Fun Facts About Ankara You Probably Did Not Know

Fun Facts About Ankara You Probably Did Not Know

The Ankara textiles have become engraved in the African culture and society, through their use in various African countries. Their influence has spread to modern day fashion, and has become a way of representing how the African fashion industry is making its mark on the world fashion stage. From casual to designer clothes, most fashion enthusiasts take pride in their use of the Ankara fabric, in creating the complete African look. Apart from its association with African glamour, there are so many misconceptions of how the “African print” evolved to become an identifier of African fashion. This week, we demystify the Ankara concept, and take a look at some of the facts about this much-loved material, which are guaranteed to surprise you!

Ankara Is Named After the Capital City of Turkey

Contrary to popular belief, Ankara, the name of the signature African print, is not of African origin. Despite being largely associated with African heritage, Ankara draws its name from the cosmopolitan capital city of Turkey. The city is the centre for the performing arts. It shares a name with the famous “African print” textile, but there is no direct link between the two. Before being named Ankara, Ankara African print used to go by several names such as Dutch wax, English wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java and Veritable Wax Hollandais. 

Ankara is Not Originally from Africa

Even though Ankara is tied to Africa and has become our signature brand, it is sadly not originally from Africa. However, it is linked to Africa because of the tribal-like motifs and patterns it carries. The Ankara has its origins in Europe where it was manufactured by the Dutch, and meant to be sold in the Indonesian market. Unfortunately, the material was not well received in Indonesia, since the natives preferred handcrafted material which was made using the batik method (an ancient Indonesian technique of making dyed and printed fabric). As such, the Europeans had to divert the market to West Africa, where it was well received and became popular. There is also a belief that Ankara textiles were brought in Africa as gifts by West African men, who had enlisted in Dutch armies in the 19th century. As they came back home to Africa, they brought with them Ankara textiles as gifts for their families. With time, the Ankara material’s prints changed to reflect African style and culture more. The origin of Ankara is therefore European.  

Ankara Made Its Entrance Through West Africa 

It is believed that Ghana was the first country to come into contact with Ankara before it spread to other parts of West Africa. This is why there is a common misconception that the Ankara print originates from there. The Ankara fabric was manufactured by both the Dutch and the English, but the Dutch Ankara fabric was better preferred. This was because most countries in West Africa were either under French or English rule. As such, the Dutch were viewed as well-meaning traders, and this made their material more appealing to Africans. Through this relationship, the Ankara material evolved, as the Dutch catered to the needs of their African customers. The prints featured plants and animals and later on began to feature faces of local leaders, slogans and African proverbs. This is how the Dutch fabrics earned the status of being “authentically African”.

Most of the Ankara Textiles are Not Manufactured in Africa

The Ankara material has become more versatile, becoming available on fabrics like chiffon, silk, and spandex, for clothing pieces such as bathing suits, sports bras, leggings and socks. Even though the Ankara textiles are popular in Africa, and have come to resonate with African culture, most of them are not manufactured in Africa. The majority of the Ankara textiles found in African markets are manufactured in China and then imported into West Africa where they are sold. A smaller percentage of the Ankara materials are manufactured in West Africa, where they have a smaller market because the ones manufactured in China are relatively cheaper. Some of the Ankara textiles are still made in Europe, and a lot of people in West Africa still place a premium on them. 

Different Ankara Textiles Carry Different Meanings

Ankara textiles might not have originated from Africa, but since landing on the continent, they have taken a life of their own. Different Ankara textiles are purchased for wearing on different occasions. For the modern-day person, Ankara textiles are now being integrated into casual wear such as dresses and tops, formal wear such as suits as well as in luxury high end fashion. Culturally, the textiles can be a sign of status. Most recently, several cultures have adopted them as women’s bride wear for traditional marriage celebrations. In Nigeria, Ankara is worn as “aesobi” which means clothes of the family. Family members, close friends and relatives dress up in similar attire made from Ankara textiles, for special occasions. Various patterns also have different meanings, and often symbolise African proverbs. For instance, the “Love Bomb” or “Coure Blesse” pattern has acquired special meaning in Togo, and it depicts the state of mind of a woman being cheated by her husband, and is being left with a broken heart. The “Cha cha cha” is also another pattern that is derived from the Ghanaian Senchi Bridge. It means “change your life” and this is drawn from the rhythm of the pattern. 

All comments

  1. Mia Evans

    Thanks for pointing out that the Ankara material is more versatile and becoming available on fabrics like chiffon and others. I guess I need to learn more about this since I wanted to have custom African clothing made for me. I just wanted to adapt different styles from different countries and try them out myself for my everyday clothing.

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Fun Facts About Ankara You Probably Did Not Know

Jul 06, 2021
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