A South African art company that focuses on improving the lives of its artists will place its products on display at the Americasmart in Atlanta beginning in January as part of the young company’s strategy to expand in the United States.

African Allsorts, founded in 2004, specializes in bead-and-wire sculpture, an art form that blends traditional practices from Zimbabwe and South Africa to create animal sculpture to be sold to high-end boutiques.

Creating wire forms is a distinctly Zimbabwean style of art. For African Allsorts products, wire artists–in many cases refugees that have fled to South Africa from Zimbabwe–bend wire into an animal shape, and other artists blanket the form with colorful beads.

Jason Rosenstein, a musician who hails from Capetown, founded the for-profit company with his artist brother, David, as a way to provide “sustainable livelihood” and a healthy work environment for artists currently on the streets.
“Initially we didn’t know what we were doing, but we just thought there was huge potential working with our artists and the export market,” Mr. Rosenstein told GlobalAtlanta.

After seeing sales increase at a rate of 85 percent in one year, from one New York gift show to another, Mr. Rosenstein felt that his company was beginning to establish that crucial trust that must exist between wholesaler and retailers in the high-stakes environment of international trade.

African Allsorts participated in three New York gift shows from last August to this one, and the company made an appearance at a California show in July.
“It takes time, being a South African company, getting exposure and getting into the showroom,” he said. “It takes time to build trust. After the second show in New York… the support, reorders and the interest have been tremendous.” At the August show, African Allsorts received 25 percent reorders, which Mr. Rosenstein said is a significant ratio.

He stressed that each of his company’s products is an individual, hand-crafted piece of art, and none are mass-produced. Staying faithful to the company’s vision keeps product quality high and ensures that the company doesn’t expand too fast, he said.

Kimberly House Ltd., a New York-based importer from South Africa, has a “synergy” in product offerings with African Allsorts that has led to a business partnership between the companies, Hendrine Dewhurst, CEO of Kimberly House, told GlobalAtlanta.

Kimberly House sells hand-embroidered baby linens and accessories as well as a line of bath and body products from South Africa, she said, emphasizing that her company’s mission is similar to that of African Allsorts.

“The sort of key to all of the products is that they have a history of providing work to people in southern Africa,” Ms. Dewhurst said.

Kimberly House provides space for African Allsorts’ products in its New York warehouse and in its wholesale shipments from Africa’s southern tip.
Two years ago, after about a decade of sharing exhibits with other companies, Kimberly House established its own permanent showroom at the Americasmart in downtown Atlanta. Beginning in January, it will share again, allowing African Allsorts into its showroom and providing opportunities for both companies.

Mr. Rosenstein, who recently visited Atlanta on a personal trip, said that he sees “huge potential” in the Atlanta market. Most of his buyers go for the Wild at Art or Masterpiece collections, medium- to high-end product lines that range in wholesale price from $100-$460 for a single animal.

Ms. Dewhurst, who comes to Atlanta for trade shows four times a year, said that although the market is suffering a bit right now, the Americasmart is a great place to go to attract the retailers Mr. Rosenstein wants.

“The Americasmart is one of the fastest growing markets in the country,” said Ms. Dewhurst, who is also a Capetown native. “I would say that if you’ve got a product and want to show it and want to be successful, that’s where you need to show it because it’s becoming a truly global shopping experience there.”

Ms. Dewhurst said that African Allsorts was “very successful” at its third trade show in New York, and she will market the company’s products at an upcoming show in Las Vegas.

The Americasmart has four main shows per year, along with international gift shows and mini shows, she said.

Mr. Rosenstein plans to be in Atlanta for the show in July 2008.
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African Allsorts – Jason Rosenstein