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A Brief History of Ankara Fabric and African Prints

May Oyairo

Posted on May 13 2019

A Brief History of Ankara Fabric and African Prints

We all know that incorporating prints to our style will make it more personal and stylish. African prints are known for its intricate composition of designs that portray the culture, tradition, and history of Africans. Whether you wish to tell a story with your African print outfit or make your style more fashion-forward, you might want to know the beginning of Ankara fabric and African prints.

What is Ankara Fabric?

The textile used to make African prints is called Ankara fabric that is also referred as African wax prints fabric, Holland wax, or Dutch wax. The Ankara fabric is known for its colorful African prints, and is deeply associated with African clothing. One of the best things about Ankara fabric is the intensity of its African prints does not change compared to other printed textiles that fade quickly. This is because of the “wax resistant” technique used in printing the textile.

African prints in Ankara fabric can be handmade or produced on a large scale textile machines. If you want a unique African print, then go for handmade Ankara for where no two patterns are the same. On the other hand, machine-made Ankara typically has imperfections or a “crackling” effect.

How the Textile Has Gained an African Identity?

Would you believe that the African textiles aren't originated in Africa? In 1846, there was a high demand for printed cotton, so Dutch entrepreneur Pieter Fentener Van Vlissingen mechanized the method used to make prints on batiks—a popular cloth worn in Indonesia. Yes, the African textile that is known as ‘Kitenge’ in East Africa and ‘Ankara’ in West Africa was first produced in Indonesia.

The method of producing African print fabric is called batik, for where designs are printed onto the cloth using wax before using dye. You’ll notice the crackling effect on the African textile, and it is caused by the wax-resist dyeing technique. His company, Vlisco, introduced the printed textile to Ghana, and the fabric has gained an African identity.

The advancement in technology made the printed textile accessible. In fact, African fashion designers helped to make the African prints and textiles more popular. When it comes to African fashion, the imperfections of African prints are considered unique and beautiful, along with textile’s origins and colors. A great thing, technology helps fashion designers to create their modern take on African prints through their designs and collections, contributing to the evolution of African prints.

African Prints Are More Than a Fashion Statement

Fashion designer Belinda Compah-Keyeke said in her CNN interview that African print is their first point of contact to their culture as Africans. “When we are born, we are wrapped in a wax print. It is a major part of every African's heritage and every wax print tells a unique African story.”

Do you know that some names that were given to African prints even suggest a popular proverb, an important personality or event? According to a study, some wearers of African prints even use the symbolisms of the pattern as a form of visual communication.

Indeed, African prints and textiles will always be part of Africa, so be proud of it and showcase it on your every day style.

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