Refugee craftsmanship

Preserving cultural tradition.

artisanal \-zə-nəl, -sə-, -ˈza-\ adjective: produced by artisans, either completed by hand, or with the help of hand tools or even mechanical means, as long as the direct manual contribution of the artisan remains the most substantial component of the finished product. The special nature of artisanal products derives from their distinctive features, which can be utilitarian, aesthetic, creative, culturally attached, decorative, functional, traditional, religiously and socially symbolic and significant. - UNESCO definition

Our collections weave together rich craft with fresh design to create a fusion of heritage and modernity. 



Basketry is one of the longest-standing art forms in East Africa and still plays an important role in day-to-day life. Not only are baskets practical, but they hold deep symbolic meaning as they’re associated with hospitality and given as gifts on big occasions such as weddings.

Baskets are painstakingly crafted from natural or upcycled fibers, like grain sacks, by women who often learned the skills from their mothers or grandmothers. Refugee artisans in MADE51 specialize in coiling, plaiting, and braiding – three distinct styles of basketry. The groups we work with source raw materials locally and use natural dying techniques.  Most weavers we work with are refugees from DR Congo and Burundi living in Rwanda and Zambia, or returnees in Burundi working cross-border in Tanzania.

Afghan embroidery  

Afghanistan has a rich history of craftsmanship, particularly intricate embroidery and crochet. Different styles of needlework are tied to particular geographic locations and ethnic groups.

Afghan refugee artisans in MADE51 specialize in Tarshumar, Kandahari, PuktaDozi, and ZanjeeraDozi embroidery, as well as in very fine Zari thread crochet. We currently work with Afghan refugee artisans in Pakistan, India, Malaysia, and with women inside Afghanistan who are internally displaced women or former refugees.

Syrian cross-stitch & crochet 

Dresses, scarves, and head coverings. Cushions, curtains, and tablecloths. Embroidery and crochet have historically played a vital role in Syrian society and are crafts that were traditionally practiced in every home. In the case of embroidery, heritage and providence are expressed through particular constellations of colours, motifs, and techniques.

We currently work with Syrian refugee artisans in Lebanon, Turkey, Armenia, Jordan, and Egypt. These artisans specialize in cross-stitch patterns and motifs, as well as freestyle techniques that can bring to life dynamic images. Alongside this, many are skilled in crochet. These groups often use environmentally friendly materials including organic cotton and up-cycled billboard, boat cover, tires and inner tubing - contributing to environmental preservation through their work. 

Tuareg metalwork & leatherwork 

Traditionally, the nomadic-pastoralist Tuareg people inhabit vast areas of the Sahara Desert. Much of their craftsmanship reflects their ability to thrive in the desert by making both aesthetic and utilitarian items. In the Tuareg culture, artisans belong to a hereditary caste which includes blacksmiths, leatherworkers, and jewelers. They are artisans at birth, with their own dialect and myths related to their skills and tools. Each of their handmade pieces carry the know-how of countless generations.

Tuareg women specialize in weaving using natural materials or in leatherwork, tanning hides by hand. Men often practice metalworking, using very basic anvils and hammers to shape recycled bronze, aluminum, and copper into intricate tools and adornments. Tuareg refugee artisans we work with were displaced from Mali and now live in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. 


The Karen people are one of many ethnic groups who call Myanmar home. For generations, they have made home textiles, clothing, and accessories from woven fabrics. Weaving is typically done on backstrap loom, one of the oldest forms of weaving. A backstrap loom is made using simple materials – sticks and threads – that are anchored to a fixed object on one side and the weaver’s body on the other. With this basic tool, talented artisans can make wide varieties of textiles with incredibly intricate patterns.

The Karenni refugee women we work with in Thailand are not only weaving on the traditional looms, they are also spinning and dyeing their own threads using traditional techniques.

Sudanese Beadwork

Beadwork has a long history in Eastern Africa and can still carry great cultural significance. Colours and patterns can indicate age, ethnic group or marital status. Often, women learn beading from their mothers and grandmothers and it becomes an asset that they can carry forward with them to rely on, celebrate, and pass on to their children.

We currently work with talented beaders in South Sudan, Kenya and Egypt, many of whom are displaced Sudanese, South Sudanese and Ethiopian women.

I inherited carving from my father who taught me the craft. He made masks and taught me how to make masks. I’m enjoying making the modern carvings, it’s different.

- Kapya, refugee artisan from DR Congo