NIGERIA – In 2006, after graduating from the Petroleum Training Institute (in Warri, Nigeria), Abimbola ‘Bimbo’ Balogun couldn’t find a job as a petroleum marketer. She decided to keep herself busy making bead necklaces until a good job came her way. Bimbo invested 400 naira (about $3) in beads to make two necklaces, which she later sold for 5,000 naira – more than 1,000 percent profit! Bimbo never searched for a job again. Today, the value of her business stands at nearly 5 million naira (about $30,000) and she shows no sign of letting off. Let’s learn a thing or two from her inspiring experience…
In a market full of bead necklace makers, Bimbo decided to set herself apart from the crowd and got on the internet to learn more intricate and creative ornament designs. Her learning drive and determination earned her a scholarship to study Entrepreneurial Management at the Lagos Business School.
Bimbo had no prior training in making beaded jewelry. According to her interview with the BBC, learning and improvement came with every new necklace and earring she made. She perfected her quality by adding precious and semi-precious stones which made her products stand out.
Bimbo remembers how tough it was in the beginning to break into the top tier of the market. With consistency, passion and hardwork, she was able to overcome the odds. Today, her satisfied clients include the rich and famous – celebrities, wives of prominent politicians and high-profile women in Nigerian society.
Bimbo currently hosts a weekly Nigerian television show that focuses on beaded jewelry making. This has boosted her profile and business, which currently serves the country through two outlets in the commercial city of Lagos. Like the typical ambitious Smallstarter, she is nursing plans to expand her business across Africa.
Wow! Who would have thought beaded jewelry could become a million naira business? Bimbo’s experience is proof that anyone can turn an ordinary craft or hobby into a successful business. Let’s take a look at the art of making beaded jewelry and how you can build a cottage business out of it.
Why is the market for bead jewelry growing in Africa?
Africa’s population is overwhelmingly young (more than 70 percent of its people are below 35 years old). These young guys and girls are very much in tune with the times and are increasingly brand conscious, have a very discerning taste, and closely follow the latest trends and styles in fashion. In countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya and several others, there appears to be a growing sense of pride in African identity. This identity is further spread by popular culture in African music and movies. Nollywood, Africa’s biggest movie industry, is helping to cultivate this renaissance in African fashion.
It is now very common to see both young and not-so-young Africans adorned in traditional attire and laced with bead jewelry at weddings, social engagements and traditional festivals. Celebrities, politicians and many other figures who enjoy the public spotlight do a good job of ‘showing off’ these delicate pieces of art.
In addition to the growing demand for bead jewelry within Africa, the endless wave of tourists who visit the continent every year are responsible for a huge chunk of the demand.
How can anyone start a successful bead jewelry business in Africa?
Beads are small (or large) decorative objects or pieces that are pierced and strung on threads or thin wires. They can be made into all sorts of jewelry and ornaments such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets. In fact, beads have been used as jewelry in Africa for a very long time. They were also one of the earliest forms of currency used in trade by the colonists. From the 16th century, a lot of decorative beads were manufactured for the exchange of goods, services and slaves.
(photo credit: ezakwantu.com)
Beads are made from an amazing diversity of materials – polished stones, glass, plastic, wood, ceramic and seeds. Others are made from bone, animal teeth, horn, ivory, metal, shells, pearls, coral, gemstones, clay, gemstones (like gold, rubies, etc.). Because beads can be made from all sorts of materials, it provides a lot of room for artistic creativity and flexibility. The size, shape, style and form of bead jewelry anyone can make is entirely up to their imagination!
How to make bead jewelry…
Anyone can make beaded jewelry. All you need are a few simple tools and a little creativity. In today’s internet-based world, you really don’t need any formal training to start making beautiful pieces of bead jewelry. There are hundreds of resources online that can get you started in this venture in less than 30 minutes.
To make bead jewelry, you will need some metal strings for connecting the beads, wire cutters, a tape measure, pins, clasps and different types of beads, of course. More importantly, you will need a bead design board (picture to the right) to help you make the job much easier and organized.(photo credit: abeadstore.com)
The video below is one of many introductory tutorials on bead jewelry making available on Youtube. Like Bimbo, if you intend to become successful in this business, you will need to take the time to learn more intricate and complex bead designs that will make you stand out in a very competitive market.
Learn how to bead: An introductory video
How to find customers for your bead jewelry
Because anyone can make beads, the market is usually flooded with all kinds of bead jewelry – so, there’s a lot of competition. The key to survive and succeed in this business is to create a unique brand. Establishing a niche in the market is difficult, but not impossible. A good way to get the attention of potential customers is to advertise in fashion and wedding magazines.
Starting a blog featuring beautiful pictures of your work is another great way to make your work known. During our research for this article, we found The African Collection, a website that sells all sorts of branded African bead jewelry. There are necklaces on the site that sell for up to US$ 100 a piece! If you’re interested in using a blog to get some international exposure, you should read our article: How to make money online – the open secrets many Africans do not know.
Putting it all together
If you still think your joblessness, inexperience and lack of capital are great reasons to postpone your business dreams, we are sure Bimbo’s experience has jolted your mind back to positivity. Bead jewelry making is one of the cheapest business options for entrepreneurs who have little capital and a lot of artistic potential.
If you have some experience in making bead jewelry or have any questions on the subject, we are sure a lot of people will learn from your knowledge and curiousity. Please leave your comments in the section below.