Sierra Leone, like many other African countries, boasts a rich craft making tradition including woodcarving, textiles, basket weaving, and pottery. Tailoring and fashion design are also thriving. However, actual design in Sierra Leone is nevertheless very much in its infancy; there is no accessible local design schools for designers to gain specialized skills.
The decade-long civil war that ended in 2002 severely curtailed production and all crafts work. Many of the specialized artisanal producers in communities across the country were dispersed, especially limiting the preservation of the skills through generations. Production is slowly building up again and young people are starting to learn from their elders, as they see the market for artisanal goods grow.
We at Aurora Foundation believe in the power of design and art to enhance the quality of life. To this end, Aurora – through our daughter fund Aurora Design Fund – has generously supported designers in Iceland over the past 10 years, establishing a strong knowledge base and network.
For some time, we have wished to link Icelandic and Sierra Leonean designers and artisans towards establishing a cooperative platform where both parties can learn and benefit from one another. Sierra Leone and Iceland could not be more different, yet we believe that opposites attract for a reason. By introducing designers from Iceland to the artisans and craftspeople of Sierra Leone, we hope to raise awareness of the talented people of Sierra Leone and simultaneously broaden the horizons of the Icelandic designers. We wholeheartedly believe that through sharing ideas, working together and learning from one another we can make a profound impact and improve lives.
It all began with a research project investigating the types of production going on in Sierra Leone; household goods, furniture, clothing, jewelry, art etc. At the same time, we mapped the makers; materials used and the traditions concerning production and methods. Following these first steps, we started partnering with Icelandic designers. Designers and owners of labels As We Grow and Kron by KronKron visited Sierra Leone in September 2017, followed by a visit of the Nordic design team 1+1+1, all of them teaming up with various arts and craftspeople. The goal of the Icelandic designers was to select products for further development and production and to design new products together with local craftspeople. Key to the designers’ approach is sensitivity to the existing traditions of craft production methods in Sierra Leone, understanding the current technical know-how and knowledge of the available materials to ensure practical solutions. Working together with the local designers and artisans of Sierra Leone was crucial to the design process.
All products born of this project are produced under the label, Sweet Salone. Salone meaning Sierra Leone in Krio, one of the main languages spoken in Sierra Leone, and Sweet Salone is the nickname the locals have given their own country. Each product’s label will additionally introduce the individual artisan responsible for making the respective good.
Products and ideas resulting from this design initiative have far exceeded either party’s dream. The quality of products produced by the local craftspeople has significantly increased while the Icelandic designers have managed to push the local craftspeople well beyond their comfort zone. Together they have produced new products in a traditional Salone manner from almost entirely local materials that directly reflect their country of origin yet are based on global design and aesthetics.
By means of this project, we aim to support the design and crafts industry in Sierra Leone and to help protect traditional craft making skills and materials that might otherwise disappear. We believe in supporting the artisans of Sierra Leone so that they can afford a decent life and simultaneously broaden the horizons of the partner designers. Last, but not least, our goal is to create beautiful and valuable objects from sustainable and innovative design.
We initially began selling the Sweet Salone products in Iceland. As we have grown the production and expanded the marketing, we are now selling the products in other European countries. As well, we have developed a lively shop within the Freetown office space to sell the Sweet Salone products locally.
The Sweet Salone product range currently includes baskets and woven products produced by the Brama Town Weavers, a diverse range of pottery items produced in partnership with the Lettie Stuart Pottery Center, children’s clothing produced in a collaboration of Sierra Leonean tailors, and jewelry items produced by artisans in the Lumley Craft Market.
Since 2017, Aurora Foundation has hosted three design teams to come work with the artisans in Sierra Leone to develop products under the Sweet Salone label, including baskets, jewelry, clothing, and pottery.
All the Sweet Salone products can be found either on our webshop page aurorwebshop.com and in the following stores:
As We Grow in the museum shop in Museum of Design and Applied Art, Garðatorgi 1.
Selected Sweet Salone items: mainly pottery, lamps and baskets in BAST, Kringlan Shopping Mall, Reykjavik.
Aurora Foundation Office, Wilkinson Road, Freetown Sierra Leone
Below you can see more of the beautiful products sold under the Sweet Salone project – designed by Hudgetta, 1+1+1, KronKron, AsWeGrow and handmade by our various counterparts in Sierra Leone.
In relation to Design March 2019 in Iceland, a documentary about the designers Róshildur and Snæbjörn and their design projects was made for the natioinal television RUV. In that documentary we follow them, amongst other things, to Sierra Leone where they are working with the artisans participating in the Sweet Salone project.