SH+O: What is the quick pitch that defines your business?

Asili: Asili was established as a means to collaborate with East African artisans and their respective natural materials. We design and produce quality, ethically sourced pieces that in turn, provide business and a sustainable income for our artisans and their families.

Our name borrows from the Swahili word for essence, genesis, the source of something. It stands for the truth or fundamental nature of a person or object.

SH+O:  Where do you find inspiration?

Asili:  We are inspired by objects that have a wide application whilst retaining a aesthetic and artistic merit.  At the same time, we have to adhere to the nature of the material and the traditional craftsmanship. All of our products are handmade, so there is always a balance between a cohesive range and a unique hand made piece.  

Our Artisans’s traditional craft, practice and community inspire us hugely. There is a holistic connection between the artisan, their craft, the material and their community. Hearing the stories behind the material was just as  fascinating as the story of the artisan, their family and their community.

Our trip to Kenya and Uganda was such a diverse and culturally rich experience, however we feel like we have only scratched the surface. We are constantly learning, but there is definitely no shortage of inspiration!

SH+O:  What was your biggest challenge when starting your business and how did you overcome it?

Asili:  Sourcing, when we first started Asili it was difficult to find reliable contacts and information. We also struggled with communication – it was difficult for both sides to understand each other through e-mail and Whatsapp. To overcome this, we just decided to pack our bags and go!

Meeting with Artisans in person, hearing their stories, and learning about the culture and traditional methods of craftsmanship was an amazing experience  and far more efficient. We managed to achieve more in a few days than we did in a month back home.  Most importantly, the people we met and the relationships we established were extremely valuable - something that just wouldn’t have happened online!

SH+O:  What was your best business moment?

Asili:  Arriving at a Soapstone Quarry for the first time with no idea on what to expect.

We spent for three full days on the quarry working with our artisans. Being able to witness and be apart of the process where our hand drawn designs, were carved by hand from a piece of stone was an incredible experience. The level of skill and the efficiency in their carving process was mind blowing!

Learning and observing the traditional carving techniques, having traditional Kenyan lunches with the team and hearing their knowledge and stories was a truly memorable experience.

SH+O:  Where do you see the future of retail heading?

Asili:  We see a macro movement away from excessive waste. People are more attracted to products that are practical, in both design and the material they are made from. 

More people seem interested in having some a form of connectivity with their products. Whether this is achieved through a transparent supply chain, or through an understanding of the actual material itself, it is something that seems to be becoming increasingly more important to the consumer.