On my trip to Kenya and Tanzania in 2012, I had the privilege of visiting and touring the Kazuri bead factory just outside Nairobi. I had been very fascinated with their story ever since I picked up a few beads at a local ‘trunk’ show.
Kazuri in Swahili means ‘small and beautiful’. It began in 1975 as a tiny workshop making handmade beads. Its founder, Lady Susan Wood, started with two African women and soon discovered that there were many other women in the villages around Nairobi, most of whom were single mothers, who were in need of regular employment. Their workforce has grown.
They not only make a huge variety of beads, which start from the clay gathered in a nearby mountain area, but they have expanded their line to include ceramics with a unique artistic flair.
I thoroughly enjoyed being given a personal tour, learning how the clay is gathered, formed, kilned, painted, and fired as many times as necessary to produce the beautiful beads. The finished beads are then strung artistically to create attractive necklaces and earrings and sold at a very reasonable price in their Gift Shop. I bought several items while there, including some very cute safari animals. My visit was one of the highlights on this trip and will be on my itinerary for any future visits.
On my March 2014 trip, I contacted Kazuri in advance about looking for particular beads. They encouraged me to come to pick through their jars of beads. I remembered seeing dozens of jars on the shelf during my tour so I thought, what a great idea. I even had my document showing the beads I was looking for. The jars are very large, perhaps 2 gallons. One of the women-led us to a back room and showed us a small table we could sit at.
After looking at the pictures of beads I was hoping to purchase, she brought a jar over to the table and dumped out the contents. Imagine my surprise to see that each jar contained an assortment of all the beads they made instead of all one of a kind. The bad news is that it is difficult to find several of the same beads. The good news is that you see a huge variety, so you purchase beads that you never expected to be interested in. If you wish to order in advance for pick up, that is possible but it requires a minimum of 50 of any particular design.
Credit: Laurena Jenkins Hoffmeyer