Sunday Tribune

Recycling paper to beads to cash

It started as a seed of an idea and has become one woman’s journey to own her own business, Trish Beaver reports


KAREN Zunckel, an environmen­talist in Hilton, has always been passionate about the environmen­t. She saw a project on one of her business trips in Africa where people were making unusual beaded jewellery by recycling paper.

Doing environmen­tal assessment­s made Zunckel aware of the need for local communitie­s to get involved in making products that would bring in an income. Many communitie­s make traditiona­l crafts but Zunckel was interested in how they combined artistic skill with recycling.

One of the projects she saw involved making beads from used paper and cardboard and this appealed to Zunckel who believed it would offer possibilit­ies for people to earn money while creating a craft with commercial potential.

She also realised that she could be part of something that would help others to uplift themselves. “The problem with many start-up businesses is a need for capital. By using recycled materials the costs are minimal,” she said.

Zunckel approached her domestic worker, Margaret Ndlela, about the idea. Ndlela was enthusiast­ic; employed part-time by the Zunckels, she had spare time she could use.

The pair researched the ways these beads could be made. Ndlela had a natural skill and co-ordination. Her ability to roll the beads into different shapes and create eye-catching necklaces was incredible.

She did a brief course on jewellery making at Project Gateway in Pietermari­tzburg and was able to implement many ideas she learnt there.

Ndlela uses all kinds of recycled paper and cardboard for the beads and she strings them together to make one-of-a-kind necklaces and earrings.

Colourful cereal boxes and boxes for teabags and food items become objects of beauty.

Zunckel set up a Facebook page and an online store for the project called iphepha Beads – iphepha being Zulu for paper. Ndlela makes all the orders and Zunckel sees to the sending and receipt of orders.

Said Zunckel: “I always wanted Margaret to own the project. It was never my idea to be involved for long. The talent is all hers but she needs some business skills training to get to the next level, so I support her where I can.

“It would be stunning if she could do more orders and employ some people to help her to take the business to the next level. My vision was for people to be able to pick up a colourful box and take it home and create something that could be sold.”

The beads are made from paper or cardboard packaging and the idea is to keep them looking as natural as possible. The paper beads are mixed with seeds, and other items commonly found in the environmen­t. Ndlela has used cork, nuts, shells and bits of wood to add interest to the necklaces.

She has also tried to get some women in her community to participat­e but has found they were too reliant on grants.

Ndlela said: “I like making the beads and it keeps me busy. I can make up to R1000 extra a month if sales go well and I have also learnt to be creative and use whatever I can find.” Sore fingers can be an occupation­al hazard, but Ndlela does not let this stop her.

She said: “I use my free time to make beads, so if I’m watching television or waiting for the taxi, my fingers are always busy.”

Zunckel said: “It’s hard work and we’ve made sure that the items are sold based on a fair trade model, so that the bulk of the price goes back to the person who makes the items.”

Zunckel has encouraged Ndlela to find outlets for her beads and she is supplying some of the local Midlands shops. They are also keen to make keyrings and other novelties for corporate gifts and have made beautiful Christmas angels from the gold and brown packaging of Lindt chocolate boxes.

• To support this project, go to the Iphepha website: www. iphephabea­ or like the Facebook page – https://www.­ds/

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