When Latrice Harris took a two-week trip to Africa, she expected the visit to be historic and engaging but never imagined it would also be life-changing. During the trip that included visits to Nigeria and Ghana, Harris, a sergeant and non-commissioned officer in the United States Air Force, said that she was introduced to the traditional African accessory for women called waist beads.
Waist beads are constructed out of small glass beads, and sometimes decorative stones and crystals strung together on a cotton cord and worn around the waist or hips. African women have traditionally worn waist beads as a symbol of femininity, fertility, healing, spirituality, body shaping, protection, and prosperity since the 15th century. Even women in ancient Egypt are seen wearing them in hieroglyphics. American women have adopted the adornment as a form of personal expression ranging from womanhood, sexuality, and power to body awareness.
“I saw them and immediately fell in love with them,” said the Chicago native currently stationed in Lakenheath, United Kingdom. “I loved that they were traditional and made popular by the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. I also loved that they are beautiful, sensual, and would be inspirational for other Black women in America as well.”
Harris used the inspirational moment from the waist beads to launch an online business called Untamed Beauty that also features products such as sage, crystals, smudge sticks, and face masks.
Since launching her business, Harris said sales have soared from other women interested in connecting to Africa through authentic beads and expressing themselves through the beautiful waist jewelry.
“The beautiful thing about waist beads is that it is so intimate and can be personalized based on the style and color of the beads they personally select,” Harris said. “And as their body goes through changes, they can add to it or remove beads as needed. I see it as an intentional form of self-care and body awareness and embracing who you are as a woman, curves and all.”
Harris, who imports all her beads from Ghana and Nigeria, said her goal is to continue growing her business and educating more women on the practice of wearing waist beads.
“I see this as something more Black women can embrace and celebrate about our culture and our bodies,” Harris said. “We should all appreciate our God-given beauty and be confident in who we are.”