By Grant Moyo
Esmah Shoniwa (pictured), a teacher by profession, says life has been worthy ever since she fully pursued her desire for bead-making.
Before schools shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the teacher-cum-bead designer, who started pursuing her passion in her mid 40s, was utilising the little time she had from her profession working on designs after school hours and on weekends.
She acknowledged that the isolation period provided opportunities to explore fashion tactics. Having kick-started her pursuit in 2014 designing necklaces, bracelets and earrings specifically for weddings as well as black tie events, she has since broadened her bead work, creating diverse exclusive fashion articles and home wear.
Shoniwa is a Grade 3 teacher at Robert Tredgold Primary School in Bulawayo. Before training as a teacher at Gwanda Zintec College, now Gwanda Polytechnic College, she attended Hugh Beadle Primary School and Usher High School where she was exposed to art and designing.
The 50-year-old teacher, who holds a Bachelor of Education in Administration degree from the Zimbabwe Open University, said she has always loved working with her hands and dressing up.
“As a young child I loved anything to do with fashion, art and designing. I made necklaces using seeds at school,” she said.
“I loved the art lesson because we were taught how to make felt toys, purses and so many other things. At secondary school the passion kept on following me, again I was in an art class where I learned a lot of techniques such as screen printing, still life drawing, tie and dye, among others.”
The teacher-cum-bead designer mentioned originality, tidiness and paying attention to clientele needs as the principles that have helped her lure more clients.
Some of the outstanding pieces she has created include dinner bags, wedding jewellery, Zulu collars, head gears, tissue boxes, macrame sandals, table mats, trays, and key holders.
Acknowledging the benefits that the advent of new media technologies have brought to her works, Shoniwa said perpetually checking on the latest fashion trends online keeps her aware of the direction she needs to take in terms of the designs, materials and colours to incorporate each time she is coming up with brand new pieces.
She admitted that her bead work would not have been worn and applauded in the United States had it not been for social media.
“The love for bead work and art keeps me going, my designs mostly come naturally in my head, and I derive inspiration from seeing outstanding international designs,” Shonhiwa said.
“I don’t usually repeat my designs, so it’s rare to find a lot of people with the same piece. The internet has widened my bead work stamina. I know my competition, I make sure I move with the times and look out for new designs on the market. That’s why my bead work impressed in the United States.
“The American order came after my friend encouraged me to persistently post my designs on a WhatsApp business group and thankfully I got a lucrative response.
The pieces that I made included beaded Zulu collars, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, clutch and dinner bags, tissue boxes, key holders, sandals and African attires.”
Constantly attending pop-up events at the Bulawayo Art Gallery helped Shoniwa shape her desire for art and exhibiting at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair boosted her zeal for bead making.
In 2016 she was invited to be part of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) women’s day celebrations. She showcased her bead work and also got the platform to speak to the audience about her work. After impressing at the prestigious event she became a regular guest.
“ZCTU invites me every year when they have events where I’m given platforms to give motivational speeches to encourage other ladies to use their God-given talents,” she said.
“Afterwards some of the women have approached me and I have trained them. I’m glad I’ve managed to convince loads of ladies to do bead work.”
The bead designer stressed that she loves empowering people especially if they are not gainfully employed so that they are self-reliant. She also emphasised that she has always had a passion to empower children so that they grow up with skills that would be beneficial in the present and future.
“I have taught my family how to design using beads, they often help when I have big orders, and at church quite a number of congregants now do bead work as a source of income,” Shoniwa said.
“At school I formed a beads club which has benefited pupils to a greater extent. Both the parents and the school authorities were impressed to see the kids being able to make bags and jewellery.
“We represented the school at the exhibition competitions where we triumphed up to the provincial level. In 2015 I was encouraged to start training women, over the years I have conducted masterclasses that have helped women to be innovative using their hands. Thankfully, most of them are now able to fend for their families.
“I don’t feel okay seeing women sitted at home over-relying on their husbands, caught up in situations where they can’t even buy tomatoes or a bunch of vegetables on their own. This normally leads to domestic abuse because the husbands will be swamped and overwhelmed with responsibilities. Hence I feel better when I empower women, each time I get huge orders needed urgently I work with some of the ladies I have trained, and they also refer some of their customers to me.
“It’s good to work with others, if you see that there’s a designer who can do a certain type of design better than, you refer them and they will be grateful.”
With bead work playing a pivotal role in Shoniwa’s livelihood, her comprehensive attitude is sustaining good working relations in the creative space and eliminating poverty as well as domestic violence in communities.