Nontando celebrates 10 years of direct importing of African Décor, Art and Gifts

Annual buying trips to Africa for the past 10 years have enabled Nontando to establish many relationships across the continent of Africa. However, even with the numerous challenges of direct importing from overseas, the benefits are clear to be seen and have been the cornerstone behind the business successes over the past decade.

“I would not do it any other way”, says Gary Stern, owner and founder of Nontando. Stern emphasizes that his strategy from inception was to continuously improve the supply chain management process coupled an effort to cut costs in the process.  Stern says, “Direct importing has its challenges but when you can seek out higher quality products at better prices and deal directly with the artists then the ripple effect is a big positive”. “A global recession together with a prolonged challenging economic environment has of course had an impact on discretionary spending, hence bringing quality products at affordable prices has been of paramount importance at Nontando. Stern continues, “Direct importing gives us a comparative advantage with lower priced goods which allows us to eliminate the need for middlemen thus bringing our products to the consumer at better prices”.

Stern explains how every region has its strengths and weaknesses, good quality and poor quality and being able to identify and maintain viable sources is critical with regard to importing. “We pride ourselves that our products are 100% authentic and hand selected”, says Stern. Nontando normally takes 3 weeks each year and goes shopping in Africa travelling across many regions and meeting with their sources. “We try and do as much pre planning as possible before our buying trips but almost 50% of our selected and imported products are acquired ad-hoc during our trips”, Stern continues,” Through our online presence we are working with a number of designers and decorators across the USA and many of them are seeking that unusual, unique product. Our trips enable us to seek these products out”.

For certain product lines, uniqueness is critical and it can be somewhat trial and error process.   “Experience through our buying trips has taught us so much about the varied regions and peoples of Africa and just like anywhere in the world, artists from different demographics tend to specialize in particular mediums and categories”, Stern says. He explains in Africa many of the traditional skills have been carried on for generations in some cultures.

Nontando is a huge believer and supporter of working with the local artist and suppliers, thus encouraging empowerment and entrepreneurship. “Government intervention has definitely improved over the years but there is still a lot of work to be done here”, Stern says. “Trade agreements in recent years have been encouraging promoting free trade and less government intervention”. Nontando wants to see the small, local artist given the same opportunities to reach the global markets”. Stern says, “This would create a win-win scenario as well as serve as a boost for local economies”.


Nontando completes another African buying Trip, an exercise in more than just African Art

Since its inception in 2003, “finding unique products at prices that our customers can afford” has been the driving force behind Nontando’s annual buying trips to the continent of Africa. 

Gary Stern, owner of Nontando, explains, “Our online and retail customers see the final product, yet our buying trips are about so much more than product, trade and transaction”. Stern explains, “For many of the folks I deal with in Africa, especially the artists, communication and the means thereof, is something very new”. “For many years”, Stern continues, “Many of the folks we deal with in Africa, had very limited ability to communicate in the past due to the lack of technology and other resources.” Stern continues, “This is starting to change, which really helps with the planning and organization of our buying trips”. “Technology is more accessible, more affordable and folks in Africa are becoming more comfortable and knowledgeable and see the benefits in their day to day lives”. On his most recent buying trip in August 2012, gave one his suppliers from Cameroon a digital camera. “He now has a wonderful opportunity to showcase his products internationally and he is seeing the potential for him to reach a global audience”, Stern explains.

“Every year I go back I try and instill the importance of establishing partnerships and building contacts. The artists that have created business relationships internationally have quickly recognized the benefits and potential”, Stern says.

“For me, my buying trips are about so much more than product. Building relationships was and still is paramount”, Stern explains. Stern and Nontando do not measure their buying trip successes on products alone. “Establishing and building relationships for the long term is so important”, explains Stern.

Buying trips can be very challenging but the pros outweigh the cons every time. Getting that cultural and geographic taste and experience, and gaining the in-depth firsthand product knowledge of the items you are bringing back – nothing can replace this!

“Time is limited and logistics can be a challenge,” says Stern.

Nontando normally goes for a period of 3 weeks to African annually and travel to different regions each year. Because of this, preplanning and communication is critical. Stern continues, “I have yet to go on a buying trip were I have not had to make some rapid decisions on a couple of surprises,” he explains.

Some of these surprises can be of a positive nature. Often, I will cross paths with an artist and/or a product that I had not planned for. Product uniqueness has and is a vital component of Nontando’s buying and product strategy and for Stern, it is so personally rewarding when he fortuitously comes upon these opportunities. “Regardless that you may travel with a plan the ability to make decisions on the fly is critical,” explains Stern.


Depending on the type of product being sourced, and the region it’s being sourced from, the ability to assess the quality is of paramount importance. Stern says, “Selecting and handpicking each of our products is a vital component to our buying trips. Over the past 10 years I have heard many stories from customers that had acquired products from other businesses and also on their own personal travel only to be disappointed with the quality of the item”, Stern says.

“Doing this for over 10 years now has giving us this experience and knowledge to be able to sort the good product from the bad product, avoiding the potential to get ripped off”, Stern says. “We pride ourselves on quality and authenticity and our buying trips is the main cause in achieving this”, Stern says.

Nontando, your source for African Conversational Art, Masks, Gifts and Home Decor, now 9 years old!

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Nontando, opened its retail store in 2003 in Sarasota, Florida. In 2009 Nontando’s online operation, was launched. Over the past 9 years, Nontando, owned and operated by Gary Stern, who was born and raised in Africa, has become the number one choice for African Art, Decor and Gifts in Florida. With the online operation, Nontando, has attracted customers all across the US and internationally and has become a popular choice for designers and decorators seeking quality African product at affordable prices. Nontando’s buyers travel to the continent of Africa annually, hand selecting products covering a wide array of categories, including Stone Carvings, Wood Carvings, Lighting Fixtures, Leather Hide Products, Music and Musical Instruments, Jewelry, Masks, Textiles, Metal and Wire Figurines, Copper and Brass Range, Pewterware, Giraffes, Shadow Boxes & Frames, Ceramics, Kitchenware, Ostrich and Porcupine Assessories and more. Nontando often deals directly with the African artists and is continuing to strive to bring unique products to the American consumer.

“Our annual trips to Africa gives us an opportunity to assess and select from a diverse selection of product lines to bring to the US market” said Gary Stern, CEO of Nontando. “The innovation and creativity is phenomenal”. Stern believes the US and international consumer have become to appreciate the quality and beauty of African Art.
” Greater exposure and marketability of African Art has allowed the consumer to get a much better appreciation of this art form” said Stern, “It is wonderful to meet artists from all corners of the African continent that are coming up with new ideas to bring unique and beautiful products to the marketplace”. Stern personally does much of the travel and buying in Africa himself but says the rewards are endless. “The scope is plentiful and bringing these talented artists to the forefront of the US marketplace is very satisfying” said Stern.

The owner of Nontando does see challenges with his company’s direct buying and importing approach, “International importing and shipping has its obstacles and having imported each year over the past 8 years the process has not been smooth sailing”, Stern said, “Regardless, we still would not do it any other way. “To find these treasures and bring our customers the best quality product at affordable prices, our buying approach is the way to go” Stern said. He recognizes that the importance of price affordability in today’s challenging economic environment. In 2006 he bought the commercial property that Nontando’s retail business operates from. He limits the use of wholesalers and middleman in his buying strategy. Operates the storefront himself with no employees. Maintains and manages his online business himself. Manages the importing and shipping process in-house, hence reducing the need for 3rd party support and maintains a tight budget on marketing. “All these factors help to limit overhead, with this strategy we can be very competitive with our pricing strategy and bring affordable products to our customers”, Stern said.

Over the past 9 years, Nontando has expanded its product lines and will continitue to do so.
Nontando has a few exciting new products and service offerings in the pipeline.
They accomodate for a wide range of consumer. Stern said, “You can visit our store and find a unique gift for a few dollars, or you can find an electic piece of home decor”.  With the lauch of the website, designed and written by Stern himself, a new frontier has opened. “Its still in its infancy but the initial response has been amazing”, Stern said,”We are very excited thus far with this sales channel”.

Nontando defines the beauty of African Masks

Gary Stern, owner of Nontando (which means of “full of love” in the African language of Xhosa) has a wide smile on his face when we start discussing African Masks. “Thanks to masks, I have been able to forge some fantastic relationships throughout the African continent as well as within the United States”, Stern remarks. He continues, ” Each year when we travel back to the African continent, I place great importance of finding unique and specials pieces”. Many of Nontando mask buyers are collectors, designers and artists. ” We have had many unique requests over the years seeking masks that may cover the entire region of Africa”. This has resulted in Stern and Nontando establishing relationships and building sources in some of the most remote and rural parts of Africa. “Often some of the best pieces often come from areas of Africa that are not frequented  by many folk”, Stern says.”Generally speaking the design behind an African Mask is often associated with the tribe and region it represents”, Stern continues, ” Be it a helmet mask or a mask with some form of headdress or a  body Mask, you can pretty much determine from the applicable design the tribe and area where it comes from”.” We put great emphasis in collecting masks that are true ceremonial masks, much of which were made prior to the 1980’s and the bulk of them tend to come from the mid-1960’s”, Stern says, “You can see the difference in many of the more modern pieces from today. That is why it is critical that we can deal direct with our sources as well as handpick our masks”. Stern believes that the genuine ceremonial masks will become less accessible in the years ahead.
” Based on my travels and dealing with peoples from different regions of Africa, ceremonies associated with masks are not followed with the same fervor and enthusiasm as it used to be in earlier times. Events associated with mask ceremonies happen much more seldom as in the past and in many more modernized areas it is not practiced at all today”. Stern continues,” The social fabric has changed in many regions  and this has influenced the culture of certain groups of Africa, often, as I had mentioned earlier, it is often the tribes and peoples whose identity has remained the same, where much of the today’s finest African Art will originate”. “Often this will be some of the most extreme and hard to get to places in Africa”, says Stern.” Each year on our travels we place great emphasis in seeking African Art and Masks from areas that will not win a popularity contest for places to visit”, Stern says, “Quite often this is where some of the finest Art comes from”. Stern cites an example of meeting an Artist from Liberia on this African travels recently and now is able to source from this region, “Prior to this I had very little knowledge about Liberian Masks and I had never previously acquired any art from this country”, Stern says, “The pieces are beautiful of the highest quality, but just as important there still seems to be a strong tribal identity in certain areas of this region”.Stern remarks how many of his buyers are often very interested in pieces that are not readily available in every shop window. ” I have been amazed of how knowledgeable our customers are with regards to the culture and heritage of many of the tribes these masks represent”. continues Stern, “Over the past 9 years I have had folks walk into our store with books and other reading material and go to great lengths to learn more about the history and symbolism behind the mask that they purchase”. “It is wonderful and this often initiates them seeking Art from many other tribes and region across Africa”, Stern says.” I occasionally with get a call from a designer in a major US city seeking a mask or carving from some tribe and/or area that you may never had heard of”, Stern tell us, ” So it  is often a new discovery for us as well and with some of the contacts and sources we have established in Africa, having being born and raised there and travelling back on our buying trips for the past 10 years we most often find that piece. “It is one of those challenges I really enjoy, as it is most often an opportunity to create new relationships and sources and learn about a new ethnicity or tribal society that I may have not come across before”.

Stern continues, ” As it is with us, it is also a thrill for our customers to uncover and learn about that small  tribal group and its respective cultures and symbolism, it underlines, for me, the incredible diversity that represent the peoples of Africa and I have always wanted to bring our customers a true representation of Africa through a diverse selection of Art, be it from a small remote village in Western Africa to a urban city in Southern Africa”.

Stern and Nontando will be embarking on another of their buying trips to Africa in 2012
and plan to bring back another collection of fine and unique African Masks.

Nontando, operating since 2003, has the largest and best selection of African Art, Gifts and Home Decor in Florida. was launched in 2009 has attracted customers from all over the US, becoming a popular choice for designers and decorators.

African Design and Style – Session One – Color

Considering this is my very first blog, I wanted to use this opportunity to introduce the subject matter.

Being in the industry of selecting, marketing and selling African decor over the past eight years as well travelling to the African continent annually I have placed much importance in attempting to assess our customers’ needs and cravings with regard to African design and style that they seek for their homefront versus the trends and direction of the production of African Decor at its source. Numerous factors come into play in both what our customers seek as well as the marketplace offerings in this vast continent. Customer, designers and decorators generally seeks a product that meets one of more of the following criteria:  contempary, modern, electic,