Welcome to African Modern!

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

A Team Effort
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.

Papa Awori found Leslie at one of her first trade shows, and the two became fast friends. Papa's infectious positivity perfectly suited the fledgling company in need of a great salesman. Nearly 30 years later, Papa continues to uplift everyone he meets. Whether at work or around town, you can find Papa bringing people together, building community wherever he goes.

In 2002, Darla Saarela joined the team, and set to work defining Swahili's voice and online presence. Jenna Shockley arrived in 2009 and structured the Swahili supply chain. Through the years, Leslie, Papa, Darla, Jenna, and dozens of staff members have worked together to make Swahili a trusted partner and supplier.

In 2023, Leslie politely declined retirement and started a new career in global consulting. She sold Swahili to African Modern, Jenna and Darla's new company, named to honor the network's growth across the continent. With a dedicated staff of 14 Oregonians, thriving artisan partnerships across Africa, and loyal customers around the globe, the team celebrates its history and works with optimism for the future.

African Modern's 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.

African Modern'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).

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

African Modern's wholesale catalog is here at swahiliwholesale.com.

African Modern exhibits at the NY NOW and Las Vegas Market gift shows.

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

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

Social Responsibility

African Modern believes in the potential for a sustainable network of trade between Africa and the world. Since every transaction influences how African producers perceive American business, company operations center on responsible practices that promote growth and cultural affinity.

Artisan Advancement
African Modern believes that hardworking African makers, producers and export agents should be the architects of their own personal success. The company 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.

African Modern 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

African Modern is a small company whose orders provide many African artisans with income. Even with a small staff, African Modern 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 African Modern's ongoing commitment to each artisan's or group's success

African Modern 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.

African Modern 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.

African Modern 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.

African Modern 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.