People of the Sun: The search for Malawi’s best artisans

August 06, 2019 4 min read

A People of the Sun artisan in Malawi holding up a hand-woven mirror design. Alongside him is a selection of People of the Sun home goods and décor pieces such as Malawi chairs, mirrors and baskets.


Malawi’s artisans have a centuries-old craft tradition using natural resources and generations of indigenous knowledge. What they don’t have is access to modern design, a platform to sell their products and the funds to set themselves up as sustainable enterprises. That’s where People of the Sun comes in. The award winning social enterprise is helping low-income artisans in Malawi build sustainable businesses, while preserving their centuries-old cultural heritage.




The organization searches for the best artisans in the markets and villages of Southern Malawi. Those who are keen join People of the Sun and are supported to run a business, develop bespoke designs and become connected them with customers around the world. People of the Sun provides the artisans with interest-free loans so they can invest in equipment and materials to establish and grow their enterprises. 




People of the Sun innovate to ensure a continuous and efficient supply of products for customers and partner artisans. One strategy to generate demand is artistic collaborations - working with talented designers and respected international brands, creating irresistible designs, raising public profile and strengthening brand awareness. This ensures the artisans have regular income, their enterprises grow steadily and their communities are continually enriched.



When representatives from People of the Sun spotted a truck carrying the best-made Malawi chairs they’d ever seen, they had to stop the driver, who directed them to the Tiyanjane Weaving Club! The group was set up in 1979 by Mr. Amos Ligawo and now has more than 60 members. 
Although Tiyanjane’s weavers make some of the best furniture in Malawi, most were surviving on less than $1 per day. The reason is that the local market is close to saturation: cane is a long-lasting product, popular in tropical climates because, unlike solid woods, it doesn’t warp or crack in the heat and humidity. 
This presents a big challenge for artisans like Mr. Ligawo, who need access to new markets. People of the Sun has helped Tiyanjane Club achieve this.




When People of the Sun representatives spotted a beautifully-made basket in Blantyre Market they asked the owner of the stall, Mr. Bigna, who had made it. He made a call to the artisan and together they traveled to his village, where three weavers were waiting under a mango tree!

Mango Club was born and it now has 35 artisan members, with a chairman, secretary and treasurer. Following high-profile collaborations with internationally-known designers Ineke Hans, Rentaro Nishimura and Donna Wilson, their products are sought-after worldwide.

The art of basketry was born out of the need to contain or carry everything from water to mice. Around the world different forms and techniques of basket making evolved, depending on the materials available. Today the art is threatened by the manufacture of metal and plastic containers, so artisans like the Mango Club need to revive their craft with new, utilitarian products suitable for modern living.   





In Malawi, as across much of Africa and Asia, wood carvings are two-a-penny and when People of the Sun first met Bangwe Club founders, Roderick and Dave, they were struggling to make ends meet.

People of the Sun encouraged the men to join forces and helped them develop new products, like the sleeping animal pots and animal magnets, to stand out from the crowd. The Bangwe Club now employs six carvers and has moved from Roderick’s house to a new workshop.





We chose People of the Sun for Sarza customers because we love to see leading artists collaborate with Malawi’s talented artisans. The results are beautiful and striking, from bold, patterned baskets, to whimsical sleeping animal pots. We know that Sarza customers appreciate unique, handmade pieces that make a difference; Malawi has been declared one of the poorest countries on the planet by the World Bank. With your custom and support, People of the Sun is improving the lives of more than 600 Malawians: artisans, their families and their community members. 

 People of the Sun handwoven washing basket People of the Sun Malawi round mirror

People of the Sun Sleeping Ostrich animal potPeople of the Sun Sleeping Crocodile animal pot  





All imagery courtesy of People of the Sun @peopleofthesunconnect