Traditional woven baskets. Hand-carved wall decor. Vibrant tribal jewelry. It’s been our passion to bring you authentic artisan-crafted African decor for over half a century. Now, we’re excited and proud to share our new Africa Collection, brimming with awe-inspiring finds from 13 African countries!
We recently sat down with Deneese, one of our World Market merchants, to learn the incredible stories behind her adventures in Africa to hand select the pieces for this collection.
What was it like traveling through Africa to find the unique pieces in this collection?
Amazing! Honestly, it was a trip of a lifetime. We started in South Africa and worked our way up to Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. In each country it was such a pleasure to meet the artisans, who in many cases started with a love for a handicraft that they turned into a business. I got to see what inspires them, and what catches their eye, then put it into the context of home decorating in America.
There was more product than we could actually bring home. That’s what I found to be really challenging — to be inundated with so many different choices, and to choose our favorites and to limit ourselves. We wanted to bring everything home!
It must have been fascinating meeting the actual vendors and artisans in person.
Absolutely. We re-visited some of our longtime vendors like Daniel from Kisii Soapstone in Kenya. He’s been supplying gorgeous hand carved soapstone decor pieces to us since 2006. However, in many cases, we were meeting with vendors we had never met before, so it was their first introduction to who we are as a company — a brand that truly appreciates artisan work, and that sees each piece as one of a kind. To see their enthusiasm was incredible.
How did you discover some of the authentic items for the collection?
We visited the vendors and explored the local marketplaces, which was really interesting. Seeing what was common to them and what was extraordinary to us — like a basket that’s normally used for bread, but we’re thrilled with it because it’s just so different, colorful and unique.
What did you find most meaningful about working with local artisans in countries like Uganda and Kenya?
They’re so inspiring. The artists and the business owners we work with were really motivated to do business with a great sense of pride. Their dream is to be able to export their crafts and to be able to support their families and communities. I felt like they were really trying to improve their lives and the lives of the artists who work for them.
The collection also helps bring a spotlight to women.
I met a lot of women — most of the business owners were women. These women were smart and funny and so capable and really had ideas about how to get things done. You could tell that they were going to do great things — that they were doing great things that were just going to continue to grow. And to me as a woman in business, that was meaningful.
I was just really in awe about the fact that they wanted to do business for their own feeling of empowerment. Yes, they appreciate the money so they could send their kids to school and put dinner on the table, but it’s more about raising themselves up, and doing more with their lives.
What makes each piece in this collection so unique?
These aren’t big factories that we work with, it’s artisan production — each piece has been done individually by hand, so it’s completely unique. At the end of the day, we’re finding artisans who are looking to make a living doing the craft that they love that was taught to them by a mom or a dad or somebody else in their community. They’re hoping that those crafts will be appreciated and valued. That they can live off of doing this thing that they’re so skilled at and that they love.
And that’s what we do at World Market — we go and we find people who otherwise wouldn’t be found, and we give them a means to a better life by buying the product that they craft.
Do you have any favorite finds?
There are so many, it’s hard to pick! The baskets from Uganda are really fantastic, and the people we met while we were there are unforgettable. The woman who owns the basket company — her name is Betty — she is just this joyful woman who, you can’t help but fall in love with her.
She had weavers there that day and we got to sit down and attempt to weave with them, which was comical. We also had lunch with her, so we got to share a meal together. Then after that we went out and saw how the actual materials are harvested. So we were seeing this woman in this beautiful wax-dyed cloth dress out in a field with a machete cutting down the banana leaves that were necessary to weave the basket. We learned about how they utilize 100% of every banana leaf for weaving baskets or doing something else in the home. It was a phenomenal day!
How can people add eclectic global finds like these into their space, despite varying personal styles?
The idea isn’t to take the whole thing and put it into your house. It’s to look at the pieces on their own and ask what speaks to me? and where do I need a basket to catch my keys? and where over my sofa do I want to feature an interesting installation? I think it’s about being inspired to take parts of it and layer them into the rest of your World Market finds, and your personal treasures and heirlooms.
Lastly, do you have a good memory or story from your buying expedition that you can share with the readers?
The Massai Beaded Choker is a stunning piece, it’s a story around that. I met a Samburu warrior while I was at a vendor in Kenya — he happens to be one of the gatekeepers there, his name is Julius. He was dressed head to toe in the garb and beads of a Samburu warrior and was just so sweet and such a delight. And come to find out, long after we put in our order for the beaded choker — that he would do about 50% of the beadwork himself to earn extra money!
We didn’t know it was Julius who would be doing this, so those pieces in the Africa Collection have taken on a whole new sense of beauty for me. Meeting all of these amazing people and artisans as a World Market ‘brand ambassador’ was so enriching for me. It was truly an unforgettable trip.
Ready to explore these unique finds for yourself? Start your journey into our Africa Collection!