African Fabric: Exploring the Origins of the African Ankara Fabric

From London Fashion week to the Olympic tournament held in Rio, Ankara print has now become a force to reckon with in the fashion industry across national frontiers. The Ankara fabric has transformed the global fashion terrain, becoming a wardrobe staple across the globe.

Gone are those days it’s peculiar among Africans alone, It has now become a print cutting across cultures all over the world with different Africa-inspired designs and motifs.

African Ankara print: Accepted across culture

African Ankara fabric is not worn by Africans alone; Europeans, Asian and other culture has joined the fray over the years. It’s not a print peculiar to Africans alone, Hollyhood actors, Hip pop artist, world leaders and politicians are not left out—they now rock different styles of the print to epoch event and night-out parties.

Renowned celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, Rihanna and the United States First lady, Michelle Obama have been spotted in Ankara print. Ensembles of models are now seen cat walking on the runway in the Ankara print in different fashion gig.

Mixed origin

African Ankara is a fashion print primarily associated with Africa mainly because of the tribal-like patterns and motifs.

However findings show that African prints also known as Dutch wax did not originate from African alone. it was formerly produced by the Dutch in the early 19th century as batik inspired wax print with the intention of selling the print to Indonesians but were hindered by economic restrictions imposed on the sale of an foreign prints by Indonesia government who were keenly interested in protected and promoting their locally made batik.

In order to prevent incurring loss, the Dutch changed their target market from Indonesia to Africa, producing batik inspired wax to a more enthusiastic and new market in Gold Coast (modern day Ghana) before spreading to other west Africa, central Africa countries.


They later made some changes in the early 1920 using African textile to create new designs and motifs to cater for the taste of their new Africans customer, integrating the portraits of African head of states and prominent politician.

A new development has birthed a proliferation of textile industry producing Ankara print in West Africa with both Africans and European dominating the market.

Ankara print is not only produced by Africans textile industries, European like Holland’s Vlisco and recently, the Chinese, Asian have also joined in produce these print but one unique thing about them is that their print portrays the “Africanness” of African culture. They still deploy African design and motifs in churning out these prints globally.

Whisked Out

Africans still dub Ankara prints “our own” they still believe the fabric belongs to Africa but recent findings has shown that these fabrics are no longer peculiar or owned solely by Africans.

China, Korea and Holland have cashed in on the global acceptance of the Ankara fabric to penetrate into the massive market of Ankara fabric in Africa, no thanks to ineffective textile industries in Africa. The so-called African design and motifs have been whisked away from Africa to these countries for mass production of African print.

Made in Ankara prints are fizzling out. Just like what happened in early 18th century when the Dutch introduced the Dutch wax to displace locally made textile, China, Korea and Dutch, again, are dominating the textile market in Africa.

“You can walk length to breath of this market. I can assure that you will not get any Ankara Print made in Nigeria. The Local textile companies are dead. What we have in common are the Asian Products particularly the China-made Ankara,” a textile importer, Madam Kudy told Nigeria’s punch correspondent the market situation of Ankara prints at the popular Balogun market in Lagos

Worse still, Madam Kudy added that they take designs of Ankara materials from Ghana, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire to China and ask manufacturers there to manufacture these African prints



Written by How Africa

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