MonkeyBiz is a non-profit company that employs up to 300 women to make glass-beaded products. The MonkeyBiz team provide beads to unemployed women at their homes in Gugulethu, Mandela Park, Philippe and Khayelitsha.
Employment to empower women
The company is aimed at creating employment to empower women. It is fundamentally based on the principle of sharing skills and knowledge of beadwork.
The women make dolls, angel figurines, animals, frames and almost anything their creative mind can conceive. Jackson said the women are encouraged to explore their creativity unless they are producing specific goods for corporate clients like Mercedes Benz.
"I have noticed that craft shops were filled mainly with curios ? reflective of colonialism. There were no goods that had integrity. During the apartheid years, I worked in art schools and I saw there were no opportunities for black artists," Jackson, one of the three co- founders, said.
Penetrate foreign markets
The women are paid anything from R30 to R2500 for their products. Jackson uses her contacts overseas to penetrate foreign markets.
MonkeyBiz products are sold in well-known stores like Sotheby?s and Conran in London and in ABC in the United States. The creations are also sold in Norway, Germany, Spain, Japan and Australia. Some of the art pieces feature in exhibitions in galleries in New York. Hollywood?s Samuel L Jackson and Juliet Pinoche were so impressed with some of the products that they made purchases from MonkeyBiz while on their visit to South Africa.
This entrepreneurial venture has been met with one difficulty, financing. "At the initial stages we struggled to get funding. Many in the corporate world didn?t share our vision. I was very passionate about art and black culture and just moved forward despite the rejection. Lots of money came from our own pockets," Jackson said.
Positively HIV book
Funding was once again a problem, when several publishing houses refused to publish, Positively HIV ? a book and CD compilation produced by the bead makers. It educates people on how to live and cope with the virus in a positive manner. This gave birth to Monkey Press, an in-house publishing company, in 2003.
The book was eventually published with the help of the Norwegian government. Positively HIV has been selling remarkably well, according to Jackson who plans to publish the book in Zulu and Swahili. Since HIV/Aids is a world problem they would like to get the product out there, she said.
The book features on the Exclusive Books Homebru list ? celebrating South African writing at under the theme of 'New Stories for a Young Democracy'.
Job satisfaction at MonkeyBiz is seeing women looking healthier, happier and living in better conditions, Jackson said. At MonkeyBiz, the women work at home ? avoiding transports cost and it is a mobile job ? even if the women are away they can continue to work.
It gives women a chance to realise their full potential and Ngaka is no exception. She has become a sales representative and accompanies tourists to the townships to meet with the bead makers.
Looking ahead, the company plans to make posters using extracts from Positively HIV that would be used in major exhibitions in New York in June. There is even talk of Donna Karen sponsoring a catalogue showcasing the women?s work.