Beading for Business


or over 10 years, Nosakhele and Phumla have been making a living creating beadwork. These women are part of 450 bead artisans living in the township of Khayelitsha, near Cape Town. For Monkeybiz, an non-profit export company, they make products such as beaded animals, dolls and accessories.

I climb the steep streets of the Bo Kaap neighborhood in central Cape Town. The small houses are painted in bright colors here, standing out against the backdrop of Table Mountain. The colorful Monkeybiz is located in Rose Street, perfectly matching to the row of brightly colored houses across the street. Here, Monkeybiz shows and sells the products the women in the township make. Buyers from all over the globe have found their way to Rose Street to purchase beadwork.

The extra large food items, with its packaging recreated using tiny beads, are the eye-catchers in the Monkeybiz showroom. Ketchup bottles, tooth paste tubes and salt shakers are made by the women, copying common household goods in their own unique and quirky style. The dolls and animals are equally funky, with unique characteristics for each individual piece.

Every beader has her own distinctive style and technique. They have been taught how to do beadwork by their mothers, or neighbors in the township. The majority of the artisans have known poverty, neglect and deprivation for most of their lives. This work provides them with an income. The artists bead at home, which enables them to look after their families and keep transport costs to a minimum. The beading lifts their spirits and gives them a great sense of achievement.

I browse the Monkeybiz shop, and laugh out loud when I spot the perfect accessory for my camera; a handbag in the shape of one. With the brand name Nikon, and a funky black-and-white pattern beaded on the product. When I pick up the bag to buy it, I see the hangtag with the name of the maker, Maramba. I am flying home tonight, but hope to be back in South Africa one day to visit Maramba and the other makers in Khayelitsha!

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Irene is founder of and is specialized in handmade design. She is based in Amsterdam, but travels the globe to spot the latest trends in handmade and sustainable design. With crafts exporters as well as importers, brands and retailers, she works on developing new products for the interior. The Craftscurator Trend Guide on handmade design is published every year. Irene regularly gives presentations on design and sustainability, and guides co-creation workshops.