They were everywhere in every rich color, size, length and shape, hanging on racks sorted by color and length in a large metal-roofed showroom.
Each was custom made by loving hands by beautiful dedicated ladies for customers around the world wanting to help others and have a piece of art.
Such were the Kazuri beads and necklaces made by 334 ladies in Nairobi, Kenya for their customers. And these ladies are honored to make these necklaces because they give these bead ladies employment. And each one I talked to loved their jobs and were so appreciative of having the employment.
Making necklaces for the world market is so popular that Kazuri has a waiting list of 300 women wanting to make beads. And another reason is most of the ladies are single mothers with children and finding employment is difficult when they are responsible for raising the children and don’t have a husband helping with the expenses.
Several men also help work making pottery and beads because they also need employment. When more beads and pottery are sold, more ladies and men have jobs.
Coming to work all dressed in their colorful African ensembles, the ladies work 8:30 a.m.to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday until 1 p.m. and they each get a tea and lunch break. In addition, health insurance is provided for each one and their children. Each lady makes 15,284 Kenyan shillings ($150 US Dollars) per month plus commission and bonus. The more necklaces they make, the more money they make. Each lady can make 40 to 60 necklaces per day.
Each unbreakable ceramic bead goes though many steps before it becomes a finished piece of art. And each lady can perform every step because the ladies rotate every 2 weeks into another step depending on their speed of work.
One time they are custom painting the beads and 2 weeks later they could be rolling round beads or stringing necklaces.
Kazuri, which means “small and beautiful” in the Swahili language, began in 1975 as a tiny workshop experimenting in making handmade beads. Its founder, Lady Susan Wood, started with 2 African women. And soon, she discovered that many other women in the villages around Nairobi, most of who were single mothers, who were in need of regular employment. Driven by the desire to provide such opportunities, Kazuri today has evolved into a dedicated workforce of skilled ladies manufacturing handmade jewelry.
Kazuri applied its knowledge of ceramics and the artistic flair, making the necklaces attractive and popular for collectors and individual customers alike. The culture and wildlife of Kenya is reflected in each bead and necklace. Each necklace has a design name and customers order by that name. Custom designed necklaces can also be made by color and design.
Clay to make the beads comes from Mt. Kenya in Kenya making each bead a true Kenyan work of art. The clay can withstand the high temperatures needed for firing in the kilns. It is combined with talc and silica and mixed with water to make the right consistency for rolling beads.
Clay not used in the day’s bead making is recycled and used to roll beads another day. Mixing the clay with the talc and silica helps the clay change to white after firing so paint can be applied.
Every bead rolling lady has a clump of clay from which she rolls the prescribed bead size for the day or pushes it into a mold. Some roll marble size and others roll rectangles and others roll gumball-size beads. Ladies are rolling all sizes of beads all of the time. Then, a hole is put through the bead using a straight wire and the bead is then put on a rack with wires until it is first fired at 1000 degrees Celsius for 8 hours and allowed to cool down slowly to keep from cracking. After this step, if the ceramic beads are dropped, they will not break.
Next is the hand painted process with imported ceramic dyes, paints and glazes because they aren’t available locally. After being painted, each bead dries on the rack for 2 hours and then is fired again in the kiln at night because the 1000 degree Celsius makes the workshop too hot during the day.
After this firing, the painted bead is a beautiful glossy color. The next step is threading and assembling the beads with strong fishing line. One lady can make 30-40 necklaces a day using the finished beads.
A necklace is now finished and goes into the Kazuri showroom next door to the workshop. And each 2-sided rack features one color making the showroom very colorful.
Besides jewelry, Kazuri also makes pottery ware and men needing a job and income work along with women at forming the cups, plates, bowls, saucers, pitchers, mugs, glasses and salt shakers in different colors and designs using molds and the pottery wheel.
Plus, men are employed in areas where lifting is needed like the storeroom full of hundreds of huge jars filled with a single color bead and in all shades of that color.
The pottery is painted and allowed to dry for 3 days before it is fired 10-11 hours at 1200 degree Celsius. After cooling down for 3 days to keep the pottery from cracking, it is then dishwater safe, microwave safe, and lead free.
Beads were everywhere because of the loving hands of hundreds of single ladies thankful for having a job that helps support their children and for making a product that the ladies of the world love. Every bead has a story and every lady has a story as to why she is single. But being able to work at a job they just love makes each necklace special for the ladies that wear them.
Contact Kazuri at: info@ kazuri.co.ke Phone 3884058 FAX 3882501 Kazuri 2000 LTD. PO Box 24276, Nairobi, Kenya 00502 Kenya
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