The Best of Zambia's Contemporary Designs (And Where To Buy Them)

Photo of Rosie Fletcher
7 November 2016

As a safari hotspot and area of breathtaking natural beauty, Zambia is perhaps overlooked when it comes to cultural heritage and the arts. But the country produces some of Eastern Africa’s most stunning textiles, leathers, art and crafts. Handmade by skilled artisans in rural areas and sold in the capital of Lusaka, Zambia’s traditional design demonstrates the richness of the nation’s culture. Culture Trip brings you ten places to buy Zambian products in-country.

Tribal Textiles

Tribal Textiles

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Situated next door to Zambia’s celebrated South Luangwa National Park, Tribal Textiles has an enviable reputation for innovative textile design and contemporary home furnishings. Established in 1991 with just three artists painting textiles underneath an ebony tree, the company now employs over a hundred local artisans to create unique hand-drawn and painted textiles inspired by Zambia’s rich cultural heritage. Part of designer Gillie Lightfoot’s creative vision, Tribal Textiles is now stocked in over 20 countries worldwide including the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Yet each unique piece is still produced by hand in the company’s vibrant Mfuwe workshop, which is open for free tours Monday-Saturday mornings. The on-site showrooms showcase the beautiful textiles produced by the company’s artists and are a must-visit if you are on safari in South Luangwa.

Nzito Furniture

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Nzito Furniture
Nzito Furniture launched in Zambia in 2012 and now ranks amongst the most influential design companies in the country. The driving force behind Nzito’s creative vision is Nicola Swynnerton, whose original idea to salvage old sailing dhows littering the Swahili coast and up-cycle them into timeless pieces of furniture has inspired a distinctive collection unique in its rugged, natural elegance. The Nzito store is situated in Lusaka’s Leopards Hill, an area fast gaining a reputation as the place to be for Zambia’s new era of designers and artists. Boasting a wide array of paired down beds, tables and seating made at Nzito’s workshop in Lusaka, as well as handmade African toys from the of-the-moment kids company Little Ndaba, Nzito is a go-to for Lusaka-ites seeking out that signature piece that tells a remarkable story of Africa.

Jackal and Hide at The Design House

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The Design House
Another brainchild of designer Gillie Lightfoot, The Design House at Sugarbush Farm offers a sanctuary from the bustle of Lusaka city. A ten minute drive from the center, the traditional farm landscape has been sculpted into beautiful gardens, where visitors can relax and browse unique local products in the airy main showroom. The store features funky accessories and one-off furniture pieces sourced from across Africa and India by Lightfoot herself. The real stars here though are the hand-crafted leather bags created by Jackal and Hide’s onsite leather workshop using handpicked Zambian cow hides, signature vegetable ivories, trade beads and Angoni cow horn. The welcoming Sugar Bush Café tucked away under the eaves is also a haven for those in the know, serving African coffee, imaginative brunches using organic ingredients and light meals with an Italian flair. An adventure playground and an organic market garden selling freshly plucked vegetables complement the laid-back, low-key vibe that is a favorite with Lusaka locals.

Kubu Crafts

At the forefront of the Zambian design scene for over 15 years, Kubu Crafts has built a reputation for creating unique, high quality furniture that taps into the robust aesthetic of traditional African carpentry. Famous for combining time-honored woodworking skills with contemporary steel work, Kubu Crafts’ artisans are experts in creating truly original pieces. Their eco-credentials are enviable too; sourcing ethically from environmentally responsible lumber merchants means you’ll never have to worry about their furniture contributing to deforestation, while solar kilns gently cure the timber using nothing more pernicious than the power of the African sun. Outlets in Livingstone and Lusaka offer a range of beautiful off-the-shelf pieces, with the stately wooden and steel framed beds worth especial mention.

Kubu Crafts, Manda Hill Centre, Great East, Lusaka, Zambia +260-977-458576

Kubo Crafts
Kubo Crafts

Mulberry Mongoose

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Mulberry Mongoose
Mulberry Mongoose
There aren’t many stores in the world where you can browse beautiful jewelry while watching elephants wander past the door, but this is just one feature that makes Mulberry Mongoose a unique shopping experience. Overlooking the famous South Luangwa National Park, the company’s workshop and adjacent showroom is the creative hub of designer Kate Wilson, whose distinctive accessories are fast gaining an international following. Wilson’s desire to incorporate classic African materials into her signature jewelry has led to direct collaborations with local artisans who now provide the wooden beads, bone lugs and feather charms that characterize her ranges. A visit to the Mulberry Mongoose workshop offers the opportunity to meet the beading team in person, as well as to browse the full collection that includes sought-after pieces incorporating semi-precious stones from across the world. If you like your purchases to have their ethical credentials straight, it’s also worth seeking out the company’s funky Snare Wire Jewellery Collection which has raised $15,000 for Zambian anti poaching patrols in the past two years alone.

Elephant Wood

Born from a desire to utilise naturally fallen trees brought down during storms, floods and by elephants, Elephant Wood is a small start-up run by Gid and Adrian Carr in the South Luangwa Valley. In a small workshop tucked behind a lagoon, the couple fashion lustrous wooden bowls of all sizes from collected timber. A small team of local craftsmen also trained in the skill of wood-turning ensure that these skills are disseminated through the community. ‘Sometimes we‘re lucky and find fallen hardwood trees already partially carved and shaped by nature. Instead of cutting out those natural faults, we spend time with the piece of tree working out how to incorporate these ‘gifts’ in to the piece’ explains Gid. Quirky lamps and tactile candle holders complete the collection, which is making waves within the Zambian design community.

Elephant Wood Workshop, Mfuwe, +26 (0) 978 729570, gidzambia@gmail.com

JAGODA

In a country famed for its gemstones, JAGODA stands out as a fine jewelry company committed to innovative design, beautiful workmanship and an uncompromising dedication to quality. From ultramodern chunky amethyst rings to delicate emerald earrings, JAGODA’s fine jewelry collections touch base with numerous contemporary design trends. Their team of in-house jewelers use stones from JAGODA’s own mines to create pieces which above all celebrate the diversity of Zambia’s gems, especially lesser known stones such as aquamarine and rubellite. Their showroom in Luano Road is a treasure trove of eye-catching jewels that bustles with Lusaka’s well-heeled residents searching out that perfect gift. Visit during the festive season and you’ll be treated to wine and nibbles too.

JAGODA, 1 Luano Road, Fairview, Lusaka, Zambia, +260 211 220814

Ababa House

Ababa House, just off Lusaka’s Addis Ababa Drive, is a destination address for Zambia’s artistic community. Famous for the popular Zebra Crossings Cafe, Ababa House is also home to The Red Dot Gallery where monthly exhibitions open with popular viewing evenings, and frequent exhibitors include plein air artist Katerina Ring, and Emily Kirby, Alison Street, Caleb Chisha and Mulenga Chafilwa. Here delicious open sandwiches and fresh juices are served alongside artwork exploring the movement and color of Zambian culture and landscapes, while around the corner Lusaka’s creative community restock their art supplies from The Art Shop Ltd and placate a sweet tooth with handcrafted Belgian chocolates from Veldemeers’ chocolate shop. Interesting souvenirs, beadwork and crockery are tucked away in rooms behind the main space and you won’t want to miss the industrial metal sculptures punctuating the gardens.

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