Keep calm and bead on: These Eastern Cape women are bringing beauty to a tough year

A beaded stethoscope graduation gift for the country's new doctors.
Supplied by Clarebaccessories
  • 2020 was a terrible year, particularly in the Eastern Cape as it battled Covid-19, so a group of women decided to keep calm and bead on. 
  • Their unusual beadwork is talked about among people who love the fiddly art form, with deft fingers adorning even stethoscopes and lamp shades. 
  • A Parklands woman is the matchmaker between these talented women and people in search of their unusual works of art.

A Cape Town businesswoman is matchmaking with a difference – connecting a group of talented traditional women in the Eastern Cape who love beads, and customers who love incorporating the ancient art form into their everyday wear. 

From a brightly beaded stethoscope as a graduation gift for one of the country's newly graduated doctors, to bedside lamps and shoes – Clareb is helping to connect the beaders with those the who can't travel the long distances required to visit them in person.

Beads woven into lace-like body pieces to finish off a special occasion dress, a delicately beaded bra with rows of beads softly draping into the waist and a beret with a flourish are all in high demand.

Based in Parklands, north of Cape Town, Bomikazi Chinhamo, has a keen eye for trends and likes to let the beaders she grew up with know what people are looking for so that they can custom-make items. Selling the work is how the beaders support themselves and their families, and with more people looking to support locally made items, they are also hoping that their deft fingerwork will get their families through the devastating financial collapses that so many people have suffered through the Covid-19 lockdown.

She said:

I love unique things and art - things that are extraordinary, things that are unique.

She gained her appreciation for the art of beading by watching the highly talented women where she grew up work patiently with the tiny beads, fashioning them into magnificent accessories to finish off a traditional outfit, or to transform an understated elegant dress into a showstopper.

Seeing how these intricate designs were putting children through school and putting food in the fridge, she came up with a way to share the work of a group of beaders in the Eastern Cape, and connect them to more customers. 

Watching trends around her or listening to a client's wish list, she will send a message to the women to give them ideas.   

Beaded shoes

"I just leave them to see if it can be done," she says of some of the trickier requests, like the stethoscope adornment. 

The women do a few trial runs and let her know that it is possible.

This includes bedside table lamp shades, pot plant holders and even shoes.

She gently suggested a few tweaks to the women who favour working in the pale blue-and-white beads associated with beadwork originating from the Eastern Cape, and the result is pops of bright yellow and night-sky blue.

She said the group had so many plans for expansion at the beginning of the year. 

However, with Covid-19 forcing everybody indoors for months, these were put on hold.

However, Chinhamo, who trades as Clarebaccessories, also has an online shop with a chat function, where customers can browse some of the pieces and buy online, contact her to commission something, or arrange a visit to her outlet.

She has made beaded masks but does these according to orders because they are difficult to wash daily, as required to help keep the coronavirus at bay, without ruining the beadwork.

Instead, she has compromised by devising a beaded alice band that also holds your mask in place so that your ears don't hurt after a long day in the office with your mask on.

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