Uganda is a nation awash with talented artisans. There are carpenters, weavers, tailors, and bead makers on nearly every street corner, and people don’t shy away from a DIY project. Maker culture isn’t just limited to hobbyists, it’s a necessary function of life. Still, though, there are those among the woodworkers and dressmakers who have design in their blood, whose creative endeavors aren’t just a job but their soul’s deepest calling.
Meet Agnes and Beatrice.
Until her health required her to find a slower paced job, Beatrice spent all day working in a factory making hand-crafted leather goods. When she went home in the evenings, instead of resting, she turned her hands toward jewelry. “If it has to do with beads,” she said, “I have to know.”
Agnes helps manage a craft jewelry co-op, but she fills her free time with tailoring lessons and is often sporting new necklaces and earrings of her own design.
These women are hungry for more opportunities to make, and to see their work go out into the world. When they met for the first time, they instantly connected over their love for beading and design.
Agnes & Bea represents the best of their work, and an opportunity to expand their skills and learn new techniques, as well as to explore exciting new materials sourced from their continent.
Mostly, though, it is an opportunity for them to see that their beautiful work deserves a place in the international market. There’s nothing that makes them prouder than seeing one of their designs out in the wide world, and we’re here to make sure that dream becomes a firm reality.
You can shop Agnes & Bea here.
I’m just Agnes, a single mother of two. I come from the North, that’s Gulu District. I love singing and dancing with my children. I want to build a house, and I want to advance in what I’ve learned. I’ve learned tailoring.
Creativity is good because when you are creative at something, you get more people to buy what you’ve made, and you learn more skills. I love making necklaces- I don’t know why, but I just like making them. If I see someone putting on my designs, I feel good. I feel proud.
I’m Beatrice, a widow, from the Northern part of Uganda. I have four children, and I’m HIV positive. I want a house- either in Kampala or my village, so that house will be remembered by my family.
I like beading so much, because people also love it and are interested in the work. When I don’t have anything to do, I like creating designs on my own. I thank God my children are also interested in making beads. When somebody is wearing something I’ve made, I feel very happy.
Joseph is a talented artisan working with Ankole cowhorn. We commission him to make our cowhorn beads but he can also craft anything from sunglasses to vases out of this versatile material.
Ankole cattle are native to the region, but interbreeding with imported dairy cows has dramatically lowered their numbers. The growing market for Ankole products helps to ensure a future for this breed.
If you’re in Kampala and need cowhorn goods, let us know and we’ll put you in touch.
How much do Agnes and Beatrice get paid?
Whatever they want to get paid. As we partner with makers across the globe, our commitment is to let them govern their own affairs just like western artisans. They set their hourly rates, and we work them into the prices of the goods, along with things like taxes, international shipping costs, salaries for the marketers and distributors along the way, and a little extra to invest in the next co-operative or artisan.
We are also big fans of bonuses. Though Agnes and Beatrice have already been paid for their time, they will receive an additional bonus for each piece that sells. This money goes into a savings account which they can collect whenever either of us decides it’s time to move onto something else. They have elected not to know how much is being saved- they love surprises.
Where do the beads come from?
Some beads are found in Uganda’s market, and the hardware is imported from the USA.
We work with an importer in Nairobi called Papa Sumbunu. He brings in beads from across the continent, including places like Nigeria and Ethiopia. If you’re interested in working with him, let us know and we’ll put you in touch.
Who designs the jewelry?
Currently, Zwervend designs the jewelry, but Agnes and Beatrice are both learning new techniques and being introduced to resources that will hopefully one day allow them to create marketable designs of their own.