From her home base in Louisville, Art Inc. Kentucky-affiliated Aesha N’dao—through her business Aesha’s African Baskets—set out to make a major difference in the lives of women in her home country of Senegal. The entrepreneur is a member of the Art Inc. Kentucky family of artists, and her beautiful work can be found at ArtHouse Kentucky, located in Community Ventures’ The MET in Lexington’s East End.
When asked how she found Art Inc. Kentucky, N’dao laughed and said “I didn’t. Art Inc. found me!”
On a visit to Oxmoor Mall, Art Inc. Kentucky President Mark Johnson happened upon N’dao’s retail space. Intrigued by the intricately hand-woven baskets, he told the proprietress all about Art Inc. Kentucky and invited her to join. Eager to have her baskets seen by as many people as possible, N’dao did.
N’dao came to the United States to attend Sullivan University, where she studied supply chain management. While here she married, started a family and eventually became a hairdresser, but as her children grew up, she realized she wanted to do something different—more meaningful—with her life.
On a trip back to her home country to visit, N’dao came across some sweetgrass baskets, and childhood memories of weaving with her mother and grandmother came flooding back.
“Growing up in Senegal, it is a woman thing to learn how to weave when you are young,” N’dao explained. “We learn from our grandparents and our moms while they sit and weave baskets every day. After they finish weaving those baskets, they take them to the market every Monday to sell—that is their way of earning a living. It’s an honor for a woman to know how to weave.
“Then it just kind of hit me out of nowhere—like ‘You know what? This would be a great business because these women, they weave beautiful baskets and back in the States, people would appreciate these like crazy. I knew that people would be like ‘Wow!’ when they saw them. So I took some of them back to the States to see how people reacted.”
The reaction was a positive one. According to N’dao, in Senegal the colorful baskets house grains like millet and corn, but Stateside people were snapping them up to use as laundry baskets, blanket storage or other practical/home décor purposes.
“I went back home again and told these women ‘You could be earning 10 times more than you are earning now’, N’dao said excitedly. “We started with a group of about 10 women—me, my friends and family—but we are up to about 100 women now, weaving these baskets. Now a lot of those women are more independent, because they are making way more money. They are able to save money and start their own businesses while they are still weaving baskets. And (with part of the profits) we are able to do school supplies every year for the community so the parents don’t have to worry about getting those for the kids.”
But the best part? “Now we are building an actual school building, one classroom at a time,” N’dao relayed proudly. That major difference N’dao set out to make? It is rippling all the way to the other side of the globe.
For more information on the ArtHouse Kentucky Retail Art Gallery, Artists’ Studios or Art Inc. Kentucky, visit www.artinckentucky.org or call 859-231-0054, ext. 1023.