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Rebirth and trends in Ankara fabrics

By Lateefat Atanda Oreoluwa

Ankara is a popular patterned fabric mostly used in Africa, especially in Nigeria and Ghana. In the olden days, Ankara was made into formal, casual and traditional wears but in the recent times, it has been used to make shoes, bags and even jewelries. The diverse and multifaceted use of Ankara is one of the many reasons why the demand for Ankara in Africa is very high.

From the streets of Lagos or Accra, to countless boardrooms, and walkways all over the world, the Ankara fabric has proven to be versatile that it is now recognized on the global fashion scene. A number of celebrities have been spotted in Ankara ensembles on red carpets globally. To many also, the Ankara fabric has become a wardrobe staple.

The fabric is used to make a growing number of fashion items; bags, shoes, dresses, jewelries, sunglasses and countless accessories in the general perception of the Ankara fabric worldwide. The fabrics have undergone a magical transformation. Elegant creativity of the designers has made it a preferred choice of the rich and the celebrities. The African print fabric has metamorphosed from cultural attire to a glamorous wardrobe.

The Ankara trend has impacted the West African economy in a lot of ways, particularly the Nigerian economy. In the mid-1980s, there were about 180 functional textile mills in Nigeria, employing approximately a million people, and this accounted for more than 60 percent of the textile industry capacity in West Africa, empowering millions of households across all geopolitical Zones of Nigeria. This phenomenon however, changed shortly as the sector crashed into an industrial abyss. During this period, the number of textile companies dropped from about 180 to almost zero, according to a report on the textile sector titled “Nigeria’s textile industry on a Rebound.”

Ankara print fabrics are made through an Indonesian wax-resist dying techniques called Batik. Certain methods are used to “resist” the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating a pattern. The lack of divergence in colour intensity helps with the determination of the front and back wrong side of the fabric.

Ankara is usually sold in 12yards as “full piece” or 6yards as “half piece.” The company or producer, the type of fabric or product and registration number is printed on the selvage of the fabric to promote the quality and to protect the designs from imitators. Ankara fabric can be worn for regular outing, but many people consider it a luxurious fabric and wears for special & formal occasion. Some people wear it as “Aso ebi”, for special occasions such as wedding, burial, birthday celebration, balls etc.

Furthermore, due to the ready availability of Ankara in the local market, it has become the preferred choice when making custom designed outfits. What was once considered to be a local market has grown exponentially to meet the increasing demands for the fabric worldwide.

A lot of Ankara fashion shows are springing up daily all over the global fashion scene. One of the more noteworthy ones is the annual Ankara Festival hosted yearly in Los Angeles, California. The Festival or AFLA as it is commonly known was created in 2010 with the goal on increasing the visibility of African culture through fashion, Arts, music, dance and food. The Festival aims to showcase modern African Designs in Africa print (Ankara) established Africa and African inspired designers, young up and coming designers, providing them a venue to showcase their abilities, and develop their entrepreneurial ambition in the international fashion arena.

More so, a lot of renowned celebrities have also taken to this fashion trend. Beyoncé Knowles, Rihanna, Fergie and Kim Kardashian to name a few, have adopted the Ankara fabric and have been spotted in darning designs using one or more fabrics. The rise on the trend is not restricted to celebrities alone. A lot of foreigners who have seen the designs at work on it or even at school have joined the movement.

The overnight explosion of the use of Ankara fabric on the global fashion scene is perhaps one of the most notable fashion trends to have emerged from Africa over the last couple of years. The Ankara fabric is one of that is very versatile and constantly evolving to meet today’s fashion fads. It goes without emphasis therefore that the Ankara fabric and the trend have come to stay on the global fashion market.

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