Bead designer embraces her heritage

Nokulunga Tonela founder of African bead designs company called Luya Creations.
Nokulunga Tonela founder of African bead designs company called Luya Creations.
Image: Supplied.

Designing wrist bracelets for school learners in her community of Orlando West near Johannesburg led to Nokulunga Tonela (30) opening her own business – Luya Creations, which designs African beaded jewellery.

“I loved beads as a child and, in fact, cannot remember when I started using them to make jewellery,” she said.

Five years ago, she started selling her hand-made bracelets to school learners for almost R30. Many people in her community started to show interest in her work and placed orders. This motivated her to turn her hobby into a profitable business and it is now putting bread on the table for her and her family.

Tonela designs beaded necklaces, earrings, wrist pieces and also traditional beaded apparel.

After matriculating in 2008, she enrolled for a BCom Accounting degree.

“Unfortunately, I had to drop out of university because my mother was sick and I needed to take care of her,” she said.

She also worked as a personal assistant for a while but  later lost her job.

“Everything that was happening motivated me to work harder and focus on establishing my own business.”

Two years ago, she received R9 600 in funding from the National Youth Development Agency.

“I was able to buy more stock, equipment and mannequins. This helped me to improve the quality of my work and make my products look more appealing to clients,” she said.

She recently had the opportunity to participate in a jewellery design learnership at Ekurhuleni Jewellery Project which is a training and incubation project to enhanced her skills.

Most of Tonela’s clients are women and girls in her community, but she also designs products for men on request.

“In addition, I showcase my products at flea markets and events to attract more clients,” she said.

Generally, she designs alone but has two temporary workers she hires during busy periods.

Tonela’s message for Heritage Month is that young people must not forget where they come from – they must always embrace their culture. 

-This article was originally published in the GCIS Vuk'uzenzele.