Ciko makes business out of manipulating Mardi Gras throws

Marcus Ciko’s business, 3DBeads uses Mardi Gras beads to make everything from ornate necklaces with clusters of beads on them that spin, to decorations such as flags and bunting. He’s even made a replica of Drew Brees’ Saints jersey out of beads.

Although his bead products have been featured on the HBO series “Treme,” it’s taken a little while for his business to get off the ground because of problems caused by Hurricane Katrina. But for the first time in several years, his beads are once again for sale in stores.

“It’s been a long time, but I’m glad things are finally getting moving again,” said Ciko, who runs his business out of his Baton Rouge apartment. “It’s been a test of patience, but I think its definitely worth it. The idea is too good to give up on.”

The roots of Ciko’s business go back to 2000, when he was hanging out at a friend’s house after a Mardi Gras parade.

“There were Mardi Gras beads everywhere,” he said. Ciko, 35, and his friends starting twisting the strings of beads together to make shapes, starting off with the familiar dog shapes that children across south Louisiana make.

“We started with the dog shapes and kept on going,” Ciko said.

Ciko, who grew up in Slidell, realized that he could make interesting shapes and patterns with the beads and thought the idea had some potential. “I figured if I could clean up the basic idea, I could make it work,” he said. His family thought he was crazy, Ciko said.

Ciko imported 100,000 beads from China and set about braiding them. He had some success; his beads were available at 15 Sam’s Club stores across the Gulf Coast. He even got a patent for his bead designs and got some of them copyrighted.

But Hurricane Katrina flooded the New Orleans importer he was working with. Ciko spent several years waiting for his importer to recover from the hurricane, then switched to another company. But the quality of beads didn’t meet his standards.

“Right now, we’re making the beads locally, here in Baton Rouge,” he said. “We’ve managed to reduce the manufacturing time.”

Getting a local source of beads has allowed Ciko to relaunch his business. The Harry’s Ace Hardware store on Magazine Street bought more than 100 necklaces, selling them at between $5 and $20.

Ciko said he hasn’t had time to check how the beads are selling because he’s been working on other projects, such as a nearly 4-foot-diameter bead piece that will serve as a stage decoration for some shows the Freebass Society, New Orleans dance party promoters, are putting on around Mardi Gras. Making the stage decoration will take about 50 hours of labor, as Ciko twists small strands of glow-in-the-dark beads together.

For big projects like the stage decoration, Ciko plots out the pattern on cross-stitch software. That breaks the design into grids and allows him to calculate how many beads of a certain color he needs.

Over the years, Ciko has refined his methods for twisting beads and making patterns. He’s shaved the time it takes for him to make a simple necklace from two hours to 30 minutes. “It’s kind of like the iPhone; I keep reinventing it,” he said. This allows him to stay ahead of people who would copy his designs, such as the big Chinese factories that make beads. “Coming up with new stuff is the best way to deter this,” he said.

Ciko is also looking at ways to make biodegradable beads, but he wouldn’t disclose the substance and method he would use for making them.

“I don’t want to throw out a trade secret,” he said. The time is right for green Mardi Gras beads, Ciko said. Bead prices have gone up because they’re made with petroleum products, and there are concerns about toxic materials being used in the process.

Ciko’s short-term goal is to get 3DBeads in more retailers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He’s got a salesperson in New Orleans who is talking to hotel gift shops. “There’s no actual commitment as of yet, but it’s getting there,” he said.

Once more local retailers start carrying the beads, Ciko is hoping some of the big New Orleans krewes follow suit.

“I’ve talked to krewe captains, but they’ve been doing this for 30 or 40 years and have the same bead person and make the same bead orders,” he said. “It’s a real tight circle to break into with the krewe captains. But I feel that once it gets out into the public and on the national retail level, I don’t know why the krewes wouldn’t get involved.”