African Print Fabric History

Bright colours and tribal-like patterned cotton cloth is, at a quick glance, associated with the African continent.

Would you believe me if I told you this beauty originated in the colour-docile country of the Netherlands via Indonesia?

Ankara, or African wax print, is formally known as Dutch wax print or English wax print. The mass manufacturing of the fabric was a sad attempt by the Dutch and English, to reproduce the batik fabric of Indonesia for international consumption. As history would show, Europe didn’t take too well to the printed fabric and it has only very recently been made popular through global fashion trends.

Market Stall - African Print - Kangamama
Inkhosazana African Print Scarf

How the fabric landed on our African soil, is a whole debate on its own. Some say some of the slaves working on Dutch and English ships took the fabric home as gifts. Others suggest that some manufacturer, stopping over in West Africa tried his hand at shaking some of his stock after being unsuccessful in the European markets. It wouldn’t have been a hard sell since many West Africans were active consumers of fabric from many other countries.

Whatever the truth may be, the end results are something amazing. This vibrant printed fabric has become embedded in the very culture of countries like Ghana and Kenya, for example, and is globally recognised as African print fabric.

At the end of it all, it was a pretty big win for us Africans.

Kangamama currently imports fabric from Ghana but the fabric itself is manufactured in Togo. As some of you may known, infrastructure like roads and the transport industry is sorely lacking in many African countries, this is true for the route my fabric takes to get to Ghana. It is also unsafe to get across that border so the fabric before you has been on quite an adventure before getting to me.

As beautiful as this fabric may be, it reflects the identity of particular countries. Some time in the near future, I would like to design and print my own fabric, unique and reflective of South Africa (Shweshwe also has a German history, for those who were wondering).

One day, everything Kangamama will be 100% Kangamama.