24 November 2009
It was Lily Cole who initially got me involved in working with the 'Bushmen of the Kalahari' a couple of years ago after she spent some traveling through Botswana. She came back from the trip inspired by the resilience and beauty of the Bushmen and wanted to help in any way she could to create awareness around their situation and promote the jewellery they make out of ostrich egg shells. I have always had a passion for tribal jewellery and have been picking up wonderful pieces every time I travel to faraway lands. Funnily enough I was just mentioning to Lily that I wanted to start working with indigenous communities to help get their craft to first world markets. So when she told me that she had samples of the Bushmen's jewellery at her model agency, I immediately went over to look at them and fell in love with the timeless designs-so modern and unique-it is no wander that artists like Picasso and Klee were so inspired by the art and crafts of Africa. We started working on introducing the jewellery to stores and to the press in the UK straight away. Lily was photographed for Vogue, The Telegraph, Vogue Brazil to name a few.
Dover Street Market loved the collection and made a decision to buy it in 5 minutes. Then I sold the collection to jewellery boutiques Felt and Erickson Beamon, as well as Rebecca Hossack Gallery who specialises in indigenous art. The stores have continued to make orders over the last 2 years and I have spent time in Botswana helping to advise on importing, retail, designs and quality, in order to create a sustainable business model and awareness of the work in the first world markets.
I decided to plan another trip to Botswana to work on a new collection, taking with me a very talented fine jeweller and craftswoman from London, Sabine Roemer. The idea is to collaborate with the Bushmen, where they can apply their traditional skills to create a fashion-orientated collection which fuses natural resources available to them, such as the ostrich eggshells and recycled glass beads with new materials including leather, silver, velvet and satin. I am also taking a brilliant and very talented photographer Boo George, to take portraits of the Bushmen. We are hoping to show a side to the them that is so overlooked, images that convey the wisdom and pride of these gentle people that are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa.
The jewellery is created out of ostrich egg shells that they have been making for countless generations. Largely isolated from the outside world until the last century the Bushmen created intricate pieces using wild seeds, sticks; bone, leather; tortoiseshell and most importantly of all, beads painstakingly created from ostrich egg-shell.
Each bead is hand-made from individual shards of broken eggshell. With ingenuity and precision the women turn some of the beads a rich brown by frying them or black by roasting them. This way they create three colours of beads with which to make patterns and designs. To give their creativity even greater rein, they also make beads from small slices of porcupine quills cleverly incorporating these into their work.
The Bushmen are almost as old as time itself. These gentle people have existed in harmony with the animals and nature of their native Kalahari for countless generations. Their simple, honest ways are today under peril from the unyielding tide of modern progress which threatens the only life they have ever known. Often victimised by their more powerful neighbours and dispossessed of their lands the 100,000 San in southern Africa are amongst the poorest and most disenfranchised of southern Africa’s people. They battle with extreme poverty and the ravages of AIDS on a daily basis and are largely dependent on the handouts.