Traveling all the way from northern Kenya, BeadWorks will be attending NY NOW’s Artisan Resource from February 4-7 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. BeadWORKS will be exhibiting handmade beaded products in the following collections: jewelry, key chains, homewares, holiday decorations, belts, pet collars & leads, bags and other leather products.
HAND/EYE Online contacted Joanna Brown who heads the company’s sales and marketing in the United States. Below is our conversation with Joanna.
HAND/EYE Online: What was the rationale to launch BeadWORKS?
Joanna Brown: For centuries, wildlife and communities have lived alongside each other amicably in northern Kenya. After many years of successive drought, there was fierce competition between livestock and wildlife for dwindling grazing. As livestock numbers decreased, communities resorted to cutting down trees and started charcoal production as a source of income, thus causing increased habitat degradation. Plains’ game numbers declined – especially endangered elephant, Grevy’s zebra and reticulated giraffe – as food became more and more scarce.
BeadWORKS’ recognized the urgent need to restore harmony between communities and wildlife, to ensure the survival of these species and to stop habitat destruction.
BeadWORKS’ recognized that it was the women in these communities who were hard-working and willing to learn new skills. It was also recognized that any income generated by women would be put to good use educating their children, spending money on medical care and improving both their family’s and their communities’ standard of living.
BeadWORKS started in 2015 with about 500 women artisans in five commuinitiy conservancies and has grown to over 1,350 women artisans in nine community conservancies in northern Kenya.
H/E: Can you tell us a little more about the women who for BeadWorks?
JB: The artisans are pastoralist women in northern Kenya from the Samburu, Maasai and Rendille tribes, who live on community conservancies. BeadWORKS allows these women to continue with their pastoralist lifestyle, rather than being tied down in one place.
H/E: What sort of on the job training does BeadWorks provide to the artisans?
JB: BeadWORKS’ women receive training on new product designs, entrepreneurship and basic business skills. Each group has several Star Beaders with approximately 10 beaders working under them. These business leaders are skilled beaders, selected by the women within their group. Star Beaders train beaders and also monitor quality control. There are currently 150 Star Beaders.
Monthly Product Development Days bring Star Beaders together from different communities to our office to work on new designs. It ialso presents an opportunity to educate women about personal care, conservation and wildlife protection.
H/E: Can you tell our readers about your biggest success thus far?
JB: Our biggest success so far has been the employment of over 1,350 pastoralist women working from their villages, not in factories. Beading in their free time allows them to carry out their daily chores and semi-nomadic lifestyle. Women can support their families without having to resort to destructive income-generating practices such as charcoal making and livestock rearing, thus also vastly reducing damage to habitats, allowing wildlife to thrive. Income from their traditional beading handicraft is more reliable and sustainable. It allows them to pay for their children’s education, medical bills and better nutrition.
H/E: What has been the biggest challenge in running a handcrafts enterprise?
JB: The biggest challenges come in times of drought when the women are forced to migrate to remote areas, making it difficult to distribute beading materials, carry out training and collect finished products.
H/E: What’s the inspiration behind BeadWorks’ design process?
JB: Our products and colors are inspired by the traditions of our northern communities and wildlife. We also have customer requests for specific designs. We regularly organize Sample Development Days where Star Beaders from different community conservancies come to our headquarters on Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
Raw materials are taken to the villages to Star Beaders who will then distribute to their production network. Star Beaders will supervise the production, ensure the instructions on colors and design are followed. Once production is complete the Star Beaders will collect finished products and send to the headquarters. Quality control is again done at the headquarters before money is sent to the Star Beaders through mobile phone MPesa application. This revolutionary app has transformed the lives of thousands living in remote areas of Kenya. Money is loaded onto the app and then simply sent via mobile phone. This also means that the women can keep their money, rather than previously when husbands would take their cash payments.
H/E: Where can consumer purchase BeadWorks products?
JB: Our products can be purchased worldwide. We are currently business-to-business and sell to customers in the United States, Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom. It is possible to purchase orders of over 100 pieces from our website, www.beadworkskenya.com.