Traditionally worn under clothes by African women, waist beads have different meanings.
Ranging from rites of passage, to enticing your husband to bed, to healing and rejuvenation.
The art of beads has been practiced since the beginning of time.
In fact, beads have not fully lost their position in society.
In Malawi and in most parts of the world, there is a sudden growing interest in waist beads or ‘network’—as women fondly call them.
Waist beads define attractiveness and sexiness, women say.
From this growing interest in beads, local beaders are also ekeing a living out of the ‘network’ business which is thriving especially in Lilongwe.
The city’s main market popularly known as Mpanipani is not in short supply of the much-sought after product.
Lines of beads of different shapes, colours and sizes are woven and put on display for customers to buy.
Some innovators can actually use the same beads into fancy products by weaving the lines together into a necklace, bracelet, earring, anklet or attached to garments or articles of clothing for decorative effect.
With these new products on the market, wearing beads has taken a whole new meaning. Beads are no longer for women, as men are now being spotted with bead bracelets too.
However, discovering the extraordinary creative potential and pleasure of making unique, one-of-a-kind beads from existing beads themselves is art.
The tedious repetition, beading techniques to make colourful and different beaded beads, colour scheming and all, to the fine pieces of ornaments, every step of the way defines what art is all about.
According to South African-based Malawian lady Violet Mwendera beads are a hot business.
What started as a hobby for Mwendera has turned into a life-changing business, as she has and continues to weave beads into adornements for sale.
“I create beaded jewelry such as neckpieces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, and key holders.
“What started as a hobby developed into a small business. People usually order for personalised designs and I make them. They can also select their own colours,” she says smiling.
Today, Mwendera runs a beads ornaments label Beaded by UltraViolet, which boasts of different shapes and designs of embellishments weaved from beads.
“I’m a bead lover who makes handmade jewelry. All items are made with various colours and my mission is to bring fun and uniqueness to any outfit you choose to wear. My motto is handmade jewelry to add some spunk to your outfits,” she said in an interview from Pretoria.
Custom made accessories
The jewelry maker does everything from scratch, from her art studio at home.
“I have a station at home from where I do all the beading. In a day I make between six and seven items, depending on the design.
“I also set up stalls at flea markets and my designs are going to be showcased in the newly launched Deah’s Boutique in Johannesburg,” she mentioned.
She adds: “I use all kinds of beads, which I source from beading stores this side as well as from markets. I use faux pearls, seed beads, glass beads, wooden beads accessorised with pendants, chains, charms and letters to add more colour. I use strong materials and ensure that each piece is made to last by taking my time when making them.”
Her business is thriving through the power of social media as once done, Violet posts her designs styled as BBVU from her moniker, on social media.
“Customers are mostly from South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique, and friends in the US and it’s at the moment it’s through Facebook and word of mouth,” she says.
In her quest to create beads for every occasion, Mwendera also handmakes bridal neckpieces and earrings as well as any “type of jewelry for weddings, such as bracelets for the bridesmaids and a unique piece for the bride according to their colours.”
Her skill has grown the past six years she has been beading and has big plans for the future.
“I have designs which incorporate the Malawi flag colours. Key holders are the ones that are in high demand in this regard. I am still learning how to make other cultural pieces. All in all, my pieces represent something funky hence playing around with several names and settling for UltraViolet just to personalise it.
“I developed the skill in Kenya while living there and so far here I am. Generally, I make pieces you would not normally find in stores. I try to create unique pieces or in colours that aren’t so common. Moving forward, I’d like to create more eccentric designs and more of men’s jewelry. I do a few neckpieces with pendants but that’s about it,” she stated.
In her art, Violet tries to portray and represent her home country, Malawi.
Mwendera is not very new on the scene as in December 2014, she was crowned Miss Malawi South Africa. As representative for Malawi in Mzansi, her duties were mainly to be and an ambassador which she believes did a good job.
“Together with the princesses we were involved in raising funds for the floods that took place in Malawi. My term was meant to be for a year, but another event has not yet been organised.
One of her regular customers in South Africa, Gertrude Sikoya hails BBUV brand as export quality.
“I love her creations because they are a mixture of tradition and modern. They are strong and long lasting which she can sell them in big shops and people will think it was imported.
Again, they are unique and Violet is talented, she can design her jewels to your liking. You can just give her a sample rest assurred she will do it exactly like that, said. n