Inspired by her `lifelong love affair’ with the African nation, Lisa Wright embarked on a soulful journey in 2004 to the cultural continent and was `gobsmacked’ at the diversity of design, product innovation and hand-made goods. She spent the entire trip sourcing interesting pieces for her own home.
It was only after friends continued to express interest in purchasing the pieces that she decided to inquire into importing them to Australia.
The result is African Trading Port.
“So 6 months later I was back in Africa filling a 40ft container and it has really grown from there,” says Lisa.
“The thing about Africa is that they seem to be able to pick up a stick and create the most incredible piece of art with it, we just don’t have that here.”
As a result of her keen eye for unique product, African Trading Port were extremely successful exhibitors at the recent Decoration + Design on July 21-24 in the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.
We took five with Lisa to chat about her product range, where they come from, their stories, and her next trip to Madagascar.
Where in Africa do you source your products?
All over. I would love to travel to North and West Africa and although I know I will eventually get there, my travels predominantly take me to the east and southern parts of Africa. The most incredible pieces at the moment are coming from Zimbabwe and believe it or not Madagascar, which is where I am traveling to in September.
You specialise in hand made felt cushions and scarves – what is the story behind these? How are they made?
This is a beautiful story. The creator of these felt cushions, Stepanie Bentum grew up in remote South Africa on a Merrino Sheep farm. Her mother was an incredible artist and her father a grader of wool, both from his farm and most of the farms in South Africa. It was only when they both unfortunately passed away she decided to fuse her mothers artistic talents and her fathers love of the farm to come up with Krafthaus. She now ethically employs 10 Zimbabwean Rufugee women who help her both to make the felt (which is a time intensive process), and also pot boil the finished felt into the organic dyes.
You recently exhibited at the Decoration + Design trade show for the second year, what was your experience? What was the feedback to your products?
The thing I love about exhibiting at D&D is that I truly think it showcases more of the unusual and unqiue design-based products. The feedback we received was incredible. Comments in general were about the tactile nature of the products we sell and the sustainability and Fair Trade principles behind the products we source.
What other products can you tell us about?
My pride and joy is the new range of Wonki Ware now available exclusively through African Trading Port. I am trying to create more of a “design your own dinnerware” and to make people feel confident of mixing and matching various colours, shapes and textures. To me, this is the stuff that you hand down to the grandchildren, so it sits very close to me.
What are your products unique point of difference?
My products offer a delicate balance between craft and art, so each piece is unique in their own way and people these days are after something a little different. Whilst we can get quantities of some of the products, we cannot guarantee that they will be identical due to the handmade nature of the products we source….which to me is the beauty of it!!
Do you have any other company news you’d like to share?
Stay tuned…..always new things happening at African Trading Port!!!