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Africa Insider: Liz Gilbert

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When Kenya-based photographer Liz Gilbert first started hunting for vintage beads, for her line of handcrafted jewelry, she received a text message with the instructions: "Go to the River Road and ask if anyone has seen the Pygmy. If you find him, don't ask questions. Follow him wherever he takes you." Each piece of her Shompole Collection, which is crafted in Africa by local artisans, has a story, an adventure and a distinctly African sensibility behind it. The names of her exquisitely crafted jewelry -- Moon's Silver and Horn, Ethiopian Two Star, North African Crescent, for instance -- evoke tales of mystical destinations. And indeed each piece has a unique and inspiring story, as intricately connected to Africa as it is to the visionary young designer herself.

Gilbert first traveled to Kenya as a photojournalist, covering the Somalian and Rwandan wars for news agencies based in Paris and New York. During her time in Kenya, she became intrigued by the Maasai and ended up living and traveling with the tribe, which she recorded in her book Broken Spears. "The time spent with the Maasai allowed me to be part of a natural African world that had been elusive during my years in cities," says Gilbert whose new project focuses on another one of her passions: African jewelry and beadwork, and preserving artisan traditions that are fast disappearing.

To Gilbert, the Shompole Collection is a natural extension -- and an important next step -- of her prior life as a photojournalist. "Then, I focused on raising awareness about conflict and suffering," she says. "With the Shompole Collection, I hope to make some small contribution to alleviate that suffering in people's lives by creating commerce and opportunity." All the pieces are made in Africa by local artisans, and Gilbert also works in close collaboration with the Shompole Lodge, a pioneering eco-lodge that has been dedicated for years to working with the local communities (in part with an innovative business model of local tribal shareholders). In any conversation with Gilbert her love and respect for Africa -- its people, landscapes, art and culture -- is tangible.

Read about her collections, design process and the important difference between commerce and charity.

Browse and buy select pieces from the Shompole Collection on the Indagare Virtual Souk