Ankara (African Print) was originally produced by the Dutch for the Indonesian textile market, but instead gained more popularity in Africa, eventually evolving to reflect African culture and lifestyle out of Dutch hands. Remnants of this technique in South-East Asia have taken the form of Batik, and is used widely in Indonesian and Malaysian cultural dress. Since its ascent into the international fashion scene, African prints have featured heavily in many famous brand collections. Renowned for its characteristic bold, colourful and dynamic geometric aesthetic, ankara has become synonymous with African fashion, and an attractive fashion statement for inspired designers.

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Vlisco

The Netherlands based Vlisco Group is the largest designer, producer and distributor of African wax prints. Their longevity in this market has cemented their mutual influence and dominance as the main supplier for African textile consumers. Since they began in 1846, Vlisco has transitioned from being a localised textiles maker to an international fashion house.  They have produced a wide variety of symbolic African prints, used by both African and non-African designers for their collections.

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Vlisco | Dutch Wax Collection | Funky Grooves 2012 Collection

Vlisco takes advantage of the Java or Wax Print technique, an industrialised Java-inspired production method where patterns are printed on cotton fabric with wax, and then immersed in indigo dye. The complexity of this process means that no two lengths of fabric are the same. In terms of patterns; geometric shapes, abstract objects and pictorial forms (such as birds and leaves) have become their signature motifs. Solid colour blocks and colours that display the natural craquelé effect of the wax print border the printed symbols to create the ankara look (WIPO, 2016).

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Junya Watanabe SS16 | Valentino SS16

Designers such as Junya Watanabe have utilised Vlisco’s array of colourful fabrics to shape his SS16 collection. Similarly, Valentino’s SS16 collection takes on a grunge-vintage interpretation of African textiles and clothing. However, the rise in popularity of African prints in Western fashion has not come without criticism. Censure exists surrounding the extent to which collections convey a sense of colonialism, as well as fetishizing exoticism and tribalism.

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Stella Jean | SS13 | SS14

Injecting some cultural relevance back into the fashion scene is Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean. Inspired by her biracial identity, Stella uses sustainably sourced fabric prints to make ethically sound, beautiful and bold garments. Her pieces shape African prints on European forms: borrowing and reconceptualising African textiles in a way that respects and ascentuates African culture in a celebrated fashion (Vogue, 2015).

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Selly Raby Kane | FW16/17 | FW14

Sengalese designer Selly Raby Kane takes African print fashion a step further. Selly is one of the few designers unafraid to put a surreal, almost cartoonish spin on traditional Sengalese fashion trends with her daring avant-garde designs.

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Bonono Merchants | House of Thethana [Left] Photogtaphy by Tseliso Monaheng | [Right] Photography by Boitumelo Thakali

Giving African artisinal craft the attention it needs, designers Chere Mongangane and Lemohang Mpobane co-founded the Lesotho-based fashion collective Bonono Merchants. Their fashion collective was formed as part of their plan to revolutionise the colonial mindset that still riddles the country. In Chere’s words: “A lot of what is deemed ‘our heritage’ is being exploited by people who don’t even reside in this country” (True Africa, 2016).

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Bonono Merchants | Seshoeshoe Baseball shirt dress | Photography by Chere Mongangane

Tackling issues of cultural appropriation, Bonono Merchants aims to combat archaic stereotypes and celebrate local artisinal craft by setting up a local-based firm to produce Seshoeshoe dressmaking fabric instead of importing it -with hopes to contribute and revive the economy. Their collective plays host to many local artisan brands such as Babatunde (who make fitted caps), Tumane Thabane (leather bags), and House of Thethana (textile design and decor).

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Maki Oh | Fall RTW 2014

Maki Oh is a Nigerian based fashion line that works with a small team of local artisans to produce modern versions of Adire (indigo fabric). Oh aims to revive the textile craft -which is becoming endangered by fast fashion practices- by opening up textile training centres. Her artisanal production method means that it takes weeks to make a few yards of fabric, her indigo leaf patterns are specially woven to encrypt secret messages. The final product is a clean, artistic blend of sophistication and tradition.

Written by Alice Pearce

Edited by Christina Wright

References
 True Africa (2016). “Our heritage” is being exploited: This Lesotho fashion collective is fighting back. [Online] Available at: http://trueafrica.co/article/heritage-exploited-lesotho-fashion-collective-fighting-back/

Vogue (2015). Stella Jean Spring 2016 Ready-to-Wear. [Online] Available at: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/stella-jean

WIPO (2016). The Fabled Cloth and its IP Future: Vlisco Group, the Netherlands. [Online] Available at: http://www.wipo.int/ipadvantage/en/details.jsp?id=3501