The Origin of Ankara

June 14th, 2012

An image of ‘African fabric’ isn’t necessarily authentically [and wholly] African” – Yinka Shonibare. African print, popularly known as Ankara, has gained popularity in the global fashion scene since 2010. The material is primarily associated with Africa mainly because of the tribal-like patterns and motifs. Since it’s ascension in global fashion, much talk has focused on whether or not African fabric is authentically African given the fact that the fabric was in fact originally made in Europe.

Ankara was formerly known as Dutch wax print. It was originally manufactured by the Dutch for the Indonesian textile market. But, by mistake or design, these prints garnered significantly more interest in West African than in Indonesia. Recognizing this opportunity, the Dutch decided to focus on West Africa. As such, the prints changed to reflect African culture and lifestyle more. African print was henceforth born. As you might suspect, this is the condensed gist of the issue. The Eccentric Yoruba can give you the main story here.

The long and short though is the universal acceptance of these prints in the West African market specifically. Ankara is one of the cheapest traditional fabrics (made even cheaper when Chinese manufacturing of the fabric became widespread). If you notice, other African fabrics like Aso Oke are reserved for special occasions, but Ankara is used for everyday wear.

But back to the authenticity of the fabric; obviously, the origins of Ankara are not at all African but rather European. However, I still see Ankara as authentic African Print because of what it represents (as opposed to where it was first made). Does the fabric represent African culture? Is Africa the first thing that comes to mind when you look at Ankara? Do Africans generally identify with the prints? I can confidently answer ‘Yes’ to these questions and as such proving the authenticity of the Print. Also, I see no reason why we can’t recognize the influence that the Dutch had on Ankara. After all, they’ve played their part but now it’s in the hands of Africans to use the fabric to promote our own culture.

Photo Credit: + Google Images

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  1. Akara prints could be from dutch, but have we considered the origin of the first set of artists that made the design for the the first sets of prints to be done? Have we considered the fact that the artist could have some afrian influence through cross boder artifacts/artworks from africa?

  2. Daniella says:

    I love this article be writing more on our african fashion

  3. I agree I encourage us to rep our swag and know our history.

  4. JeremyB says:

    Ankara clothes really rock, I love them, i regularly buy some from and it is really top stuff.

  5. […] than in Indonesia. Recognizing this opportunity, the Dutch decided to focus on West Africa. (source Muse Origins ) When taking the photos the model reminded me of the 90′s Will Smith…Hence the title […]

  6. […] as well because of the accessories, they don't require much fabric. I saw an article about the origin of Ankara and have decided to share with you. PS: I make custom outfits or accessories with your desired […]

  7. […] The event showcases emerging & established designers from the African Diaspora and their use of Ankara, an African print that has gained popularity in the global fashion scene. “The material is primarily associated with Africa mainly because of the tribal-like patterns and moti…“. […]

  8. […] answer to your question…..this link should help: . Whether this is an authentic African textile, I cannot tell as its origin is not attached. The […]

  9. […] clothing is unique and attractive. Lace, jacquard, adire, and ankara are some of the materials that are used to prepare dresses in Nigeria. Nigerian clothing for […]

  10. Right here is the right web site for everyone who wishes to find ouut about this topic.

    Youu understand a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not
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  11. 2'WYTH says:

    Beautiful piece of information that makes me wear ankara print with pride. 2’WYTH

  12. […] little value to society – apart from the occasional distraction of watching people twerk in ankara. Trying and failing to be concave lenses to this myopic notion is usually due to: selective […]

  13. […] in cultural and casual contexts but I have never had the confidence to try it myself using the Ankara print fabrics. Plus I was never very imaginative with mudcloth. I basically just wrapped it around […]

  14. […] pieces to bring forth an amazing street style.  She recently started a collection using original Ankara and printed fabrics to design accessories and clothing, and she sells a beautifully curated […]

  15. […] a couple sites explaining the history of the type of prints Vlisco sells: What is Ankara? and The Origin of Ankara.  I learned that these types of prints are the result of the Dutch appropriating Batik […]

  16. […] a variety of occasions. If you’d like to read a little more about Ankara then head on over here to Muse […]

  17. […] weave and Ankara print alongside an eclectic mix of fabrics from Ghana and other West African countries all combine to […]

  18. Ms. Johnson says:

    As an African historian and a zealous protector and preserver of Africa’s history, culture and original art forms, including cloth production, I appreciate the research you have done to write this article. However, as one who is very familiar with the notorious practice of European history to claim everything African as it’s own except for what is thought of as primitive), I would be extremely cautious and even more skeptical to give credit to any other nationality outside of Africans for the creation of the beautiful and bountiful cultural goods and customs that are found on their continent, and communities of African descent throughout the world. We must remember, Africans were the first people to circumnavigate the globe. We were dynamic travelers, explorers and traders and there is no continent on the face of the earth on which the black man’s foot wasn’t first. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, if we were the first to travel and explore – what was our Ancestors wearing? What tools were at their disposal? Where are they’re inventions? Well, I will tell you were they are – they were stolen, copied and re-introduced as other people’s ingenuity. And, unfortunately due to slavery and colonialism it is difficult to find historically accurate information on Africa from an African perspective before European and Arab invasion. Again, as a historian who is true to her calling, if Ankara wax fabric is in fact a Dutch (European) creation, I wholeheartedly accept this finding. Nevertheless, I am just asking us to be extremely adamant about not giving credit to others, when it is our Ancestors to whom credit is due. And, I want us to really, really consider the words of Yinka Shonibare, and this time from an African point of view, “everything is not as it seems”, even if it is in the books!!!

  19. […] the Herero style of Namibia, de-rigueur Gomesi at a wedding in Kampala (Uganda), striking an Ankara pose in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), one way to wear the lamba in Madagascar, colorful Masai style, and […]

  20. […] love that she is proudly African and represents the continent very well in her tribal Ankara outifts. Which is why we have chronicled some of her best African looks and lifestyle instagrams […]

  21. Mai says:

    I am also a big fan of Ankara prints. African women just look stunning on these prints. Not only Ankara print dresses are popular but Ankara print footwear and bags also looks equally stunning. Here is a link of online store who sell exclusive range of Ankara prints dresses and accessories.

  22. […] Ankara (Ahn-kah-Rah): This African wax print—which, according to some sources, actually has Dutch origins—picked up momentum on mainstream catwalks but has been a mainstay […]

  23. […] Ankara (Ahn-kah-Rah): This African wax print—which, according to some sources, actually has Dutch origins—picked up momentum on mainstream catwalks but has been a mainstay […]

  24. […] can cut and sew African fabrics called Ankara to a simple dress like […]

  25. […] much does it cost to create a bespoke item of clothing like this? For example using Ankara – the vibrantly patterned, rich and colorful designs that are so typical with West/Central […]

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