Malawi, nicknamed the warm heart of Africa, is one of the smallest countries on the continent, and one of the least-developed. Around eighty-five percent of the population lives in rural areas. The world bank once declared it the poorest country of the planet. People of the Sun, an NFP organization, has improved the lives of over six-hundred Malawians.
Architect and founder of the company Maria Haralambidou says of their process, “People of the Sun is based in Malawi and has a very close-neat relationship with all the artisan groups, assisting them on business training but also with interest free loans to buy material. When PS started in early 2013 there was no craft infrastructure in Malawi, so a lot of work had to be done to make simple things possible. PS started from the ground with 0 artisans and now works with over 160, ensuring they get sustainable incomes throughout the year. All groups are set up from scratch through the assistance of people of the sun. Furthermore, PS gives continuous support as needed. Particular emphasis is placed in quality control and meeting deadlines.”
Maria became impassioned by the plight of artisans living below the poverty line in this developing country. In order to create job opportunities and provide lasting income, she realized the artisans needed both accessibility to the modern market and new skill sets. What separates PS from other organizations is the symbiosis behind each product. “They have an element of design which elevates traditional practices. Most products are designed in-house. A prototype may take several tries before it is perfect! We also collaborate with other designers. For example, the rolling animals are African animals on wheels and they have been designed by two Spanish designers, Barbara Perez and Carlos Pena Ponte. The complete communication happened via Skype communications and an exchange of drawings and photos via emails,” Maria says.
The collaboration not only results in an end product that is imbued with contemporary taste and function, it aids in preserving an important cultural heritage. The ingenuity and passion behind the project continues to raise their public profile. In 2014, PS was awarded the Coup de Coer Prize at the African Design awards in Gabon. Last year, they were the SEED Award for innovation in Africa.
Taking part in NY NOW’s Artisan Resource exhibition is another step towards their common goal. “For the show, we aim to exhibit all products that highlight the unique craftsmanship of Malawi, Africa. Our collection will be an interpretation of traditional craft.” These highlights include their signature product, the sleeping animals, as well as the award-winning Blantyre Jars, which are upcycled from discarded wine bottles. Once the bottles are cut down to jars by one artisan, another artisan makes custom-fitted lids from mahogany hardwood. Warm Hearts then packages the jars in material made from recycled cardboard paper.
People of the Sun will be exhibiting at NY NOW’s Artisan Resource at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center from January 31st through February 3, 2016.