The Bead Making Ladies of Nairobi


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.

Elizabeth is one of the ladies who has work the longest at Kazuri. She started in 1975, is now 65 years old and only speaks Swahili. She was married 16 years, has 6 children, 20 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. She is very thankful for her job that has enabled her to provide for her family for so many years.


Elizabeth’s hand has rolled beads on this table since 1975 and she is still rolling them round, square, oblong and rectangular. I watched her hand make that clump of clay into a perfect rectangle. She made it look so easy.

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.

One of the main workrooms where the ladies roll out the beads, put holes in them, paint them, dry them and then fire them in the kilns in the back of the room. I spoke to them all in my very limited Swahili saying I love them and their necklaces and keep up the outstanding works of art for all of us.

Making necklaces for the world market is so popular that Kazuri has a waiting list of 300 women wanting to make beads.DSC_0870 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.

Men can make 60-100 pieces of pottery a day on the pottery wheel.

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.

Jamila is single with 3 children and has been working at Kazuri Beads for 9 years. Here she is making earrings.

Coming to work all dressed in their colorful African ensembles, the ladies work 8:30 4:30 p.m. and Saturday until 1 p.m. and they each get a tea and lunch break.DSC_0852 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. DSC_0828The more necklaces they make, the more money they make. Each lady can make 40 to 60 necklaces per day.DSC_0137

This happy lady just screamed when she saw that I was wearing the giraffe necklace that she made.  She was working on several more when we visited her.

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.

This lady is creating the elephant necklace and has several elephant beads on the rack to dry until it is time for to be fired and painted.

One time they are custom painting the beads and 2 weeks later they could be rolling round beads or stringing necklaces.DSC_0874

Kazuri, which means “small and beautiful” in the Swahili language, began in 1975 as a tiny workshop experimenting in making handmade beads.DSC_0924 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.

Nancy and I made our custom necklaces in the Bead Storage Room where they have jars with thousands of colors of beads. It was so fun selecting the color, size and shape of beads we wanted in our necklace and it was fast and easy with their helpers.

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.

Nancy and I made our custom necklace when we visited the workshop and one hour later, we had that custom necklace.

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.

The before clay, and after firing, it makes the item lighter and able to take dyes, glazes, and painting.


Caroline is a 23-year-old single lady with a 4-year-old child who guided us throughout the Kazuri workshop explaining each step of bead making. She did an outstanding job!

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.

This lady rolled all of these beads in just a few hours.

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. DSC_0852Then, 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.

This ceramic/yarn wall hanging is a piece of art custom made by Marie and her assistant Florence for clients. It takes 2-3 weeks to make a door size hanging and larger ones take up to 6 weeks. They are sold by size and can  cost $1500 to $3500 US Dollars (150,000-350,000 Kenyan Schillings). It was absolutely a gorgeous piece of art.


Florence assists Marie in their creation.

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.

Each row of these beads will become a beautiful necklace.

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.DSC_0902


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.

This young man is painting the cup like a giraffe. And the plates, saucers, bowls and more pieces are all available for a complete set of pottery. Other animal patterns are also available.

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.

He is the Keeper of the Molds which are used to form some pottery.

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.DSC_0909


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.DSC_0872

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@   Phone 3884058 FAX 3882501 Kazuri 2000 LTD. PO Box 24276, Nairobi, Kenya 00502 Kenya

Photo Copy © 2015