Swahili imports


Founded over two decades ago in Oregon by Leslie Mittelberg, Swahili Imports – trading as Swahili African Modern – partners with African artisans to sell their fair trade goods in stores around the world. 

Leslie had previously lived in Kenyan capital Nairobi, and fell in love with the East African crafts sold at its vibrant city markets. This gave her the inspiration to begin the company name
with ‘Swahili’, after the people whose artistry is at its core.
She subsequently returned home to Oregan with a handful of handwoven, traditional tote bags called sisal kiondos and so began the start of a blossoming relationship between talented artisans and a forward-thinking social entrepreneur.

In 2011, Swahili Imports approached Shared Interest as their business was expanding quickly, and they needed finance to meet this growth. Since then, the organisation has widened its export partnership network from one group of weavers in Kenya, to artisans in nations across Africa, working primarily with women in remote communities. 


Leslie says: “Crafting handmade products provides a particularly vital employment option for rural African women. The backbone of the family, they cook, clean, garden, care for the extended family and often shoulder the burden of paying school fees.

“Creating products from home around daily responsibilities empowers rural women as earners, while working together on orders brings communities together and highlights the power of teamwork.”

Now based back in Oregan, Leslie frequently returns to Africa to meet new artists and introduce fresh design concepts to those living in rural communities. Subsequently, Swahili Imports now works with people in 15 African countries.

Leslie adds: “We feel that by following the Fairtrade Principles, we offer our partners across Africa the means to build stronger homes and communities by their own design. Each of Africa’s 54 nations offers a unique array of beautiful crafting traditions, so we’re always excited to begin working in a new country.”

With the majority of sales made to the wholesale market, the organisation also sells directly to consumers from their retail website, and Oregan and Las Vegas stores. To complement their handcraft range, they recently began selling Justea, a Fairtrade organic tea, alongside a range of sauces and spices named Ukuva iAfrica, which combined, make up 10% of their product mix. 

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