A social entrepreneur creates a Zulu beadwork collaboration that empowers, uplifts and celebrates the talents of South African craftswomen
Upon returning to South Africa in 2002 after 5 years of voluntary work for a non-profit organization in the USA, Janet Shaw felt moved by the continuing poverty and plight of those disadvantaged by the apartheid legacy in the country. Added to endemic poverty was the pandemic of HIV/Aids, further destabilizing communities in an alarming way. In some circumstances, women are often single parents in low income communities, and they are particularly vulnerable. Janet felt compelled to do something to help the situation. She had always had a deep love and appreciation for the aesthetic of South African cultures. Having studied both Fashion Design and Fine Art and always worked in creative fields, she sought to establish a work environment that could be a source of creative pride and income for all. An auspicious coincidence led to the creation of the Zulu Beadwork Project in KwaZulu Natal, formed by entrepreneur Janet and a group of craftswomen in October 2006. What started originally as a project crafting and offering just three beadwork products, led to what is today a project offering over twenty-five products sold in South Africa, America, and Europe. Janet says she aspires and aims to empower the women involved in the Zulu Beadwork Project by enhancing an African cultural integrity and humanity that finds greater expression through the manifestation of equal opportunity.
The skills of the bead workers involved at the Zulu Beadwork Project is equivalent to that of a master crafts person. Whilst beadwork is often historically viewed as a pavement or curio craft, the project aims to elevate this skill and thereby income, through design and other innovations, to be more in line with the level of master craftsmanship. Essential to this is a model that creates steady and sustainable income for all involved in the project. This requires continual innovation at the level of product development and the refining of key skills, introducing other jewellery making skills to create a more durable and desirable product to the global market. The project is based around the ethos of each craftsperson owning their individual creative process, nurturing and cultivating those skills, so that each bead worker becomes responsible for products they produce for bi-annual seasons. The number of orders received by each beader is often reflective in the quality and design of an individual beader’s work.
What started originally as a project crafting and offering just three beadwork products, led to what is today a project offering over twenty-five products sold in South Africa, America, and Europe.
Today, the Zulu Beadwork Project develops two jewellery ranges each year, following the Northern Hemisphere seasons and trends as they occur six months ahead of those in South Africa. This range includes fifteen plus necklace styles, six bracelet styles, and three earring styles in up to forty different colour ways. The number of designs and colours are based on seasonal trends which lend our product an appeal that extends beyond the conventional beaded jewellery market. All the products are made by hand and to order using the finest glass beads imported from Europe and Japan. Semi precious stones, recycled glass and metal beads from Africa are also incorporated into the designs.
Ultimately, the project aspires to reduce the impact of poverty and foster the continuation of a healthy and sustainable family, clan, and cultural inheritance. Many of the women involved in the Zulu Beadwork Project learned their skills from their mothers or other family members. The project aims to keep this a living tradition where the level of master cratfmanship is recognised as being as valuable as that of a tertiary education. Equally important to the Zulu Beadwork Project is to provide the economic circumstances for those involved to afford themselves and/or their children a high level of education, should that be their aspiration.
At present, the primary focus of the Zulu Beadwork Project is to create sustainable income and a raised standard of living. The aspiration for the project is that through creating greater economic freedom, it is able to positively impact the communities involved. On an individual level, the project aims to create great pride in one’s culture and its skills. Janet’s focus is on training in current international fashion and colour trends, advising the craftswomen on how to interpret traditional skills in a fresh and contemporary way. The project also offers continual training on the importance of delivery and quality standard management.
The Zulu Beadwork Project is a fair trade initiative that aims to link accomplished crafters with the global market. The range of beaded jewellery produced is a blend of contemporary aesthetics and traditional skills, showcasing a rich cultural heritage. Each collection is made entirely by hand, using glass beads and materials of the highest quality.
The project generates sustainable income for fifteen women. Here are some of their individual stories:
Nana Sibiya exudes natural talent as a true creative and is one of the project’s most accomplished beaders. Nana learnt to bead in 2003 when her father left her to support eight members of their extended family. Nana is in her 30s and is a single mother of two. She is immensely proud that through the beauty she creates she can support her family. More recently her brother has been inspired by her example and is now also becoming a master beader.
Patricia Hadebe joined the project’s design and beading team two and a half years ago. She had recently lost her husband in a taxi accident leaving her with a toddler to raise on her own. Her husband’s family disowned her leaving her homeless and almost destitute. Through income raised by working with the project she has almost completed building a house she owns. Patricia is principally responsible for the project’s range of beautiful Christmas decorations and is invaluable in her willingness to assist making whatever is needed.
Phumzile Shozi began beading at age 10 and has been beading professionally for almost 20 years. A master crafts person, Phumzile is responsible for teaching many others. She lives in a rural area close to Durban and supports her husband and three children. She says she is happy and feels blessed that she chose to use her hands to make a living. It has allowed her to provide a home and pay school fees for her children.
Nomatemba Gwala worked as a domestic worker for very low pay before she met Phumzile in 2000. Prior to learning to bead, Nomatemba says life was very hard as a single mother of 3 and being the breadwinner for 5 members of her extended family. Forced to leave school at a young age, her parents couldn’t afford the fees, she loves the independence that beadwork brings her and that she can send her own children to school.
Eunice Shozi, a master beader for the past 30+ years, has been beading since she was 14 years old. She left school at age 10 as in her words: ‘In those days people said if you were a girl and you could write your name, your schooling was complete’. Through her beadwork, she supports her husband, their 6 children and an additional child from a very disadvantaged family. Paramount to Eunice is that all the children receive a full education including the special education required for her deaf child at a school many miles away in Pietermaritzburg. She says the income she earns through beading gives her great pride in that she can offer her children a future through education.
Sylvia Shozi, a single parent of 2, her husband passed away in 2006, says she enjoys being independent through beadwork. As with all the project’s beaders her work is of an extremely high standard and has a wonderful refined quality. Sylvia is saving to build a new house, as she currently lives in a traditional wattle and daub building that is not entirely weather proof.
Thenjiwe Mpulo is a master of the beaded bracelet. Unable to afford schooling at a younger age, now in her 20s she has completed her final year of high school through adult learning and has begun training as a nurse. All of this has been made possible through income raised through beadwork. She is a single mother of two and takes care of her deceased sister’s handicapped child.
To find out more about this incredible social entrepreneurship project, contact Janet Shaw on telephone: +27 (0) 82 497 5977, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website www.thezulubeadworkproject.com (currently under construction) or the website: www.thandazulu.org (the project’s main client an NGO currently hosts a site with the exclusive product range - click on the Wholesale Home link and enter the password: thandazuluwholesale.
Why LoA loves it...
These wonderful handcrafted pieces of jewellery are not only beautiful to wear, but they also tell a unique story, not to mention supporting and empowering incredible women entrepreneurs in communities in KwaZulu-Natal. The stories are inspirational, so are the jewellery pieces. --- Melanie