly Woman-Owned
Leslie Mittelberg founded Swahili Imports, Inc. in June 1995. Leslie's husband Dale held a Fulbright Scholar position at the University of Nairobi, and during the years the family lived in Kenya, Leslie fell in love with African artistry. Upon returning to the US, she founded her company and named it in honor of the people of East Africa whose artistry inspired her entrepreneurship.


 

Swahili's African network includes individual makers, 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).


 

Swahili's offices and distribution warehouse are located in Eugene, Oregon, in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Swahili's wholesale catalog is here at swahiliwholesale.com.

Swahili exhibits twice a year at NY NOW.

Swahili offers a limited collection on Faire, the online wholesale platform.

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

Swahili's curated online retail offerings are found at swahilimodern.com.


 

Social Responsibility

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
We believe that hardworking African makers, producers and export agents should be the architects of their own personal success. Swahili serves to extend a maker's channel of trade from local tourist markets to the global retail gift marketplace. Artisans who craft products for export work from the comfort of their own homes and communities, so the payment received is not be reduced by traveling expenses, childcare costs and haggled prices.


 

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 makers 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 2020 to makers in 51 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 craft producers year-round.
  • Digital communication allows us to communicate important information in a timely fashion. Email, What'sApp and Zoom keep us in touch around the clock.
  • 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. Our export partners respect local and export regulations governing the legal harvest of hardwoods to ensure compliance with U.S. import standards, and to uphold proper management of local forest resources. Makers utilize materials fully by converting scraps into salable products. Our partners excel at incorporating recycled, reclaimed and highly renewable materials in product design, and at isolating new sources of low-cost materials.


 

Swahili exists to create positive exchanges between African artisans and people around the world. With so many talented producers 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 creators. Until then, we're perpetually Africa-bound, always on the lookout the best of modern handmade creations.