NTSIKI AND HER BEADS…..
‘The House that Ntsiki built….’ that was the headline in 2003 to the first time I made it into mainstream media. My beadwork range, the House of Mobu has been an awe inspiring journey for me. Beadwork and Africans have a very strong spiritual connection. Our diviners and healers wear beads.
My journey with beadwork came out of the blue.
It was the year 2000, I was a 20yr old student living in Melville and would walk past the Bead Shop every day. At the time I was studying Marketing with the IMM. I had wanted to study art and drama after school but my family did not see it fitting, so Marketing was the more socially acceptable route I was to take.
In marketing classes as the lectures would give us examples of big brands in South Africa, I realised that all I needed was a PRODUCT.
It had never been a wish of mine to work for the big brands in the textbooks….the most valuable thing I got from that course was how to ‘market/sell’….and in class I would wonder what it was I would eventually market.
At the end of my 1st year, I finished my exams ahead of my friends and had time to kill.
I walked to the bead shop, bought some beads and headed home. Alcoholics always speak about their 1st drink.
Beadwork sucked me in that by the time my friends finished their exams, they came to visit and walked into a factory.
Then there was a frenzy as people around me started to buy my pieces.
Nobody asked any questions….I just started getting calls from family members and friends making orders.
Remember, I was still a student and I was conscious of needing to apply what was in the classroom into my newly found PRODUCT! That marketing course gave me tools to work with. I broke down the 4 Ps and would break what I learnt in class down and apply it to my beadwork.
It is through marketing that I learnt how to use celebrities to sell your product…..and boom…..I looked to the left, I had access to a celebrity. Lol.
My older sister fell in love with my beadwork from Day1 and was happy to be my ambassador.
She went on to win many fashion and style awards in my beadwork. Thandiswa’s famous beaded tops were an instant hit. I had found a platform to showcase my art and she didn’t mind looking dope.
The exposure to a wider audience grew my business as I suddenly started to service people nationally and internationally. My beadwork had turned into a fully fledged small business, with clients, customer service and cash flow issues.
At 22, I officially launched my beadwork fashion range. A beautiful and memorable event was held at the Horror Cafe. In true Ntsiki, out the box style, the models walked to a live band. I continued to do fashion shows over the years as my work was a popular favourite for local magazine fashion pages.
Our dominance in African fashion created a relationship between Hangwani and I….those were the early days of the now magnificent RUBICON. We worked together as clients often wanted her clothes to be accessorized by my beadwork.
It was when I did SA Fashion Week that I realised that I did not want to be part of the fickle fashion industry. It was run by white people who got their standards from Europe, and then would walk around feeling hoity toity. Being at Fashion Week did not resonate with my spirit and the reasons I did my beads.
I compare my first bead to the alcoholic’s first drink because it’s not a sober thing. It is an energy which expressed itself through my hands. It is a spiritual journey for me. It consumes me. Putting it into such a plastic environment was killing my spirit.
There was a year where I was asked to be the face of BEADEX, a beadwork exhibition. I would constantly get into trouble with the media assistant because in interviews I was quite vocal about Beadex being full of whites with black peoples work. I was vocal about the fact that beadwork is an African culture, so it was strange that there was no presence of Africans.
I am deeply connected to my beadwork and don’t want it to be bastardised.
I still handle private clients but I do not intend to make any sudden moves until our government makes it less easy for the Chinese to copy our ideas and sell them in masses. The intellectual property laws in this country need attention.
My beadwork has also led to employment creation. My two favourite stories are Sibongile and Keke.
Sibongile worked for me when I was 23 and I paid her a salary. She saved up her money and got herself a real job in her field as an engineer. She is now living her life like its golden in a beautiful house and her mini cooper. Before our experience she has been stuck in the hood, with no cents to make that phonecall. House of Mobu gave her those cents.
Keke story is more incredible. She worked for me when I was about 24/25. Unlike Sibongile…..it was her alcoholics first drink moment. When Keke had gathered up all the information she needed. One day she summed up the balls to ask me to help her set up her own beadwork business.
This could not have been an easy conversation for either of us…but we were both women about it.
I gave her my blessings and showed her how to set up her own range. We agreed on terms that suited us both.
Keke now runs a successful range called Dipo. She is making a killing and shining brightly.
What makes Keke so special to me is that not a 6months goes by without her sending me a text to say ‘thank you…..’
There was even a time I ended up shouting at her for thanking me all the damn time….hhahahhaaha I should thank her….for teaching me the power of humanity and sharing knowledge.
House of Mobu gave birth to others…..
The beauty of beadwork and the originality of the work speak for itself…..this is just the human story behind the ‘House That Ntsiki Built…’
In hindsight…being forced to do marketing is one of the biggest blessings of my life. The beadwork journey disturbed my studies for a few years. I did however graduate from the 4 year course ironically when I was being attacked for the rape campaign.
The sister who stood behind me at graduation commented…..’They are out there writing trash about you; and here you are graduating with a distinction.’
Last year I did a short entrepreneurship course at Wits Business School, I was awarded Most Innovative Student for my beadwork business.