The iPhepa Bead project was recently started as a community empowerment project with a number of self-help groups of mostly women and youth from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands of South Africa who are repurposing paper from glossy magazines, boxes, calendars, brochures and other paper, creating beauty out of waste.
The jewellery is interspersed with glass, wood and seed beads and buttons, with minimal use of plastic beads or imports. Each item is 100% unique and is entirely handmade.
Helping to eradicate extreme poverty
The main objective of the iPhepa Beads initiative is to help to eradicate extreme poverty; the women and youth make crafts to earn a sustainable income aside from Government Grants to support themselves and their families under fair trade and eco-friendly principles.
The people that make the jewellery are unemployed and/or vulnerable women and youth, some of them sole providers for their families and many of the youth are orphaned by HIV/AIDs and are now the head of a household.
The beauty of the iPhepha Beads initiative is that it reuses paper and cardboard before reaching the landfills or even the recyclers. Their beaders source their paper and cardboard materials themselves in their communities where there is no waste collection. They hope that this will open the eyes to others to look at waste in a different light and see how it can be reused. Because all of their jewellery is made entirely by hand and mostly at home in the communities, the carbon footprint is low.
Although biodegradable, to make their paper beads more durable in wet weather and attractive, they use a plant oil and gum resin-based gloss varnish which is environmentally friendly. Their products are authentic – beading is part of the Zulu culture, dating back to the early traders, so they are not imposing something new on their beaders.
The birth of a good idea
The idea behind the iPhepha Bead initiative evolved when founder, Karen Zunckel, had been working on environmental sustainability assessments which took her to numerous conservation and community projects in various parts of Africa. She met some inspiring people committed to a variety of conservation and community projects who touched her deeply and her desire to ‘give back’ in some way to the environment and vulnerable women and youth became consuming. The idea of creating paper beads simply happened and although not unique to East Africa, Karen had not seen this jewellery made in South Africa before, so she decided to try out a few designs which were received with praise.
With amazing support from her husband and business partner, Kevan, she trained up her first three crafters, who are local Zulu people in need and who she knows and has regular contact with. She has since started training up a group at eThembeni Care Centre in Mphophomeni and is in the initial stages of discussions with two other groups. For many years prior to this project, the Zunckels had been impacted on by the prevalence of HIV/AIDs in people they knew and loved and embraced the idea of reaching out to people in need and making a positive difference practically in their own home community. And so the idea was borne…
No shortage of people in need
‘There is no shortage of people in need and it gives us great pleasure to play a small role in improving the lives of their beaders and their extended families’, says Karen.
‘Our model is not to develop a central factory but to allow our beaders the flexibility of working from home according to their own hours and where they can continue to take care of their families’ needs. We do, however, get together regularly for a group beading session where we share tips and ideas and in so doing, learn from each other.’
Miss Water 2011, Kirsty Dukes, the 2nd runner up of the Miss Earth 2011 beauty pageant is a local girl from Eston in KZN and she is their Ambassador and will be wearing their jewellery at many of her public events, including the Generation Earth Summit just gone and the upcoming COP17.
They have also partnered with Project Gateway, through their Zandla Xpressions program who are promoting their products as part of their network of approved crafters. Zandla Xpressions offers marketing, mentorship, support and training support to crafters whose products are not yet ready for the market.
They also offer a fully sponsored course to existing crafters which focuses on inter alia marketing, quality control, hygiene, HIV/AIDs, etc. Their ultimate aim is to raise up well-equipped entrepreneurs running their own sustainable, profit making businesses.