MADE x HANDS Chokwe Combs

Identity. Power. Status.  More than just a tool for hair care, an intricately carved Chokwe comb is a representation of all the above.  Usually depicting figures or representing village life, these combs date back to the 19th century and were worn as hair ornaments as part of traditional attire. 

As Nikki Fox writes for Odele Beauty: “Black hair has a uniquely meaningful history as a symbol of survival, resistance, and celebration.”  The comb carries such significance because hair has always been closely intertwined with identity in African-American culture – it is an undeniable symbol of pride, personal power, and spiritual meaning.

The rich historical significance is what led MADE x HANDS to choose the Chokwe comb as a motif in its debut pillow collection.  “It’s such a symbol of pride in African-American culture,” says Bryan Turpin, Co-Founder and CEO of MADE x HANDS.  “We value the history and provenance of things, so once I learned about these combs, I instantly knew I wanted to do something with them.”

Bryan’s own exposure and education in African art and culture began in early childhood, when he first encountered his grandfather’s art collection.  In the 1980s, his grandfather had traveled to several countries, including a few in Africa, and filled his house with pieces he had collected on these trips.

The Chokwe pillow collection is the first of six, marking only the beginning of the MADE x HANDS line with much more to come.  Each pillow features a different comb design that’s hand-embroidered on the front and back.  Named after words in the Bantu language that reflect the spirit of each comb, the pillows are a celebration of African pride and culture.

And of course, every pillow has a story. It begins life as silk fibers harvested from Eri silkworms, also known as peace silk because the extraction process only begins after the moth has left the cocoon.  The spinning process is done on a household fly or throw shuttle loom, before the yarn is dyed with natural pigments derived from plants, vegetables and minerals – a process that has been used for thousands of years.

Finally, the dyed yarn is hand-woven into fabric. The combination of the Eri silk and natural dyes creates beautiful, subtle striations in color that no machine or synthetic dye can replicate. Then skilled embroiderers, who have years of experience in their craft, put the finishing touches to each pillow with precise hand-embroidery.

The carving of these Chokwe combs by Bantu artists is a centuries-old art form we celebrate today.   Each handmade pillow is more than a home accessory, it's art with cultural heritage.  And as with any work of art, Bryan hopes that the stories behind the pillow will inspire dynamic dialogue about identity, provenance and craftsmanship. “A pair of our Chokwe throw pillows changes your couch into a conversation,” he says.

Shop the Chokwe Comb Pillow Collection here.