We met the young label “People of the Sun” at an interior fair in the beginning of this year and learned a lot about the company. It’s impressive how the architect Maria Haralambidou works for a social and fair cooperation between producers and retail. During a business visit in Africa Maria Haralambidou discovered her passion for African handicrafts and with it, the idea for a business concept that became a win-win situation for everyone involved.
While studying creative economics at Kingston University in 2013, she was selected to travel to South Africa and Zimbabwe to visit a private organization that linked 2,000 basket weavers. It was a kind of culture shock when she saw the living conditions there and still a happy coincidence. She was traveling a lot and saw that there were many talented artisans there, but their work was not seen by much of the world. Back in London, she decided that with the right design, business could be managed. She made her way to Malawi and started in the obvious place, the market.
“Always a good starting point!”
There, by chance, Maria met Mr. Bigna, who knew the local artisans well. Maria Haralambidou was looking for products that were particularly well made. Together they organized meetings with various artisans in surrounding villages for two weeks. Now there are about 120 people in the city and in the village cooperatives who work with “People of the Sun”.
Nevertheless, there were of course many, mostly infrastructural, starting difficulties. In contrast to some other African countries, Malawi has no export structure and so it was not easy to share a transport container.
In addition, there is no electricity in many places, which meant that the work of many craftsmen only started at sunrise and ended automatically at sunset. A single basket can take ten days to make, in the cool courtyard of a village house or under a tree. During the harvest season, the population is literally earning their keep with close to no time for the production of baskets with which little can be earned locally.
To build a stable business, these and many other factors have to be taken into account. After all, the European customer is demanding and wants to receive the delivery at the desired time and not months later. Maria saw how happy the weavers were when they were able to buy a bike, a solar panel or a telephone from the earnings for their baskets . So she decided that all of this would only work if the artisans were able to continue their normal life and not have to move to a factory. African business had to be brought into line with European business. Adjustments had to be made on both sides.
When all of this fit, Maria Haralambidou learned to build a website and designed a catalog. Then she contacted design shops she knew from her time as an architect. The owner of SCP liked their story and placed the first big order – a serious boost for the young label.
It was originally planned to build a network of companies in different countries, but after seeing how difficult it is in one country, Maria decide to limit herself to Malawi. And as you can see from her respectable collection, there is still a lot of potential there. As a result, the architect and founder of “People of the Sun” can now concentrate on building a strong sales network in Europe. The contact with the craftsmen is intensive and both sides know what is important to each other. This guarantees high quality products. In addition to this, it’s important to Maria that the artisans pass on their knowledge and so part of the company’s profit is spent on courses and the rental of production space. This means that traditional craftsmanship in Malawi is preserved and a basis for another source of income is created for the next generation.
What started with a small selection of baskets has expanded into a complete collection for home and garden over the past four years. The products from Malawi include baskets, armchairs, bags, carpets, side tables and even funny dishes with a guaranteed unique character. The new 2019-2020 collection was created in collaboration with the Dutch designer Ineke Hans.
Her company “People of the Sun” has won multiple awards, especially for their social engagement. She has successfully achieved the goal that Malawian basket weavers, knotters, potters and other craftsmen have the chance to sell their products nationally, if not internationally, at fair prices. In cooperation with various designers, she designed a collection that the artisans were able to accomplish themselves and without additional investment.
“People of the Sun” mainly supplies the trade. The products can be ordered from the catalog or ordered directly on the website. Maria Haralambidou is also available for developing exclusive collections based on your specifications and designs.