A year in the making, our most recent artisan collaboration came about as a result of Jenny, founder and creative director of Bohemia Design, encountering the incredible hand beaded jewellery of the Maasai and Samburu communities while on a trip through Kenya.
After a visit to the BeadWORKS Kenya office and on discovering the impact this project has on the lives of the individual women beaders, their wider communities and the natural environment of northern Kenya, Jenny was keen to get involved.
The Bohemia team in Edinburgh began working with the BeadWORKS team in Kenya to develop a range of hand beaded jewellery which honours the tradition of the art while bringing a contemporary feel to the collection. The designs were created in the Bohemia studio, and developed by BeadWORKS’ Star Beaders who, under the guidance of formidable production manager Beatrice, crafted the first sample pieces.
Over the following months the samples were refined and a colour palette of desert hues to cobalt blues was finalised. The final collection includes nine playful designs including two tone statement necklaces and tassel earrings with patterns inspired by traditional African beadwork.
By July production was in full swing which meant that Beatrice was able to coordinate with the Star Beaders of the Sera, Kalama and Ngarendare communities to distribute the work. Star Beaders are women who show exceptional skill and become leaders within their beading groups, overseeing production and quality control.
The feedback we received from these amazing women filled our hearts:
"Before we use to depend on our husbands when it came to everything in the household. Before BeadWORKS our husbands would bring home just 1 goat a month and when the food was gone, it was gone. But now we are able to buy food anytime we want and any type of food we would like."
"I have made a good house through BeadWORKS, we are able to take our children to school, and if one of our kids is sent home because of school fees we are able to provide something to help, we pay for their exams."
"Also, we really appreciate wildlife in our conservancies. We love them. For example, right now if I encounter a sick elephant I will report it to the rangers. We want to help."
The jewellery is entirely handcrafted using wire and the finest quality Czech glass beads. Beadworking has a long history in this part of Africa and is carried out almost entirely by women. It can be seen as a form of communication, the colours representing meanings such as white for peace and blue for water, and a woman's identity and position in society is articulated through her body ornamentation.
Originally the beads would have been made from local raw materials such as clay, shells, ivory, bone and seeds. Trade beads started arriving from India and the Middle East around 200-300 AD and Czech glass beads have been used in Kenya for the past 200 years.
BeadWORKS is a social enterprise working with self-governed women's groups in rural communities spread across northern Kenya. Part of the Northern Rangelands Trust, BeadWORKS provides a reliable and sustainable income for more than 1,300 women, indirectly benefitting over 7,800 people. This makes a huge difference to the lives of the women, their families, communities and the wildlife. The project allows the women to maintain their semi-nomadic lifestyles and helps to create cultural harmony among the communities involved, the Samburu, Turkana, Maasai, Rendille and Borana.
BeadWORKS is a great example of the importance of empowering women and the trickle down effect this has. The economic opportunities created for these women, who can work from home while caring for their families, not only results in a boost to the local economy but it means women become strong advocates for children's education as well as environmental and wildlife conservation.
We would like to say a huge thank you to all the wonderful and talented women who have made this project possible x