Making Fashion Statements with Beads

By: Sophia Okiasi

Fashion in Africa has risen tremendously with the application of bead that create a stand -out appearance and statement. It is a known fact that making fashion statement with clothing materials has being a norm in recent times and but beads have become emboldens in the world of fashion to the admiration of all. The artistic appeal of beads has added glamour to African fashion. Today’s beads have found its way in African fashion is now best described as style fascinator. Beads in the fashion world can be traced to the previous recessions of the 20th century.

The trend was first introduced in 1930’s depression, when women said they wanted to cheer themselves up by looking trendy in the down town. The use of beads in Africa can be traced back at least 12,000 years ago. The oldest known beads have been found in the Kalahari Desert, Sudan and libya. The earliest beads were made of eggshell, clay, twigs, stones, ivory and bone – glass beads were introduced later by traders from Europe, India and the Middle East. Beads are known to be of the earliest forms of trade between the human races . It is a thought that bead trading has made humans develop language. The most famous type of beads originated from Nigeria and it is believed to grant protection against snakebite and also used during Traditional African wedding ceremonies.

A typical Traditional Ruler in a bead attire

Beads are made of a great variety of materials namely; glass, copper, wood, silver, brass aluminum, bone, horn shell, coral, pearl, jet, amber, mineral, including precious stones, ceramics and plastics. They are at times curved, painted or enameled and they are usually made in various shapes, sizes, and colors and are woven together with specialized thread. The Beauty of beads are usually appreciated more when they are handmade. The beads have an amazing expression you see on a traditional outfits during wedding ceremonies, coronation of chieftaincy titles, and festivals. There are different types of beads; a translucent blue tublor bead which is called “Segi” or “Popo” besides this, we have the Opaque and red bead called” lyun” the Segi bead is one of the oldest local beads in Nigeria.

Bead making is an ancient craft universally practiced among the various ethnic nationalities. There is also a locally made bead called “Akori” or Aggrey mostly used by Benin people, which is made from blue coral by Benin craftsmen. Coral bead has remained popular among the people of Niger Delta areas of Nigeria as part of regalia worn by the rulers and kings. Some traditional dressing is never complete without the traditional coral red or white beads.

Beads play a huge part in some African cultures. African beads include pride, beauty, culture, power and identity. During the slave trade, Africans were sold in exchange for beads. The different shades of beads’ colours have major significance than wearing them. For instance, the Purple coloured bead is assumed to represent justice, the Green symbolizes faith and the Gold exemplifies power.

A traditional marriage attire made with beads

In Ghana, beads have foundational long history and it was once the king’s currency, according to Sikapa E.B.T, an organizer for the first Ghana International Beads Festival. According to him, Ghanaian beads were once used in exchange for slaves, alcoholic drinks, and textiles. Beads are now setting pace in the fashion industry and for fashion conscious ladies; they have become a must, as a result, many discerning ladies are venturing into the business, churning out adorable designs and making good returns from the business. In Nigeria Two-months training for the craft costs at equivalent 55USD and one can start earning profitable money depending on the kind of bead you make. The amount you make depends on your creativity, neatness, and types of bead being made for the customers. Acquiring beads is generally cost effective but can be quite pricy when it comes renting them for occasions.

Similarly, Kenya’s most popular bead culture is attributed to Maasai people whose beads are distinctive and unique in nature worn as earrings or for traditional ornaments by both men and women. Other types of Kenya beads come mostly in bones which are handcrafted. Borane tinsmiths  in the northern part of Kenya are known for making many small beads using the material from recycled aluminum cooking pots. Some of these beads are also made from Batik bone it is made by dying bleached and polished cow bone.

A typical South African Beaded Cape

In South AfricaJ beads play a major significance in their culture especially the Zulu’s tribe. In bead making different materials are used such as: wood, ivory, and other natural materials like amber. But most Zulu beads are made with glass thread beads. Zulu beads follow traditional patterns and uses traditional colors to convey meanings. It is done with a brick stitch, which lays the beads close together to form a woven fabric that is very flexible and strong. Zulu is known with beaded rope choker and round bracelet set. The necklace can also be used as a headband as traditionally done by Zulu women. Waist Beads are an excellent tool for women to feel more feminine and beautiful. They have been worn for varying reasons by royalty for body adornment, and decoration.

Without an iota of doubt, bead making is a very lucrative business to the society and it has a lot of money making potentials as long as you know your art and target audience. Bead making does not require a lot of space or significant technical training, it is important to learn first the basic techniques, which means it can be done right in the comfort of your home and you will thrive.


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