Expedition Subsahara is on a mission to translate beautiful home décor and jewelry into education for girls in poverty. They are doing this by working with artisans in Senegal and Uganda to produce amazing handcrafted goods. We spoke with Rosebell Komugisha, one of the two founders. This is what she had to say:
SB: What inspired the creation of your Expedition Subsahara?
ES: We know some of the obstacles to development in the rural areas in Sub-saharan Africa, having always been action oriented, we wanted to take responsibility by doing something for the women in the underdeveloped communities back home.
We focused on women specifically because United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) studies have shown that women will invest their income in the development of their families and communities, but men tend to use their income to indulge in selfish vices. Literally, when you educate a girl, you educate a village.
On the U.S. side, we were sensing a need for people to connect, embrace, and understand cultures beyond their own. By introducing African goods into the American market, we would be able to share our rich Sub-Saharan culture with people in the United States while elevating women back home.
SB: What makes Expedition Subsahara a “conscious” business?
ES: Our goal is to add value to our societies and not to exploit the environment or consumers and producers for the sake of profit. The intention is to foster social change through education, to provide economic emancipation to women with few opportunities in the case of Sub-Saharan Africa.
In the U.S., our purpose is to expose Americans to unique forms of home decor and link African and American cultures.
All of our goods are handmade by local Sub-saharan artisans. We have noticed that handmade African baskets and clothing are now being mass-produced in China and have been solicited by those wholesalers.
Our response is always no, we are not here to maximize profit, but to elevate each stakeholder, the producer, consumer, environment, and the communities where we intend to build the trade schools.
SB: Why is conscious economics or conscious consumerism important to you?
ES: It is important that we move away from the market model that pushes profit for the sake of profit without trying to build people or the environment. It dehumanizes producers and consumers, keeps people trapped in cycles of poverty and encourages the over consumption.
But it doesn’t just end there for us, we are very much aware that African markets are saturated with western goods that are mass-produced in China.
Through conscious consumerism, we have an avenue to hand some selling power back to African artisans by creating a space in the western market.
SB: What have been the most interesting and challenging parts of running your business?
ES: The most interesting part about running our business is witnessing African products being wholeheartedly embraced in the western world.
The challenge is remembering to keep the vision of our company woven in all of work even with the demand of the smaller daily task.
SB: What are some pros and some cons of using artisans to produce your products?
ES: Sub-sahran artisans are very dedicated, patient, and take great pride in their work. They also want to maintain business partnership, so they make sure to always deliver well made products. The only disadvantage is the very high cost of shipping from Africa to the united States.
SB: Where do you see your company in 5 years?
ES: We’ll be running or first trade school in Senegal and equipping women with the skills necessary for them to be economically independent and build their communities.
We will also have systems in place to track the impact of our graduates on their local communities. Lastly, in addition to our online store, we have a brick and mortar location.
SB: What advice do you have for those who want to work with artisans that reside abroad?
ES: Be fair to the artists that you are purchasing your products from and keep in mind that for many of them, this is their main source of income.
Find a great shipping company, international shipping costs can be obnoxious. Partner with local organizations whose goal is to develop the community. Any time they are already working with local artisans, this give you a reliable and fair source for your goods.
Find out more about Expedition Subsahara by visiting their website here.
-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson aks @thebusyafrican