Adolophine: African artisan craft goods with a story and a mission - BlueStone Press
July 23, 2019

Adolophine: African artisan craft goods with a story and a mission

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Proprietress of the self-titled company, Adolophine Lukabu Sheeley first began to dream of her business three years ago. However, it wasn’t until a couple of years later, when her young daughter Georgette, now 7, presented her with a drawing, that she knew the time was right. Georgette had drawn a picture of a storefront with the logo and handed it to her mother, telling her it was a picture of Lukabu Sheeley, standing outside her own store.

I froze!” says Lukabu Sheeley, “I knew it was time.”

Born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lukabu Sheeley’s father was a diplomat. At the age of 8 her father was given a post in New York, where young Adolophine and her family would remain until she was accepted into Ohio State University. She completed her undergrad degree in Ohio before coming back to New York to attend Fordham University, achieving a master’s degree in International politics and economic development. She then went on to work first in advertising and then at a small real estate development firm.

In “either 2004 or 2004,” she said, laughing, Adolophine Lukabu met once-local boy Andrew Sheeley at a charity event in New York, and the pair were married in 2007. It was the process of visiting her new in-laws that made Lukabu Sheeley fall in love with this area, and two years ago, at the insistence of their daughter, they purchased a weekend house in Kerhonkson.

I love spending time in Kerhonkson,” says Lukabu Sheeley. “I go to Saunderskill on the weekend [in season!] for their cider doughnuts, curried chicken salad and coffee, and my daughter spends a lot of time with the neighbors on our road. I love the community, the people, their friendliness and the relaxed nature. Kerhonkson is the perfect place for my family."

Faced with designing an entire house, Lukabu Sheeley turned to one of her favorite websites, Pinterest. Inspired by the images she found of traditional or tradition-inspired African goods, she was faced with a dilemma. Where to buy them? Yes, there were some companies that sold these types of products, but more often than not they were charging exorbitant prices, but not to the benefit of the artisans actually making the goods, who were often paid a fraction of the price their work was worth.

Combined with the nudge her daughter’s prophetic drawing gave her, Lukabu Sheeley asked a cousin who was returning to Africa to build a house there to be her initial feet on the ground.

I said, ‘Do me a favor, I have this idea! When you go to Senegal and the Congo, can you go to these three places and tell me what the quality of the product is?’”

Lukabu Sheeley was bowled over by the quality, and the company Adolophine rapidly took shape. Focusing on artisan crafts from the Congo, Lukabu Sheeley traveled to her birth country and began to buy jewelry, accessories, home décor. She didn’t waste any time, and she started by telling the customs officers what she was doing and asking if they knew anyone who made something beautiful. And she didn’t stop there: Every taxi driver, every waitress – they were all appraised of her goals and were more than happy to connect her with artisans.

One of the best skills you can have in life is asking for help. You have to be willing to talk to people!” says Lukabu Sheeley.

She opted to skip the large markets with stalls mainly designed for tourists, and instead she focused on small markets in out of the way towns where artisans who perhaps could not afford a stall in the larger city sold their work. It was in this way, along with other trips made by cousins, that Lukabu Sheeley curated the store.

The more she traveled, the more the vision of her company grew. Lukabu Sheeley kept in close contact with the women artisans through WhatsApp (and continues to do so) and provides financial literacy support working with the women on how to run a business and save for emergencies.

Adolophine has also just partnered with Prodige Hands, which is a nonprofit dedicated to “re-building the systems of care and support in the heart of Africa – the Democratic Republic of the Congo” (https://prodigehands.org/), based in Colorado. Through Prodige Hands, Adolophine’s first give-back goal is to help Pediatric Kimbondo in Kinshasa, which is, says Lukabu Sheeley, ”an orphanage and hospital that is currently run by Hugo. Hugo doesn't turn any kid away and has very little money available to him. Our first goal is to help pay for three full-time live-in nurses. We want to cover their housing, salary and professional needs.”

The mission, it seems, is in equal measures good for the world and gorgeous to look at. The shop, which currently is online only, focuses on traditional or tradition-inspired handmade pieces from Africa. Mud-cloth throw blankets (significantly and gorgeously patterned), vintage Congolese figurines, and necklaces from Awa cowrie bib necklaces and Ayanda Cape necklaces mingle with whimsical West African maracas and bags such as the Peau de Léopard Queen Aoleon Bag, which makes the Hermes Birkin Bag look positively passé.

And each piece tells a story. Lukabu Sheeley is passionate. “I wanted to bring African stories, experiences and craftsmanship to the world. We Africans don't get a lot of positive press in the media. It's always about famine, violence, et cetera. I wanted to change that in my own way. The best way for me to do that was to show our creative side, educate people on our history, share our stories and music. It's not just about taking a piece of Africa into your home; it's about changing perspective.”


Visit www.adolophine.com or check it out on social media: www.instagram.com/adolophine/

www.facebook/Adolophine

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