Amazing Africa: interview with Elizabeth de Vise of Artisanne

Set up in 2014, Artisanne is the brainchild of Elizabeth de Vise and her sister Emma. The company imports beautiful, traditional, handmade Senegalese baskets, trays and platters directly from the artisans, offering unusual, simple and elegant storage for the home. Sara Walker spoke to Elizabeth to find out how it all began.

“The idea for Artisanne began when my sister Emma lived and worked in Senegal in West Africa for six years as a child protection consultant. She bought me some of the traditional handmade baskets, and I loved them so much that I bought some more for friends.

They went down so well that we started to get curious and began asking questions. Could we bring the work of the talented Senegalese women to homes in the UK and the rest ofEurope? Was there was an opportunity to blend the traditional Wolof weaving techniques with modern design? I loved the idea and the challenge.  We knew we wanted to create a range of baskets that fulfilled a function but that were also beautiful.

Elizabeth de Vise chats to some of the weavers.

Emma (left) and Elizabeth in Senegal.

“We also knew that we wanted to do something that made a difference.  From the beginning, it was important to us to work directly with the weavers without any middle men. As a result, Emma spent long days travelling down remote dirt tracks looking for weaving villages in the Thiès region of Senegal.  She spent a great deal of time looking at collections of baskets and sharing bowls of curdled milk (a local speciality!) with villagers as she explained the project.

We identified groups of artisans interested in working with us. The hours that Emma spent sitting and talking in the shade involved a great deal of laughter and goodwill and helped establish strong relationships and an understanding of the intricacies and challenges of this traditional craft.

“We wanted the name to summarise what we are about: our weavers, and handmade products that empower better living. ‘Artisane’ is the French word for a female artisan.  As Senegal is a French speaking country and all the weavers are women this seemed apt.  We added an extra ‘n’ as a nod to our late mother’s name, Ann.

“Artisanne baskets are handwoven by highly skilled women in remote villages. We now work directly with over 75 women having started with just three. We have a transparent supply chain, and offer superior remuneration.  The baskets are created using the traditional Senegalese weaving style whilst incorporating contemporary designs and colours.  The skill is passed from grandmother to granddaughter and the larger baskets take several days to create.

“I am immensely proud of our charity Journey to Learning, which we launched last year. When I was in Senegal in March, I discovered that children are walking a 10 km round trip in up to 40 degree heat to get to school, because the school transport is no longer running. Boys find it easier to get accommodation in the school village, so the girls are suffering most and some are attending school infrequently.

We kick-started Journey to Learning with a sample sale, and donated 100% of the proceeds from Artisanne products.  On an on-going basis, Artisanne will donate 10% of profits to ensure continuous education for some of the children.

“My passion is being around beautifully crafted products, especially ones with a story behind them. I have always been intrigued by what it takes to create original and striking objects.  I love designing baskets that blend the traditional weaving techniques with contemporary designs.  I am fascinated by the fusion of creativity and practicality that make certain items truly unique.

“What inspires me most about Artisanne is the opportunity to provide a regular, secure and fair income to even more weavers and to their families in the future.  We know this helps them provide more food and medication for their families but it also means that they can support elderly relatives who can no longer work.  I know that we are doing something worthwhile and that makes a difference.  I would love to expand Journey to Learning to enable more children to travel to school and to stay in education for longer.  I also think it’s important that Artisanne remains a niche brand. I don’t want to become too mainstream as I think it would impact on the integrity of the brand and I don’t want to lose the Artisanne essence and ethos.

“The next chapter will be expanding the product range to offer new items and to support different communities.  For example we are about to stock Kiondo baskets from Kenya.  The ladies that run the business also work directly with a community of women and they are members of the World Fair Trade Association.

As we build I can see new directions and greater diversity but the one thing that will remain consistent is the ethos that drives us ensuring that communities are supported in the appropriate way.”

To find out more about Artisanne products or to buy online, visit Basket prices start at just £12.

All photos (c) Artisanne 2018-19


By .