“We decided to take this office space a few months ago, to set up a Start-up Center for entrepreneurs. At the center we will offer support, lectures and training programs in various fields, such as design and IT,” Birta Olafsdottir said. “I work in the creative field myself, as an interior designer and art director for fashion and film. I have worked in various cities around the world, including London, Paris, Berlin and Reykjavik,” Birta added.
“Our main goal for the interior design of the center is to work primarily with local professionals using local materials wherever we possibly can. We didn’t want to import anything; instead everything we can produce locally is being made here to boost the economy and support the local workforce.”
She went on to say that Sierra Leone has a rich craft making heritage, and an abundance of raw materials to work with. “My vision is to create an office space that will showcase the best of Sierra Leonean workmanship and display the variety of craft that the country has to offer,” Birta said.
“We went all over Freetown to find the best carpenters and metal workers who are building furniture and joinery. We are working with a local country cloth weaver and a fantastic tailor for all the upholstery, curtains, and pillows. We discovered some of the best basket weavers working in Brama town, who are currently producing the light shades, and other accessories. The Letty Stuart Pottery center in Campbell town is producing all the ceramics for the center, and last but not least, we have just teamed up with a young artist who will be producing artwork for our walls.” Birta told AYV.
All in all, between 40-50 sets of local hands have been involved in the making of the Start-up Center so far. The project is not yet completed so this number is expected to grow.
When asked about the level of quality of Sierra Leonean craft, Birta Olafsdottir said she believes there is space to grow and improve when compared to international standard. Having worked with some of the top furniture producers in Europe, Birta believes Sierra Leoneans can learn a lot in order to make their products more internationally attractive.
“As I am working with local Sierra Leoneans and learning about their craft, I hope to also bring in my expertise and experience from working in Europe in order to improve the final product. Everyone we have worked with so far has been enthusiastic about trying new things and sometimes pushing their boundaries out of their comfort zone,” Birta said.
“I like to think outside of the box, and inspire others to do the same,” she added.
On the issue of young women engaged in creative work, Birta confessed that from what she has experienced, craft work in Sierra Leone is predominantly a male dominated profession. “But I think we should be working with more women. I am very happy however, that there are a few women working at the Letty Stuart Pottery center in Campbell town, as well the basket weaving community of Brama Town,” she said.
On the future development of the Start-up Center, Birta expressed her hope that in the next few years the Center would attract many young entrepreneurs; enabling them access to necessary tools, training, and mentorship in order to build sustainable careers.
Asked if she wants support from the government, Birta stated that Aurora Foundation does not seek financial support from the Sierra Leonean government. With that being said, she hopes the local government will be in favor of the initiative and recognize their work.
On a final note, when asked if she had a message to Sierra Leoneans, Birta Olafsdottir said “What I aim to achieve with this project is for other Sierra Leoneans to see and appreciate the beauty of their local craft and workmanship. I hope other people will be genuinely inspired when they walk through these doors and see the potential of buying locally made products over imported. With that being said, I strive to challenge the craftsmen and women to think outside of the box, try new and innovative ways in using their traditional materials, and continuously improve the quality of their products.”
Construction for the Start-up Center is still on-going. The Center aims to officially launch towards the end of the raining season.
Aurora Foundation was founded twelve years ago. The organization supports creative industries in Sierra Leone and operates the Start-up Center in Freetown. The foundation has its own capital. They do not solicit funds from the government.