Isandi :-)

26 06 2007

More than a concept:

“My name is Kjersti Lie Holtar. I’m the founder and owner of Isandi Konsept, which is the company that trades african goods to Norway, wholesale. That makes us a bit different from some of the other companies involved with trade from Africa. I started the company in 1999, as a sort of feedback on my own questioning about what is “cooperation with Africa” actually. What should it be? I used to have a background in development aid, cooperation, in Namibia. I used to live there for almost six years, and I didn’t like the way that communication was going on that cooperation, because when I came to Namibia I was fairly young. I was just in my early thirties, and since I worked for the Norwegian government, I brought with me my money bag – lots of money. And it ended up, in a way, giving me much more power compared to the actual experience that I had – and life experience; and to say nothing of the knowledge that I had about the communities that I was supposed to work with, and work in. Especially, I felt very bad about this when I met very experienced Namibian women in the rural areas. Due to historical courses – like apartheid, like colonial rule and so on – they were poor people. But that doesn’t mean that they were without experience, and without resources. And I think that is my biggest question about how the development aid cooperation is set up: it’s based on (the fact) that Africans are regarded as what can be called patients actually. You have to treat them for something. Just because many of them are poor. And I was saying: “It must be possible to do this in a different way; it must be possible to establish a more equal sort of cooperation”. And then I thought about trade. And that’s when the problems started.”

(Laughters)

Thus started my conversation with the person that would save my day. And to be honest, I’m still under the spell of my encounter with Kjersti, the founder and CEO of Isandi – a Norwegian company that does more than importing southern african handcraft to Scandinavia. Actually, one could say that what Isandi and Kjersti do is promoting and selling african design to Northern Europe, a region of the world that has little previous history with Africa when compared with former colonial powers.

The absence of a past colonial experience with Africa is both a blessing – do I need to explain why? – and a “curse”: Isandi has to act not only as a business, but also as a marketing agency that can promote a product years before it starts to sell, but also a charity that avoids talking about “helping” Africa but engage in fair trade and fight poverty on a daily basis. For me, it’s been like a shelter on this rainy friday, and a networking agency, connecting me with people I needed to meet here in Norway – starting with Cato from Imagine Africa. And, of course, Isandi is an active member of Imagine Africa.

Being under the spell, I can’t write as well as I’d like to. Not only do I promise to do so in the coming days, but you’ll see a video interview of Kjersti herself. She will tell you how she started Isandi, why she did it, what a learning experience it has been and what it taught her about promoting Africa and african design to Scandinavians. She will also tell you what is hot in african design today, and what is not, and present the trends that are in, and those that are on the decline, what sells, and what doesn’t. For Kjersti has become a trendsetter.

Listening to her, following her walking barefoot in the big Isandi showroom, you’ll see, hear and learn more than you asked for. And just like me, you’ll beg for more. In the meantime, I ask you to visit the Isandi website: it’s smart, it’s fun, it’s revolutionary. If you want more of the Isandi experience, visit this blog next week-end. I’ll post the video.

Isandi, plus qu’un concept:

“Mon nom est Kjersti Lie Holtar. Je suis la fondatrice et propriétaire de Isandi Konsept, qui est l’entreprise qui fait de la vente en gros de produits africains en Norvège. C’est ce qui nou différencie des autres sociétés qui font du commerce (équitable) avec l’Afrique. J’ai démarré la société en 1999, comme une sorte de réaction à mon propre questionnement quant au fait de savoir ce qu’est en fait “la coopération avec l’Afrique”. Que devrait-elle être? J’ai eu un parcours dans l’aide au développement, la coopération, en Namibie. J’y ai vécu pendant environ six ans, et je n’ai pas aimé la manière dont la communication s’effectuait sur cette coopération, parce j’étais assez jeune en arrivant en Namibie; j’étais au début de la trentaine, et comme je travaillais pour le gouvernement norvégien, j’avais apporté avec moi mon sac d’argent – beaucoup d’argent. Et cela a fini, d’une certaine manière, par me donner beaucoup plus de pouvoir comparé à ma véritable expérience – ainsi que l’expérience de la vie; et sans même parler de ma connaissance des communités avec lesquelles j’étais censée travailler ou au sein desquelles je devais vivre. En particulier, cele me mettait très mal à l’aise lorsque je rencontrais des Namibiennes très expérimentées dans les zones rurales. Du fait de l’histoire – je pense à l’apartheid, à la colonisation – elles étaient très pauvres. Mais cela ne veut pas dire qu’elles étaient sans expérience, ni moyens. Et je crois que c’est là mon plus grand doute doute à propos de la coopération et de l’aide au développement: cette démarche part du fait que les Africains sont en fait considérés comme des patients, qu’on doit en fait s’occuper; juste parce qu’ils sont pauvres. Et je disais: “On doit pouvoir le faire autrement; ce doit être possible de mettre au point un type de coopération plus égalitaire”. Et alors, j’ai pensé au commerce. Et c’est là que les problèmes ont commencé.”

(Rires)

C’est ainsi qu’a commencé ma conversation avec Kjersti, la créatrice et patronne de Isandi – une société norvégienne qui fait plus qu’importer de l’artisanat d’Afrique australe en Scandinavie. En fait, on peut dire qu’Isandi et Kjersti font de la promotion et de la vente de design africain en Europe du Nord, une région du monde qui a peu d’expérience de l’Afrique si on la compare avec d’autres pays avec un passé colonial. Et si vous voulez non seulement lire, mais surtout voir et écouter la suite de cet entretien, je vous invite à revenir dans quelques jours – ce week-end: je posterai la vidéo de l’interview de Kjersti Lie Holtar, une femme avec un parcours étonnant qui doit interpeller tous ceux qui tentent au quotidien de transformer le continent de manière positive, en travaillant sur l’image.


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27 06 2007
Afrobeat @ Afro Café « couper, copier, coller

[…] Afrobeat, and wearing Afrobeat clothes. The trend seems about to take off here in Oslo, courtesy of Kjersti. For her and all the ladies out there, here’s a taste of the original thing: Résistant à […]

17 07 2007
Kjersti @ Isandi « couper, copier, coller

[…] channel. It’s just a test, but you can discover one of the persons I wrote about last month: Kjersti from Isandi Konsept in Oslo. The whole interview will be posted once it’s edited. In the meantime, she shows us […]

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