What Is Ankara fabric, you ask? Also known by different names, such as African wax print, Holland wax, and Dutch wax print, this fabric is made with 100 percent cotton and features African prints, unique patterns, and vibrant colors.
It’s typically a colorful cloth that’s transformed into clothing of intricate designs and has since become a recognizable symbol of African culture.
As a versatile fabric, this African wax print fabric is a statement piece popular across various African regions. Whether in South Africa, East Africa, West Africa, North, or Central Africa, the bold motifs and vibrant patterns of Ankara print fabrics have become central to African identity.
Ankara fabric is made with a technique known as batik. It involves wax-resistant dying techniques, covering sections of the cloth in an Indonesian wax-resist to create unique patterns.
Want to know more about what makes this fabric so distinct and special? Let’s dive into it and discover what makes this fabric so integral to the African people.
What Is Ankara Fabric and What Makes It Special?
For numerous reasons, Ankara fabric is the epitome of African fashion and has become the symbol of African identity.
Showcases Unique African Prints
The print designs on many Ankara fabrics are often ornate and geometric. The various shapes and patterns represent African heritages and lands, always evoking a unique story revolving around the continent’s people, wildlife, and scenery.
Has High Color Intensity
Besides its rich cultural heritage, Ankara fabric stands out because of its vibrant prints and bright colors. Unlike other fabrics, the African print fabric doesn’t fade.
It also doesn’t bleed to other clothes, which aids in the preservation of its color intensity. For this reason, Ankara has become a sought-after cotton cloth in African fashion and other design industries.
The popularity of batik fabrics goes far beyond aesthetics. It also extends to functionality.
Due to the nature of how it’s made, the woven cotton fabric is comfortable, breathable, and lightweight. As a result, it can soak up sweat and allow the wearer to feel cool amidst the continent’s intense heat.
With these factors in mind, you can imagine how this wax fabric can make such a strong fashion statement for the people of Africa and yet offer practical features to withstand extreme weather conditions.
The History of the African Fabric
To truly understand how the African Ankara fabrics became a popular choice in Africa and other regions of the world, we need to look at the history of Ankara.
Interestingly, while Ankara is quintessentially seen as an identifying feature of the West African countries and largely as a part of the African culture, it started as a mass-produced fabric created by the Dutch for the Indonesian market.
In 1846, printed cotton was in high demand. As such, a Dutch entrepreneur named Pieter Fentener Van Vlissingen developed manufacturing processes based on batik printing — a well-known method in the Indonesian textile market — to produce the fabric in large quantities.
Though originally created as a knockoff of authentic fabrics made for Indonesians, the popularity of Ankara grew in West Africa, where it was adopted and acclaimed as their own.
Knowing this, the Dutch entrepreneur shifted focus from Indonesia to Africa, where he first introduced the products to the West Africans in Ghana and later spread his reach to other regions of the continent.
It was easy for Ankara to be embraced in African culture — especially in African fashion — because they have always been quite avant-garde. Ankara fits right in with the colorful prints on the equally colorful fabric.
Its popularity continued within the African nations. Ankara became a global phenomenon, garnering widespread recognition from Stella McCartney, fashion designer Belinda Compah-Keyeke, and other renowned Western fashion stylists.
The Different Forms of Ankara
Due to Ankara’s versatility, durability, uniqueness, richness in color, and timeless appeal, it continues to be a fashion trend that will transcend cultures, industries, and centuries. Even now, we see its influence in modern pieces we use in our daily lives.
While originally designed as a simple cloth, Ankara has transformed into more complex and contemporary pieces we wear today.
From pieces like an African print shirt, an eye-catching skirt, and a pair of trousers to a formal jacket and even an African print bow tie, we can see designers incorporate the unique tribal print into virtually any type of clothing.
It can be dressed up or down for workdays or special occasions, making it a staple in everyone’s closet.
When you wear Ankara, you’ll make heads turn.
Ankara can also be used as an accessory to complete your looks. On its own, you can use it as a headwrap or a scarf. But with the latest trends in fashion today, Ankara prints are available on other statement pieces such as pocket squares, bags, high heels, hair bands, and so much more.
You can find new prints, bold prints, large prints, and other beautiful prints on virtually all types of accessories.
Ankara Home Decor
Ankara also made its way into stylized upholstery and other soft furnishings to add character to your otherwise bland fabrics. As a result, you can transform your home into a vibrant wonderland with a little creativity.
Choose from a selection of Ankara cushions, bedsheets, curtains, quilts, lampshades, and napkins to elevate the aesthetic of your living space to a new level.
How To Take Care of Ankara Fabrics
To enjoy the bright color of cotton Ankara fabrics for longer, dry clean your pieces. Many dry cleaners use solvents that can preserve the quality of the fabric without fading its colors. However, if dry cleaning is not your first choice, you can gently hand-wash your fabric.
Wrapping It Up
These beautiful fabrics have a rich and profound history rooted in African culture. With globalization and increased connectivity, Ankara’s influence has only spread throughout the world.
With its growing popularity, you’ll no doubt encounter these new patterns and bright prints in your day-to-day life.