Kazuri Handmade Beads From Kenya

by Sheri_Oz

Come see how beads are made by hand from purification of the clay to stringing the beads into beautiful pieces of jewelry.

Creative handmade beads produced in a workshop near Nairobi, Kenya, not only offer unique high-quality jewelry to people around the world, but also provide livelihoods to single women and for men who otherwise may not have a means to support their families. This factory is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization.

I'll show you all stages of bead and jewelry production and some of the pieces I purchased.

KAZURI means "small and beautiful" in Swahili

In 1975, Lady Susan Wood opened a bead making workshop with two Kenyan women. She quickly discovered that many other women in the Nairobi area, single mothers trying to support their children, were in need of stable jobs. 


Today, the workshop has grown into a factory, employing over 350 people, mostly women, who each produce 900 beads per day. Kazuri jewelry and beads are sold around the world.


It is only a twenty-minute drive from downtown Nairobi (when the traffic is not jammed up, that is).

Turning Clay Soil into Pure Clay

The soil is Kenyan soil that has a very high proportion of clay in it (1). The soil is put into vats and water added. The sand and silt remain in the filters and the smaller sized clay particles drop through into the lower vat (2).  Finally, the soil is pushed through a series of cloth filters that are pressurized by turning the wheel a little bit every few hours for a few days (3). Most of the water is removed from the purified clay until it reaches a consistency that is perfect for shaping the beads.  The clay is transferred to the bead workshop for the next step of the process.

(1) It All Starts With Clay Soil

Clay Soil Waiting for Filtering
Clay Soil Waiting for Filtering
Photographer, Sheri Oz

(2) The Clay is Put Through a Water Filtration System

Water Filtration Equipment and Employee
Water Filtration Equipment and Employee
Photographer, Sheri Oz

(3) Then The Water is Squeezed Out

Filter Press for Squeezing Excess Water Out of Purified Clay
Filter Press for Squeezing Excess Wat...
Photographer, Sheri Oz

Kazuri Beads with Which to Make Your Own Jewelry

Kazuri Beads - Set of Four Honey and Black Pita Pat Beads

Kazuri Beads - Set of four honey and black with x design pita pat style beads - each bead measures approximately 20 mm. Kazuri beads are imported from Kenya. Kazuri means small ...

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Kazuri Beads - Set of Eight Dark Green Pita Pat Beads

Kazuri Beads - Set of eight dark green pita pat style beads - each bead measures approximately 20 mm. Kazuri beads are imported from Kenya. Kazuri means small and beautiful in S...

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Kazuri Beads - Set of Teal Green Barrel Beads

Kazuri Beads - Set of five teal green barrel style beads - each bead measures approximately 18x15mm. Kazuri beads are imported from Kenya. Kazuri means small and beautiful in Sw...

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Shaping and Painting the Beads

The next steps involve making the beads, themselves.  All factory worker are trained over a period of months in all aspects of bead making so that they are rotated among the different tasks and do not become bored. Let me show you what is involved in turning grey clay into colorful beads:

(4) Breaking Off Pieces of Clay in the Approximate Size Necessary for Today's Beads

Breaking off Pieces of Clay
Breaking off Pieces of Clay
Photographer, Sheri Oz

(5) Using a Mold to Make Beads of Uniform Size

Using the Bead Mold
Using the Bead Mold
Photographer, Sheri Oz

Jewelry by Kazuri You Can Buy From Amazon

Buy a Beautiful Gift and Support Kenyan Single Mothers at the Same Time
Kazuri and Sterling Bracelet - Robin's Egg Blue - Substantial and Whimsical

Gorgeous Kazuri bead and Sterling Silver Bracelet. Handmade in the U.S. the bracelet features quality sterling silver components and is accented with Sparkling Swarvoski crystal...

View on Amazon

Kazuri Pendant Necklace - Gorgeous and Substantial Antique Gold Pendant

Substantial Kazuri Pendant Necklace by SilverChicks accented with Bali Sterling Silver and Swarovski crystal beads. The pendant measures 2 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide and ha...

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Kazuri Earrings - Red and White with Swarovski Crystal Sterling Silver Earrings

Gorgeous Kazuri bead earrings - beautiful red and white Kazuri bead complemented with shiny sterling silver Bali style beads and made with quality .925 sterling silver component...

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(6) Punching Holes in the Beads and Leaving Them to Dry on the Racks

Then they are fired in the kiln.
Punching Holes in the Beads
Punching Holes in the Beads
Photographer, Sheri Oz

(7) Painting the Beads

Painting the Beads
Painting the Beads
Photographer, Sheri Oz

(8) Back into the Kiln for a Final Firing

Colored Beads in the Kiln
Colored Beads in the Kiln
Photographer, Sheri Oz

(9) Stringing the Beads Into Necklaces, Bracelets and Earrings

Stringing the Beads
Stringing the Beads
Photographer, Sheri Oz

Red Choker Necklace I Bought at the Kazuri Factory

Kazuri Red Choker
Kazuri Red Choker
Photographer, Sheri Oz

Kazuri Bracelet That Snakes Around Your Arm That I Bought at the Factory

Green and Blue Kazuri Bracelet
Green and Blue Kazuri Bracelet
Photographer, Sheri Oz

A Little Bit More About Lady Susan Wood

Susan Wood, daughter of British missionaries in Africa, was born in 1918 in a mud hut in the Belgian Congo. Her parents moved back to Britain for a few years and she and her siblings were enrolled in boarding school there after her parents returned to Africa.

During World War II she was studying nursing in the UK and met her future husband, Michael Wood, then studying medicine. Married in 1943, they moved to Nairobi, Kenya in 1947.  After many adventures, that included meeting Alfred Schweitzer and setting up AMREF (African Medical Research Foundation), they bought a farm in Tanzania. Susan tended to the farm and ran a small nursing clinic for local people as her husband was flying to tend to the needs of patients and of AMREF business farther away.

After Tanzania repossessed their land, the Woods returned to Kenya, where they settled on the farm made famous by Karen Blixen ("Out of Africa"). In her backyard, she set up the first bead making studio. The two tourist sites are now in close proximity and can be visited together.  Both have coffee shops in their pastoral environs.

The Art of Beadwork: Historic Inspiration, Contemporary Design

Written by renowned jewelry designer Valerie Hector, this book introduces readers to the quality, diversity, and artistry of beadwork from around the world, from ancient to mode...

View on Amazon

Updated: on 03/26/2014, Sheri_Oz
 
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?
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Do You Like the Idea of Handicraft Workshops That Double as Poverty Busters?


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Sheri_Oz on 10/07/2012

I love the green-blue bracelet too. That's why I bought it and brought it home. I like that you can buy these beads on Amazon just like you say.

Rose on 10/07/2012

They're beautiful, especially the green-blue bracelet. It's great that you can get the beads on their won, so you can make your own jewelry!

Sheri_Oz on 09/21/2012

@Sheliamarie - What a great idea for a fundraising event. Yes, the beads are amazingly smooth. I love just holding them.
@Sannel - Glad you like the article and the photos.
@BrendaReeves - Yes, with a few hours at each station, you would come away knowing all the steps of making handmade clay beads. Good idea.

BrendaReeves on 09/21/2012

These beads are beautiful. I've always wondered how clay was processed. I would love to spend a day making beads with those ladies.

Sannel on 08/26/2012

What a beautiful and very interesting article. I learned so much from this. Those Kazuri beads are absolutely stunning. What a piece of art. I loved your photos!

sheilamarie on 05/31/2012

My local community in Canada had a fundraising event for Grammas to Grammas, a Stephen Lewis Foundation initiative that raises money for grandmothers in Africa who are raising their grandchildren due to the epidemic of AIDS. We sold these beads, mostly as necklaces and earrings. I bought a green one for my daughter-in-law and a zebra one for myself. I love these beads! They are so smooth to the touch.

Sheri_Oz on 05/31/2012

Thanks for your welcomes back guys. You noticed that woman, eh Dustytoes? I wonder what was going on in her head as I took the photo.

Dustytoes on 05/31/2012

Very pretty beads. I love handmade items like this and I do like this idea. The jewelry you purchased is so pretty. (That lady with the hole-punching job doesn't look too thrilled... LOL.)

Angel on 05/30/2012

Very interesting! Great photos too. Thank you for sharing things you learned on your trip with us.

katiem2 on 05/30/2012

What an amazing process of pure and enriched art. I will never look at Kazuri the same now that I know of the birth and life cycle of the handmade beads from Kenya. What a wonderful story. Thanks and welcome back.



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