Western consumers have choices — and competition is intense for their business. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the stories, values, and practices behind the brands they patronize. Many want to give their money to a company that stands for something larger than financial gain.
The San Diego-based corporation, All Across Africa, weaves the stories of African artisans into every item it sells. The firm creates jobs for artisans in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya. They make decorative baskets, as well as goods to go inside them, that have found their way into U.S. shops and superstores including Costco.
Check out our company profile on All Across Africa, whose gift baskets are being showcased in superstores across the U.S.
The organization’s chief operator, Alicia Wallace, has a background in business and worked as a social worker for survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Wallace provided education, training and reconciliation. The locals she helped would give her baskets as thank-you gifts. Wallace brought the baskets back with her to the U.S. and her friends and coworkers commented on the high quality of the workmanship, she told Architecturaldigest.com. Since Wallace knew the Rwandans she worked with needed the means for economic gain, she conceived of All Across Africa.
Rwandans were already so skilled in the craft of basket making when Wallace started the company that she simply needed to train artists in how to make different sizes and shapes to suit U.S. households. She trained heads of households and orphans age 16 to 24 how to sew. Many of them now earn the equivalent of a college-educated teacher’s salary, according to Architecturaldigest.com. This has helped them save towards purchasing land.
All supplies for the baskets are locally sourced, with the baskets primarily made from sisal and sweet grass. Sisal comes from the agave plant leaf, and it becomes the dyed, outer portion of the baskets. Sweet grass grows profusely in Rwanda. All Across Africa provides an economic use for a practically limitless and free natural resource.
Along with its online store AllAcrossAfrica.org, the company has found its way into major retailers. It is available for a limited time in Costco stores including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Oregon, and Washington. You can view the schedule at Costco.com. The stores will host special events around the product, with representatives present to talk about the artisans and process. All Across Africa also has a storefront in San Diego.
In addition to basket weavers, All Across Africa also employs African artisans who make a variety of treats and gifts to put inside of the baskets, so shoppers can put together a full gift basket. You can add jewelry strung with beads made from recycled paper and colorful coasters weaved from the same sisal and sweet grass as the baskets, according to AllAcrossAfrica.wordpress.com.
Wallace is willing to share secrets to the company’s success. First, she said that consumers today are are “willing to respond to honest, transparent companies looking to do business in a better way.” Second, she said the company doesn’t need to spend much on training or recruitment since they have tapped into a culture that has millennia of experience in basket weaving. For many of the workers, there are few other ways to generate income for their families, according to Consciouscompanymagazine.com.
All Across Africa has more than 3,000 artisans across Africa busy creating products. The company is also training and creating jobs for hundreds of artisans in Burundi and Uganda. Before All Across Africa, local artisans complained that the basket-making business was dying, according to Consciouscompanymagazine.com. The organization helped revive it.
Each basket shape carries a different meaning. Some stand for unity, some for hope, and some for friendship. The popular cathedral-shaped basket symbolizes generosity, gratitude and compassion, and embodies giving, according to AllAcrossAfrica.wordpress.com. Artists’ willingness to weave baskets and rebuild after the Rwandan genocide are a testament of strength, perseverance, and the human capacity for love and hope, Wallace said.
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