Have you seen the new jewelry made of paper beads? There are new designs, color schemes and styles in necklaces, earrings and bracelets, popping up everywhere and even in the trendiest pantone color schemes for this spring. And, this will definitely become a new trend worth looking into. That is, if you are bold enough to wear jewelry made from paper beads.
I first learned about these beads through my work in East Africa where women used paper scraps and old magazines to create beautiful beads. But, I have since realized that paper beads are pretty much made everywhere. Some people have reservations about paper beads, they think they are fragile or difficult to wear. The beads I’ve seen (and those that we sell) have been varnished 5 times, so you could stick them in the dishwasher, wear them in the shower or maybe even drive your car over them (that’s what my youngest son wanted to do to test their durability). I wear my pieces every day and get rave reviews from people who compliment me on my jewelry, but who have no idea they are made from paper beads.
But, seriously, paper beads are becoming an interesting phenomena in jewelry trends. It has a growing hashtag on social media, reaching over 45,000 on instagram. Of course, this does not compare with most other jewelry categories, at least not yet. And for some women, wearing gold, diamonds and expensive bling is key. I used to wear traditional and very expensive jewelry myself, but not anymore. Now, I want jewelry that reflects my personality, that adds some pizzazz, and that really makes a statement. I also want to wear jewelry with meaning, with soul, and that makes a statement. Jewelry to me is not about showing off my financial worth or whether there is a man in my life.
Clearly, I’m not alone. It goes without saying that making jewelry out of paper beads is cheap, but it takes a lot of skill, time and patience. The smaller the bead, the more intricate the work. The two most difficult tasks of making paper beads are cutting the paper strips to size and rolling these strips evenly, maintaining an opening for the string. I have been taught to make these beads by the women in Uganda that work for Tugende Design (my social enterprise initiative) and I see their pride in creating something beautiful from nothing.
What makes this jewelry even more compelling is that it builds on sustainability and recycling initiatives. Much of the jewelry that the women make in East Africa and in Uganda specifically, are made from scraps of paper that otherwise would have been thrown away. So, this type of jewelry is a world apart from traditional and expensive gold and diamonds that many girls and women want. So, paper beads are not for every woman.
While women make jewelry out of paper beads all over the world, to wear for themselves, as gifts and also to sell. It has become a symbol of women empowerment. Women empowerment in that many of the women do so as they have no other means of income or resources (as the women we work with in Uganda) or because it is sort of like magic to create something new, bold, colorful and so very creative. There is power in defying norms and challenging current paradigms of what jewelry is all about. And, finally, it is empowerment for a woman to put on a piece of jewelry, that cost her almost nothing, but that she knows was made by other women, for women and that says something about her. That takes a bit of courage and being bold. So, let me ask you, are you bold enough to wear jewelry made from paper beads?