For my non-African readers and those with little to no knowledge about African clothing and the background to African fashion, here some brief, yet useful information I found on the net:
Africa, West Africa, Nigeria & Fashion.
Many people look at an outfit of traditional African clothes and may not realize the cultural importance that they have. There is a lot of history that is woven into garments made of traditional African textiles and the styles reflect thousands of years of cultural changes and the influence that other cultures have had on many different African tribes throughout the continent.
Many people have seen the cloth that African clothes are made of. Traditionally, the fabric is usually very brightly colored and is a form of wearable art. The patterns and colors vary from one region to another and the techniques for spinning thread and weaving the fabric are handed down from generation to generation. Often women would be responsible for spinning thread and in many cultures it was actually the men that did the weaving of the fabric.
There are several different types of fabric that is used to make traditional African clothing. They include Aso oke fabric and Adire fabric both of which are made by the Yoruba. Aso oke is the fabric and Adire refers to a tie dye process that is used to create patterns in the woven cloth. Other types of African textiles include Kente cloth, which is made by the Akan ethnic group, Barkcloth, Mudcloth, Kanga and Kitenge.
Over the years, the use of the cheaper and lighter fabric called Ankara has become more and more popluar. But what are its origins?
The Ankara fabric, formerly referred to as Dutch Wax from Holland, only became known as “Ankara” when the Turks started making a cheaper version. Interestingly enough, Nigeria, being such a vast and insatiable market, encouraged the birth of entrepreneurial fabric magnates. Back in the very early 60s, Mrs. H.I.D. Awolowo was among the very first to import and sell lace fabrics; the Okunowo Brothers were the primary importers of damask in the late 50s and early 60s; and PZ, UAC and Zabadne and Co. were also the primary importers of Dutch Wax and later Ankara in the 70s.
Because of the popularity of the light-weight and colorful nature of the Dutch Wax/Ankara fabric, local Nigerian manufacturers decided to have a go at it. Due to the competition of the various companies that brought it in, the sheer volume of consumption particularly along the West African coast forced the local production to accelerate. But alas, unfair trading and smuggling by individuals as well as companies forced the suffocation of local production.
Ankara was the western rival to the ‘adire’ cloth but because the dye was faster and did not stain as much, the locals abandoned their own fabric in favor of the more colorful version from Europe. (click here for more information on Contemporary African Fashion Trends)
Now-a-days Ankara is largely produced and sold in many parts of Europe and Asia. But just as you have cars amongst cars (a Volvo’s no Maybach), so is there a brand that stands out amongst Ankara producers and buyers. It can unequovocally be said that Ankara’s creme-de- la-creme is Vliso! Here, from their website:
Since 1846 Vlisco has been designing and producing colourful fashion fabrics that form an essential part of the lively West and Central African culture. Vlisco has an innate sense of the expressive and creative strength of African consumers and, for generations, has succeeded in surprising and inspiring her passionate clientele with unique designs. As the sole authentic designer and manufacturer of such fabrics as ‘Wax Hollandais’, Vlisco is unparalleled when it comes to quality, professional skill and innovation.
Some of their fabrics and designs are absolutely amazing; and I really do mean absolutely breath-taking! Those who know me, know I’m not necessarily a fan of African fashion (*once again dodging the stones*) but I’m feeling tempted none-the-less. It’s obviously not going to happen this season (winter) but heaven permits, it will spring-onwards. Enjoy pictures from their latest collection: