Featured Artist Susan Kamande Of Taji Bead Designs
When I think back to my earliest influences in jewelry making, my maternal grandmother comes to mind and provides a heartfelt smile. She adorned herself with originally hand-crafted pieces of African elegance and class that were used during traditional Kenyan arts and dance ceremonies. I always looked forward to spending afternoons in the rural area of Kinangop where she lived and I could play with her collections. I would sift through her jewelry box and dangling pieces which included elegant hand-made antique pieces made of recycled wood, ivory and brass; set apart for various occasions.
When I could put a few coins together, I would buy ready-made jewelry that flooded the Nairobi market, from China. I would deconstruct those pieces and re-design them to my taste. Whenever I wore a piece from my growing collection, I would get compliments to my surprise. This attention made me realize that I had a special talent for designing jewelry pieces as orders started coming in from complete strangers! Feeling validated, I decided to turn my passion for jewelry into a business and established Taji Bead Designs in 2010! Taji means ‘crown’ in Swahili. Crowns are usually comprised of a collection of precious stones or gems that adorn the wearer and forces those around them to take notice.
Even though I’m a self-taught designer, my greatest joy and fulfillment comes from my ability to empower people, especially women, by sharing my knowledge of jewelry-making. My first stop for unique hand-made beads was Jacaranda Special School in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi. This school caters to women and men with special needs.
I would spend afternoons observing the intricacies of bead making techniques provided to the students, offering a hand where it was needed and purchase the beads in their support. In a country where jobs are still scarce, I was thrilled to train a few women on jewelry making that provided an extra income for their up keep. Some of these women continue to make jewelry as they ventured into other productivity!
Other beads incorporated in my jewelry line comes from sources with similar stories of hope and success. These beads are hand crafted and undergo thorough process of clay sifting, firing and hand painting to produce individual outstanding bead designs. Over the years I have been able to incorporate traditional glass trading beads and turquoise.
I would describe my jewelry making style as eclectic. I primarily work with beads strung with brass, and wire. The joy of creativity has found me adding buttons, crystals and pearls.
I am excited about my journey with this new chapter in America. My enthusiasm continues to grow for my creativity and adorning women in creating their virtual crowns. Every bead I string together symbolize empowerment, style, hope and courage!