Introducing Beadz by Flex

There’s been a lot of conversation about the transformative power of sustainability on industries and the environment. (I mean, LOVE DOT is a brand that is built to promote these values.) However, little has been said about its ability to transform the lives of millions of makers and artisans, whose talents have been either overlooked, undervalued, or priced out of the market by big corporations for far too long. The truth is, when you support small businesses and brands, particularly those in emerging markets, you aren’t just supporting their enterprise. You are also creating economic opportunities which can uplift an entire community - if not country. Nowhere is this theory more evident than with the story of the South African brand, Beadz by Flex. 

Founded by Katlego Mashilane in 2015, Beadz by Flex is the first international artisan collaboration we are bringing to market. Our joint capsule collection, named The African Charm Collection, features Mashilane’s meticulous craftsmanship brought to life through one-of-a-kind beaded gemstone bracelets, adorned with two charms in the form of the continent of Africa. These bracelets are powerfully beautiful, and most importantly, they are designed for both men and women to admire and enjoy. In honor of our collaboration and launch, we asked Beadz by Flex founder, Katlego Mashaline, to tell us more about his brand, design process, and vision for the future. Here’s what he had to say.

 

Katlego Mashilane

 

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What is Beadz by Flex and why did you start the brand?

Beadz by Flex is a brand that values quality and uniqueness. It was founded to ensure that beadlovers can enjoy wearing unique handcrafted accessories, of the highest quality, made from a wide range of different beads and crystals.

How did you get started? 

Back in 2012, when I started my electrical engineering apprenticeship programme, I would stock up on beads/materials upon every payday from my stipend for hobby purposes. Upon completion of the programme in 2015 I found myself unemployed. However I was not ready to use my precious beads to enter the market, so I pawned my gold ring and got 300 ZAR (South African Rand) which is what I used to purchase leather offcuts to make simple leather bangles with press studs. 

After a month of procrastination - and also anticipation - I finally got the courage to trade at the "Social Market'' in Tshwane (Pretoria) which was sponsored by a friend. The market day was successful. I managed to sell 3 items that day. I remained encouraged and hungry to sell at more places. Braamfontein (Johannesburg) was my next spot, however I wouldn't be accepted to trade from the official market called Neighborgoods Market. So I set up outside on the streets opposite their entrance and I was able to make sales from their customers including others from the surrounding bars & restaurants. It became another successful day and the next day I discovered a Sunday market called "Arts on Main" in Maboneng Precinct downtown Johannesburg. I then went and set up, again, outside the official market since there was a long wait list and eventually in 2017 I was accepted into the official “Arts on Main” market. 

The brand grew from walk-in customers to wholesale clients, when I started approaching stores door to door. Our first wholesale client was Ledikana at O.R Tambo International Airport, then followed by MadeinSA, also in Sandton.

How did you learn your craft?

My craft is self-taught, as I grew up being hands-on since my grandparents used to handcraft grass mats and Basotho hats which we would regularly assist making during every school holiday. 

That is where I have learned the art of flexing my hands, I attended a technical high school and my favourite subject was technical drawings which emboldened my design skills My first job was in engineering and manufacturing which is where I was multi-skilled in industrial equipment and machinery operations. My last job was the apprenticeship programme which was even more defined on precision and manufacturing. My actual trade is called "Millwright" is a combination of electrical and fittings plus turning (machining).

Where do you find your inspiration? 

I am generally inspired by the vast opportunities to change my family's history - economically and financially. Basically to change the stereotype that no success or career exists from self employment and entrepreneurship - especially without a university degree / diploma.

What role does experimentation play in how you create?

It [experimentation] plays a very big role since our brand is founded on the basis of quality and uniqueness. Therefore it remains utmost important for us to experiment with the materials and the designs prior to launching any new product, especially to ensure user-friendliness (e.g. how durable the materials are for everyday wear).

If you had to choose a celebrity or person of influence to wear your work, who would it be and why?

Erykah Badu.

I find her very influential and see her as a vocal human rights activist. I think it's important for us artists to become and remain conscious in order to achieve a better world for all.

What do you want Beadz by Flex to be known for?

I want Beadz by Flex to be known for its originality, unique design style and quality. 

In the next 5 years, where do you see yourself and your brand?

I would like to see the brand, Beadz by Flex, collaborating with at least ten international wholesale clients and employing ten full-time staff from my community.

What else are you working on?

Currently I remain focused on accessories manufacturing and distribution, but slowly developing and introducing more precious metals into our product lines, like silver, bronze, etc. We will also be introducing exotic materials such as Ostrich leather, but will still remain focused on accessories/jewelry.

 

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