Big Village. Based in Canada, Big Village distributes handmade beads from Ghana through their fair trade partnership, as well as African inspired jewelry, batik fabric designs, and more. Today our guest is co-owner of Big Village and bead lover, Karen Berry.
Inspirational Beading: How did you first get into beading and jewelry design?
Karen: Growing up, I explored many crafts and hobbies but I have found that I enjoy working with beads and scrapbooking the most! In my early twenties, I bought my first beads and made simple hemp bracelets and necklaces for friends and family. It was a fun hobby and never thought that one day I might make a living from designing jewellery! I was educated and trained in Therapeutic Recreation and worked as a Recreation Manager in Long Term Care for close to 20 years. Through my experiences in Long Term Care and working with the elderly, I observed that those residents who kept busy with their hobbies and interests, were always happier and healthier than their sedentary counterparts. I have always believed it is important to keep your mind active and beading certainly does that! I became serious about beading and jewellery design about a year before I purchased Big Village; I was Big Village’s biggest customer!
Inspirational Beading: Was purchasing Big Village a huge leap? How has it differed from your original expectations?
Karen: I knew eventually one day I would own my own business but just wasn’t sure what it was going to be. I love working in Long Term Care but after almost 20 years of being in it, I needed a break. When the idea of purchasing Big Village first came up, it was perfect timing; like it was meant to be. I finished a one year maternity leave position with my former employer the month after I purchased Big Village. Knowing that my business partner and I were chosen out of 30 other candidates to carry Big Village forward, has given me the confidence to run a business and move it forward.
During the months leading up to the purchase of the business, I envisioned myself playing with beads and making pretty things all day long. Sadly, this is not the case. Most days are spent answering emails, updating our social media, taking product photos, ordering products from Ghana, making new partnerships, researching products extensively, maintaining a website and online store. I have gone from working in a busy long term care home to working most days alone in my home office. I never thought I would crave the constant interruptions and policy changes a traditional office job has. I can easily be distracted by laundry, dirty floors and bathrooms or a comfy couch. However, I get to take my kids to school every day, stay home with them when they are sick, play hooky with my husband sometimes and make my own hours. It’s a pretty awesome trade off and I love being home!
Inspirational Beading: What is your favorite part about working with bead makers in Ghana?
Karen: I feel so grateful and privileged to have had the experiences I have had so far with Big Village and our bead partners in Ghana. I love knowing that we are helping make a positive and sustainable difference in the lives of not only our partners but their family, their employees, their employees’ families and the community in which they live. Knowing that our partners are succeeding, makes me unbelievably happy. And traveling to Ghana (and other African countries eventually), is pretty amazing too! Africa is one of those places that most of us dream of visiting and my dreams have come true. Doing business with Ghanaians has had its challenges but I am grateful for even the most difficult times we have had because I have learned so much about culture and the way people live and view business!
Karen: I love using bright, bold colours that reflect the Ghanaian culture as well as the simplicity of mixing black and white with teal or bright blue beads. However, my favorite beads are the hand painted ones. When I work with them, I spend a lot of time appreciating each and every single one and all the work that goes into them. I love the designs the artists in Ghana paint on them and it still impresses me that each and every single bead is made by hand, from glass that was supposed to end up in a landfill.
Inspirational Beading: What is your favorite project for using Krobo beads?
Karen: I love making bracelets with the beads. They are fairly simple to make and very rewarding as they can be made fast! I love experimenting with different colours that I may not use in a necklace. My other favorite project is creating necklaces for our African inspired jewellery line. We use all sorts of African beads including our recycled glass ones but also Kazuri beads from Kenya, cow bone beads from Kenya, rolled paper beads from Uganda, Lost Wax beads from Ghana and most recently EarthButter Beads from South Africa. I love mixing all the different textures and sizes to create unique, one of a kind pieces.
Inspirational Beading: Who do you hope to inspire with your work?
Karen: Our mandate at Big Village is to empower and educate consumers to make conscious purchases. This also goes for crafters and beaders alike. We want to inspire people to make informed choices about not only the day to day purchases that they make but also about the craft supplies they buy. We spend a great deal of time working with school aged children and teaching them about fair trade, ethically made products and slavery.
I hope to inspire people to look at Africa in a different way. When we traveled to Ghana for the first time, I tried not to bring any judgements or stereotypes with me. After years of being told by the media that all of Africa is living in poverty, I happily experienced something completely different. There is joy and hope to be had and people work hard for their families. The people we met were so happy and full of optimism that I now have a different view of Ghana and Africa. I am not ignorant to the fact that poverty does exist but so do thriving, vibrant communities full of people wanting to create sustainability.
To learn more and to purchase some fabulous beads and fair trade products, visit the Big Village website. You can also get news and updates on the Big Village Facebook page, or find inspiration on their Pinterest boards.
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