A few years ago, I came across Monkeybiz, who sell their beautiful beaded animals on Colombia Road in East London.

I loved them so much I bought the book about how they are made.

It totally inspired me and I always thought I would love to set up a company like that one day.

Monkeybiz South Africa, is a nonprofit income-generating bead project started in January 2000.

Through creating sustainable employment, Monkeybiz focuses on women’s economic empowerment and health development in the most economically under-resourced areas of South Africa.

The project, which has established a vibrant community of more than 450 bead artists, many of whom are the sole breadwinners within their households, and many of whom have HIV, has transformed the beaded arts market in South Africa. Departing from the culture of mass-produced curio craft, each Monkeybiz artwork is unique and is signed by the artist, ensuring that individual artists receive recognition for their work.

All of the profits from the sales of artworks are reinvested back into community services, including weekly soup kitchens, yoga, drama , as well as a burial fund for artists and their families.
I love the model: that Monkeybiz pay for the beads and materials, the women are trained in beading (which is also an ancient African craft tradition), make the artworks and are sold back to Monkeybiz as finished products. Monkeybiz sells them in their shop, in shops globally, and online via their website.
I had the idea to set something like this up in Portugal, where there is high unemployment, especially amongst young people. They could revamp an existing traditional product eg. embroidery, to make it more contemporary but still very Portuguese. They could then sell this to tourists and export the products. The only problem would be funding…though I could speak to my good friends at Monchique Council about this and write a proposal….

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