African Print Fabrics: Symbolism and Significance

The allure of Stella McCartney’s captivating SS 2018 showcase still resonates with me.
The dynamic African print fabrics donned by models on that runway left an unforgettable impression. A recent Pinterest scroll unexpectedly thrust me back into those moments, presenting a snapshot of a Ghanaian model adorned in identical vibrant prints. Since then, a persistent thought has taken root—a journey into the rich history of these textiles, an adventure I’m thrilled to share with you.

We are going to start this journey by discovering African Ankara. When we say Ankara, people start thinking about the Capital of TĂŒrkiye but we refer to cotton fabric that the Dutch people initially manufactured for the Indonesian market. It is interesting that one of the most widespread African textiles – Ankara does not even originate from Africa but found its way to African cultures, mainly in Nigeria, Gana, and Senegal, and rooted well. Ankara is famous for its eye-catching, vibrant colors mostly inspired by African history, culture, folklore, and nature.
It is a “Well-respected” textile among Africans. On daily or ceremonial occasions, African people wear garments made with Ankara. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that Amkara is 100% cotton, highly eco-friendly, and ecologically sustainable. When Ankara was introduced to African cultures, African people adopted it well, likewise in the modern fashion world many designers adopted this textile and offered us memorable and mindblowing garments – the perfect blend of African Ankara vibrancy and contemporary designs.

Vibrant African Ankara Textile

Another authentic African textile – Kente has a very long story in African culture and dates back to the time of the Ashanti Empire (Current Gana). The etymology of the word – Kente – is very intriguing. The name “Kente” is derived from the Akan word “kenten,” which means “basket.” The name reflects the fabric’s resemblance to woven baskets. Like Ankara, Kente is characterized by its vibrant colors and patterns that frequently symbolize unity, love, bravery, wisdom, and even illustrate some historical events. Kente is one of the most exquisite parts of the immense African heritage.

Kente Printed Fabric

Mudcloth, also known as Bogolanfini, is a traditional African textile with a unique and distinctive appearance. It is mainly associated with the Bambara people of Mali, however, similar techniques can be found in other West African regions as well. Mudcloth is distinguished for its earthy colors, geometric patterns, and the labor-intensive process used to create it. It is fully based on natural materials as leaves, mud, and bark are used for coloring Mudcloth. Unlike the aforementioned African, printed fabrics, Mudcloth usually has a very neutral, earthy color palette; but it consists of certain symbols and geometric patterns that vary from region to region, where it is crafted. Craftsmanship needs to be highlighted as manufacturing natural Mudcloth is related to immense physical work and multiple steps. It is important to mention that Mudcloth is used not only in apparel but in interior design.

Handwoven, handpainted Mudcloth from Mali, outstands with its earthly colors.

In summary, Ankara, Kente, and Mudcloth fabrics are more than just textiles; they represent African culture, creativity, and identity. Their versatility, striking patterns, and cultural significance have made them a beloved and significant part of the global fashion and interior landscape.

Written and designed by Mariami Apriamashvili