Award-winning furniture designs, a love letter to African hair

This Oromo chair is inspired by the oval and gravity-defying hairstyles of the Oromo women.
This Oromo chair is inspired by the oval and gravity-defying hairstyles of the Oromo women.

Drawing inspiration from ancient Ethiopia’s regal hairstyles, Mpho Vackier’s desks and chairs display an Afro-modern design that has us rethinking our interior décor goals. Welcome Lishivha finds out how they came about.

Engineer turned designer Mpho Vackier uses her interior décor studio, TheUrbanative, to tell stories inspired by African culture, but the aesthetic of her products is informed by functional design.

The Afro-modern and chic aesthetic of the Oromo chair and Nenzima desk are part of TheUrbanative’s 2018 African Crowns Collection.

The chair draws inspiration from the lines on the gravity-defying hair crowns of the Oromo people from the 1800s, and is also an “ode to the sculptural spectacle of African hair”, Vackier tells #Trending.

The Nenzima desk, which was nominated for Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object by interior designer Donald Nxumalo this year, pays homage to Queen Nenzima of the Mangbetu tribe in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was said to be one of the most powerful people in the court in the 1920s.


“More than anything, this collection has been a love letter to the magic and mystery of African hair.

Throughout the years, we have heard a lot about how stubborn and unruly African hair is, but this collection, in some way, offers a different look and an alternative perspective into the beauty of our hair,” says Vackier.

The designs feature steel that is juxtaposed with materials such as bamboo and other locally sourced materials.

The Oromo chair, for example, is made of a steel tube that is rolled into a round shape. To mimic the texture of the ancient hairstyle, Vackier says she played around with various weaving styles until she settled on her final style.

The shape of the desk and the woven detail elements are inspired by the distinctive look of the elongated heads of most Mangbetu women at the time.

This shape was achieved by tightly wrapping girls’ heads with cloth from a young age. This traditional practice is called Lipombo and was considered attractive and powerful among the Mangbetu ruling classes then.

Vackier, who comes from an engineering background, says she has been pleasantly surprised by her success in the design industry.

She was part of Design Indaba’s Emerging Creatives programme in 2017 and winner of the 100% Design SA designer of the year award for the Nenzima desk this year.

Earlier this year, she exhibited her work for the first time at Milan Design Week alongside other local creatives.

“I hope that our work continues to connect, inspire and make people happy,” she says.

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