How African-Print Fabric Came to Be: A Story of Tradition and Innovation

African print fabric also known as wax hollandaise, ankara or kitenge depending on the origin and the design has been made generally popular by West African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. Did you know, however, that this unique form of fabric did not originate from any of these African countries and by extension, Africa?

African print fabric or Ankara is known for its intricate composition, vibrant colors, beautiful patterns and unique African designs or prints.

This unique piece of cloth however, is not of African origin.

It all began with the production of batik fabric in Indonesia using a wax-resist dyeing technique to create intricate patterns on cotton fabrics, hence, the origin and its popularity on our African soil dates back to the mid 1800 when Vlisco – a Dutch company, traded it in West Africa’s coastal towns. It has since been a mainstay for our African community at large.

The batik method of making fabric was first produced in Indonesia. Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch.

Around 1846 – 1850s, there was a high demand for the Printed cloth and in an attempt to meet that demand and to flood the Indonesian markets with their own European version of the cloth, the Dutch came up with a mechanized method to mass produce (that was cheaper and less labour intensive).

But there was a problem – their designs did not appeal to the Indonesian market because the European version had “a crack-like  effect”. The Dutch needed a new market. They turned to West Africa and guess what? The limitations in design was just fine for the West African market. They embraced the cloth as it were.

Ghana was the first West African Country that came into contact with the new version of the African Wax Print through Vlisco. It later spread to Nigeria, Senegal and the whole of Africa at large. To us, the imperfection in designs are unique and beautiful. So we adopted it.

Today, with the help of African Textile companies, prints like GTP fabrics ( that’s good at giving our ankara an African appeal) and African fashion designers, the Ankara has gained wide popularity even among African Americans and the World at large.

In conclusion, it is therefore reasonable to conclude, that since our Ankara fabric was adopted, “well, like we do with anyone or anything we adopt”, we embrace it with passion, we make it our own and we promote it.

Will you promote it too?

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