“Reflecting about this chair is important for many reasons and many people.
For the consumers: what do we consume and why do we consume it?
And then, for the designers, who are in fact the instigators of the product.”
At the beginning of 2021, Emmanuel Babled traveled to Zanzibar for vacation, and, at the time, he didn’t have the slightest idea where this journey would take him. He ended up staying there for 3 months, a period of full immersion in the local way of living and thinking, and therefore a reflection about the furniture and objects he stumbled upon.
“My experience in Zanzibar was the rediscovery of living close to nature. Everything there is made with natural materials, without transformation, to provide the essential functions of day-to-day life.
For 3 months there, I observed a lot – woven lamps, Makuti roofs, etc – and came to the conclusion that everything there is born from nature and is in relation to nature.
The specific trigger in all this was the way they build the furniture; and a chair in particular held my attention. I saw it a little bit everywhere… a chair made of branches, animal skin and a few nails.”
So, he went on a search to discover who was behind this intriguing product that kept showing up on every terrace, every restaurant, ever lodge... That’s when he got in contact with Hassan, Hassan and Juma, a collective of artisans that have been reproducing the classic Zanzibar chair model for more than 20 years now. During the process, he found out something very special about this collective — they chose the name “Jisamwe”, which results from the contraction of “Jisaidie Mwenyewe”.
This means “help yourself” in Swahili.
Emmanuel went then to the Jisamwe workshop, bought a chair to take home and make a closer observation, and hopped on a discussion with the artisans and the interpreter Denis Bandoma, a Zanzibarian friend of Emmanuel’s, to find out more about the origin of the piece.
“My experience in Zanzibar was the rediscovery of living close to nature. Everything there is made with natural materials, without transformation, to provide the essential functions of day-to-day life."
From that point on, the adventure began. Emmanuel felt inspired to create a challenge for this collective and for himself, by proposing different models for the chair that they always made the same way. From this collaboration, were born 3 designs: ‘Ziwa’ (the dining chair), ‘Zanzibar’ (the arm chair) and ‘Maasai’ (the lounge chair), with Junior versions of each model.
This chair is the main source of income of the Jisamwe collective, and therefore a symbol of their livelihood and brotherhood.
Because it was such a fruitful joining of forces, Emmanuel decided to take this challenge further. He is proposing to the Jisamwe craftsmen to fill a container with 300 Mziwa chairs, to be shipped from Tanzania to Portugal in early 2022.
Everyone is open to embrace the challenges that will arise from this goal, the whole team really wants to spread the beautiful symbolic chair around.
The start for making this ambition possible was the launch of a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo which was very successful and catapulted the start of production.