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SMU Grad Hunts for Treasures in Africa and Builds a Design District Mecca

The New Land of Luxury Opportunity?

BY // 07.06.18

Africa is evolving, and Meghan Bartos is at the core of its transformation into an emerging center for luxury design. Through Kanju, her design brand and Dallas-based showroom, Bartos, 35, partners with artists and artisan groups across the African continent to produce beautiful quality furniture, accessories, and contemporary art, all of which she imports.

Kanju’s goods are made in remote villages, often requiring Bartos to bounce over lakes in small planes; travel miles over bumpy, dusty roads in a rickety truck; and hike through mud to market stalls and remote artist studios. Her quest is not for the Ark of the Covenant, but for treasures nonetheless.

Kanju’s bright new Dallas Design District space on Glass Street brims with the results of her liaisons with two dozen artists and artisans in 14 countries. Prices range from $140 for a mounted Tutsi bangle to more than $18,000 for a sculpture by contemporary Zimbabwean artist Dominic Benhura.

There are also striking mud-cloth throws backed in wool-cashmere from Malia; graphic Maasai trade-bead pillows from Kenya and Tanzania; copper and tumbled-glass chandeliers from Malawi; and throne chairs covered in thousands of glass beads, a traditional craft of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria.

While some are antique or vintage, most are contemporary pieces made for export, using techniques passed down through generations.

“Quality is first and foremost,” says Bartos, who invests in artists and artisans directly to help them meet production at the highest level. “There’s a lot more quality production and cutting-edge innovative art and design emerging out of Africa than people realize.”

Africa has become an important investment opportunity for companies in search of a new frontier. Bartos should know. The Hockaday School and SMU grad is the daughter of late Dallas City councilman Jerry Bartos, who helped bring international business to town during the ’80s and ’90s.

Meghan pursued dual MBA degrees in global financial management from Columbia University and London Business School while working as an advisor for companies operating in Africa or entering the market. She graduated in 2014 and began full-time work in Africa, advising on agribusiness, river-basin management, and hydro-electric power. The timing was perfect.

“Africa is now more than just a charity location,” she says. “It is a game changer.”

Kanju, 154 Glass Street, Dallas; kanjuinteriors.com.

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