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Beading my life, a challenge at a time

When Shiku Onyango got pregnant while in Form Two, she thought her dreams were shattered. When she delivered a stillbirth she was devastated. However, she picked up her pieces and is now famous for her artistic beadwork

Wambui Virginia @kuivirgie

Teenagers are often intrigued by what’s forbidden. It’s not about being rebellious or uneducated, but it’s the naiveness and also curiosity that comes with it.

So, when Shiku Onyango found herself pregnant while in Form Two at Tassia Hill School, Nairobi, she knew she was doomed. Her boyfriend was a guy from the hood who had dropped out of school some years back.

“A few months without my menses was nothing unusual. My cycle was quite irregular. Plus I was still slender and wearing all the fancy clothes. There was no physical sign that a human was growing inside me. Until one day I looked at myself and I was surprised. A light bulb went off and I thought, I might be pregnant,” she says.

For Shiku, that meant her life was suddenly going to change. Her world was crumbling. She was petrified. It was only a matter of time before her parents knew.

She wasn’t sure how her parents would react. When she finally told her parents, they were distressed and shocked, but they supported her anyway.

Any teenage pregnancy is difficult and Shiku’s was not any different. Since she was in a day school, things started to happen. The salacious gossip started. Her friends told friends who told friends.

Starting again

She explains how difficult those moments were. She had to wear baggy clothes and spend hours in isolation. Her dreams of going to college had just been shattered.

Her friends were going to complete school without her. Towards the end of that year, the unfortunate happened and her pregnancy turned out to be stillbirth.

It was a devastating moment and she was depressed as self-loathing thoughts crept her mind. In 2009, a few months after the ordeal, Shiku who was living with her parents asked to go back to school, but in another county.

“I grew up in Nairobi, a place called Kware. My parents agreed  to take me to Nakuru where I lived with an uncle. I enrolled at St Peters High School, which was also a day school. After three months, living with the relatives, I decided to move out. I had to find a means of survival and while in Nakuru I started selling clothes,”Shiku says

After secondary school in 2010, she moved back to Nairobi. Ever since she was young, Shiku always wanted to be self-sufficient. After moving to Nairobi, she did all the jobs she would get. From selling clothes, to even working as a shampoo girl at local salons.

Unique pieces

In 2012, her passion for jewellery was born. Shiku always loved fashion and admired pictures in magazines. She met a Samburu girl, who taught her how to bead ornaments. She started by making earrings and bangles and selling to friends.

Her beadwork was unique including the designs and patterns used. Her first assignment she got was from a relative in Sweden who bought several of her items to sell abroad.

The job was promising and she decided to venture fully into the art. She named her business Tribal Trends.

She explains that she draws her inspiration from the African culture, mostly Kenyan and South African. She researches on designs to make unique body jewellery for her clients or custom them according to her client’s preference.

Most of Shiku’s clientele include young adult women, models and anyone who wants to look unique. Her first celebrity client was Helen Mtawali who loved her work of body jewellery.

Her jewellery has been used in several celebrity photoshoots and videos.  Songstress Avril is also another celebrity who has donned her beadwork.

The body jewellery ranges between Sh5,000 and Sh20,000. Currently Shiku sources her raw materials locally and getting quality materials  can be a hassle, especially if one doesn’t have a constant supplier.

Also the job requires an individual sitting in one position for sometime. That can really affect posture and the job is also time consuming.

Working alone on one piece can be challenging and it’s even more hectic when the orders are many. As a result, also beating deadlines is a hassle.

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