Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Multifaceted, modern Africa deserves to be known and sustained for the originality of the creative languages with which it enriches global culture. The African continent is extraordinarily rich in creativity, materials and ideas that are sources of inspiration and nourishment for us. When applied to design, they engender products which exude tradition and modernity, innovation and history, form and beauty." Patrizia Moroso

The making of Madame Dakar by Bibi Seck and Ayse Birse for Italian design company Moroso


soleRebels provides a living, breathing example of what can happen when young + motivated  grassroots African entrepreneurs take on the global market , compete and win. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is the founder and managing director of a shoe company in Adis Abba, Ethiopia.  Based on the traditional “selate” and “barabasso” shoes fashioned by farmers and guerilla fighters, the shoes have been recreated and re-imagined. They took that wonderful indigenous age-old recycling tradition and fused it with fantastic Ethiopian artisan crafts and excellent modern design sensibilities by adding funky cotton and leather uppers. soleRebels is based on the “revolutionary” idea that to truly enjoy lasting development, developing nation producers must create, grow and control successful global brands and the equity developed in them. Just five years after start-up, soleRebels employs 45 full-time staff who can produce up to 500 pairs of shoes a day. The success of soleRebels, which has thrived in the global market is challenging preconceptions both about Ethiopia and the best way to lift its people out of poverty. Trade Not Aid!! (no offense Bob & Bono). After receiving international fair trade certification, Alemu began bombarding US stores and websites with emails and samples. Shops like Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters now stock the shoes. Awesome.

Conscious Cookies

Khaya (Kī-ya) is the Xhosa word for home, and Khaya Cookies’ home is deep in the winelands of South Africa. Founded by Alicia Polak, a former investment banker turned social entrepreneur, she’s created a forward-thinking business that betters the lives of the residents in her adopted home of South Africa. For every 150,000 boxes of cookies sold, 100 jobs are created for the men and women of the local community. So munch away! Always a good reason to eat more cookies. Available in a variety of delectable flavours including cranberry rooibos shortbread and orange choc crunchie (orange zest, Belgium choclate & honey-sweetened grains).  Alicia is also a smart cookie when it comes to carbon offsets. No cookies are flown to North America – all cookies are shipped only. “I am using far less waste than the diesel truck filled with Dole Lettuce packets going from California to New Jersey. Modern ships are a very efficient way of moving cargo. The best of the huge diesel engines they use convert over 50% of the energy in the fuel to propulsive energy fed to the propeller. The best of petrol (gasoline) car engines struggles to get 12% to the wheels.”   Check out their website for a list of stockists

An African First

We all know South African wineries produce some awesome wines in some of the most spectacular wine regions in the world. "Fair Trade" however, they are not. Stellar Winery (South Africa's largest producer of organic wines) is the first organic winemaking operation in the world to gain the coveted Fairtrade certification. They are also the first cellar in Africa to produce commercially viable no-sulphur-added wines. Essentially one of the most forward thinking, progressive wineries around. Their grapes are drawn from farms straddling the northern boundary of the Olifant's River wine region and Namaqualand. This incredible area famous for its spring flowers, is also the only semi-arid Biosphere hotspot in the world. Stellar Winery is privately owned, with the workers having a 26% shareholding in the cellar and 50% in Stellar Agri - a table and wine grape farming operation. Heaven on Earth, their outstanding natural sweet vin de paille, won the inaugural Fairtrade Award for the best Fairtrade wine in the 2010 Challenge. The 2011 harvest has officially started in the cool early mornings, with the Chardonnay grapes coming in first. Can’t wait for the new releases.

Trash Bag

Wrappers and water sachets, which hold clean water and are sold in every store and used by everyone, fill the landscape of the capital city, Accra, Ghana. They clog the gutters and drains causing floods and get carried out into the ocean. Stuart Gold, noticed the problem and decided to help fix it and created Trashy Bags. Trashy Bags makes around 250 items a week and produces 350 different designs of bags, wallets and raincoats. Its network of collectors has grown to over 150 people who have gathered some 15 million plastic sachets that might otherwise be on the streets of Accra. Good on you Stuart!

All bags are hand sewn, fair trade, and made from 100% recycled polyethylene plastic.

Tree to Bar

Madecasse (pronounced mah-DAY-cas), from the island nation of Madagascar, breaks from the long-established commodity model of importing cacao beans to Europe where they are made into chocolate.   The point of the tree-to-bar approach is that more of the economic value is kept in the cacao-growing country where it can benefit the local economies.  Not only is a fair price paid for the premium cacao, but locals are employed to make the chocolate all the way down to the finished, packaged bar. Madagascar is blessed with a unique climate and growing conditions. These conditions provide for exquisite, fresh local ingredients for their chocolate. The company was started by two former Peace Corps volunteers, Tim McCollum and Brett Beach, who work closely with farming cooperatives to provide access to training and equipment as well as encourage sustainable agriculture. The range currently consists of 7 different varieties (including a very unique and yummy sea salt and nibs). The chocolate is available in a few stores across the US - not yet in Canada L hopefully that will change soon, we’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There is an image, an idea of Africa that lives deep in human imagination. Its form often transcends the power of the word and its profile lies under layers of conscious retrieval. It is alive within each one of us on a primordial level, inexplicable yet undeniable. Maya Angelou

Harnessing Hope

William Kamkwamba is an amazing story—a journey that offers hope for the lives of other Africans and the whole world, irrefutably demonstrating that one individual can make a difference. William Kamkwamba was born August 5, 1987, in Malawi. At 14 William was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford the the tuition. William turned to self-education and, after seeing a picture of a windmill in a textbook, decided to build one to power his family’s home. Using found materials and scrapyard parts such as a broken bicycle, tractor fan, melted plastic pipes, bamboo and used copper wires, he built a series of windmills which would change his and his family's life. The windmill project drew a lot of visitors including Dr. Hartford Mchazime, the deputy director of MTTA, the Malawian Non-Government Organization (NGO) responsible for community libraries. Mchazime brought Emeka Okafor, program director for TEDGlobal, a prestigious gathering of thinkers and innovators. Okafor diligently searched for William and invited him to participate as a TED Conference fellow. William’s presentation led him to mentors and donors willing to support William’s education and village projects.
Last year, he appeared on the US comedy program The Daily Show after his book, "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind," became an international bestseller. He has since gone on to inspire and help setup the Moving Windmills Project to pursue rural economic development and education projects in Malawi, Africa. Their motto is, “African Solutions to African Problems.”
At the moment William is raising funds to re-build his old primary school in Wimbe, Malawi. Follow him on

Trash to Treasure

Flip-flops, tyres and other pieces of plastic are not only unsightly along a shoreline but also harmful to the creatures living in and around the ocean. But in Kenya, one’s trash became another’s treasure. Recognising the creativity and inventiveness of local crafters and artisans, Julie Church founded Unique-Eco, an organisation that collaborates with local Kenyans to turn the seaside garbage into amazing sculptures.