KushKush officially turned two in July this year and instead of eating cake (which we love), we thought we'd cook up something special that we could share with you too. We’d like to think that the truest essence of our existence is forging connections with canna-curious, creative and outrageously cool women.
Enter, a collaboration with Mbali Mthethwa. The radiant smile and mega talented brains, eyes and hands behind The Herd, a South African beading design company.
A classic lockdown love story for the modern age, Mbali and KusKush founder Jo Hope met online through a mutual admiration for each other’s work. They first started chatting about a potential collaboration some time ago, and after letting the idea simmer for a while decided to take things to the next step with the commission of a KushKush-inspired neckpiece.
The concept behind it? “Wearing your weed-smoking ways with pride,” Mbali says. “Wear it out, put it out there and live it, you know? You don’t have to hide behind closed doors anymore. Life is changing - life has changed.”
Mbali proudly admits to having been a toker for a very long time, and doesn’t see herself giving it up - ever. Having started smoking long before she ever started drinking, she says she’d sooner give up alcohol than cannabis.
Although already a very spiritual person, Mbali believes smoking weed helps to place her in a middle world between reality and the celestial universe. Weed, she says, gives her the gift of introspection - offering her an incredible ability to reflect, to dissect, to look at things from different angles. To reach those epiphanic ‘Oh, yes!’ moments. And while she doesn’t really use weed as a tool in the creative process when working with her team (her mind drifts, her eyes are a dead giveaway, and not everyone appreciates the slower tempo that being, uh, highly functional commands), she says that sometimes smoking does help with figuring out colour choices or finessing the details of a design.
For the KushKush collaboration piece, Jo gave Mbali free reign to come up with a few designs that represented to her how she feels as a person who smokes weed, and what she’d want to wear or see in her home. Typically, the creation process for The Herd’s pieces can take about 4-6 months depending on the intricacy of the design. Pictorial pieces like the KushKush collaboration can be especially complicated to make because of the rigid nature of the material.
Unlike metal or wood, beads are not malleable. There’s a warp and a weft, and a very specific way each bead needs to align in order for the design to appear. “Almost like science, or math,” she says.
A key element of her intricate designs is the uniformity of the tiny seed beads they’re made from - sourced from Czech Republic or Japan, the world’s highest quality producers. These beads are not found locally as South Africa itself is not a bead producing country, and the beads made closer to home in places like Nigeria or Ghana are too big and inconsistent in size.
These seed beads are strung up into The Herd creations by Mbali’s highly skilled team of women based in Mpumalanga, with the intention being to honour her Zulu heritage and generate a renewed reverence for the iconic beading culture of Nguni women who have honed this artform for centuries.
And Mbali, who has no formal design training and relies only on what that her mother taught her when she was in high school, is convinced that her own creativity and imagination is actually the legacy and spirit of these badass beadmaster predecessors flowing through her. “Because I’m here, I’m physical, my body’s here. But I know it’s a bigger conversation that happens in my brain and in my heart. I definitely think - not think, I know - there are forces behind the creativity and the picking of colours. Maybe I just have a super creative ancestor who never got the opportunity to flex.”
Any other major creative inspiration? Well, Rihanna, obviously. As a young, boss woman of colour who has been a pioneer in her industry for 15 years, and who hasn’t ever allowed herself to be held back in terms of what she wants to do. “It’s that Pisces energy,” she offers, by way of unnecessary explanation.
Make no mistake, Mbali (a Pisces) has some serious boss energy. Qualified as a Community Development Practitioner, she is interested in combining design with cultural work. In particular, she is passionate about empowering marginalised communities to reclaim and own the narratives that have historically been taken away from them, as she believes has been the case with traditional beadworkers.
At one point in time, a small sack of beads would have been worth a fortune, Mbali explains. But because these beads were largely used by and stood for something meaningful in black communities, the narrative was changed to the point that they became devalued, and the practice of beadwork itself has been undermined. “Beading as a form of communication has always been a labour of love for which Nguni women have devoted time and energy as a creative proclamation, since time immemorial. Over the years the practice of beading has been whitewashed, taking away its ability to be truly understood for its divine spiritual beauty.”
Similarly, Mbali hopes that the growing local cannabis industry won’t end up disregarding the spiritual value of the plant, and that people from marginalised communities will be included to form part of the conversation. People like the Mpondo women, who have been growing weed for centuries and deserve a seat at the table - not just those at the forefront with the machinery and prohibitively expensive licenses to create big cannabis companies and dispensaries.
“Rather empower them, give them a platform, give them free rights to grow their own and sell. Because that can empower a whole community. Why does some multinational corporation, or someone trying to be a multinational corporation, get to take that away from them and then go back and say ‘Oh, work through us and we’ll pay you instead’?”
“Listen, I’m not taking away from innovation and invention. But don’t move the goal posts when we’re almost going to reach them.”
Mbali is creating the change she wants to see in the world through The Herd and we're really inspired by her energy, determination and we're really proud that she has shared some of that womxninweed energy with the KushKush community too.
These limited edition pieces are officially live - view the collection here