woven malawi chair

September 24, 2015

How one seat is helping African artisans weave their way out of poverty.

Welcoming, intricately crafted, weather-resistant. When we first spotted our new Malawi chair, it was love at first sight. But what really made us sit up and take notice? The story of how this natural beauty came to be.

We have one woman to thank for bringing it to our attention: Maria Haralambidou. Maria is the founder of People of the Sun, a non-profit in Malawi that helps artisans from low-income households build sustainable businesses. One day in 2013, Maria was driving along a dusty road on her way to a meeting when she spotted a bicycle carrying the most beautiful woven chairs. When she stopped to ask the courier about the chairs, he explained that they were made by a group of artisans under the name Tiyanjane Club. It just so happened that when Maria arrived at her meeting, the leader of Tiyanjane was waiting for her under a mango tree with a sample chair. He had heard about People of the Sun’s impact in artisan communities and hoped he could participate.

Tiyanjane Club’s artisans come from the Southern region of Malawi, the poorest region of the country. Set back by natural disasters such as floods that destroy crops and flood homes, people have few opportunities to escape rural poverty. By placing this season’s order through People of the Sun, CB2 has ensured employment for 45 artisans over four months time.

The artisans have been perfecting their version of the traditional design since 1979, using local materials to make each chair over the approximately 10 days time. Why does it take so long? Here, they show us the steps to completely a single woven chair.

Artisans start by hand-carving and building a frame from the wood of a blue gum tree, a locally-available wood often used for construction and joinery because of its strength.

Then they insert straight strips of bamboo before weaving flexible rattan strips in intricate patterns along the sides of the seat. Rather than use glue, they secure the strips with special knots.

To create a curved barrel back, they temporarily insert spare parts from cars and bicycles that guide them as they work.

Once the woven chair is complete, the artisan leaves his or her signature underneath.
Shop the Malawi chair here.

CATEGORIES: backstory