Sometime ago, I was chatting with my pen pal Andrew from Latvia and he sent me a picture wearing an Ankara design that I really admired. I said to him; “Andy that’s a really beautiful Ankara design” and he replied saying “What does Turkey have to do with my dress?”. I laughed my heart out.
Ankara is the capital of Turkey; everyone knows that but not everyone understands that Ankara is also a popular West African wax material worn all around the world. You could literally find thousands of albums of celebrity pictures adorning the beautiful Ankara design. Some key celebrities who have been spotted wearing beautiful Ankara designs include Beyonce, Solange, Gwen Steffani, Alicia keys, Kim Kardashian amongst others.
Ankara, otherwise known as African wax print, is one of the most versatile and well-liked fabrics on the market. The prints are colorful, eye-catching, and what's more? So adaptable! They're loud, but in a positive way – and in a fashionable way. They are almost always stunning to look at. They've become associated mostly with the continent of West Africa. These print designs come in a variety of styles, but they all have elegance, dynamism, and colorful patterns that make them stand out.
Ankara, though not of African origin, was embraced by Africans due to its affordability and texture which is suitable for the African climate. They were originally produced by the Dutch as batik replicas for Indonesians, but West Africa adopted the print, which is now widely regarded as African. Ankara was first introduced to the market as a low-cost mass-produced mimic of Indonesian batik fabrics and then became synonymous with Africa – especially West Africa – and becoming easy to assert due to the vibrant prints and largely handcrafted nature.
Ankara print materials are designed using an Indonesian wax-resist dyeing technique known as Batik, which involves a technique that prevents the dye from penetrating the entire cloth, resulting in a pattern (the ultimate print that is so desired). The Ankara print is versatile, comfortable, and easy to work with thanks to its simple cotton structure, allowing it to be made in a variety of styles. The fabric was allegedly used by Europeans to lure West Africans into slave merchandising, but we will never know for sure. But one thing is certain: what was once known as ‘Dutch Wax' or ‘Hollandis,' is now known in Nigerian parlance as Ankara, and even more commonly as African prints, since the colors and designs have become associated with African heritage.
Ankara is a very versatile fabric that can be used to make a variety of pieces, including hats, earrings, blazers, and shoes, to name a few. Fashion designers and fabric manufacturers have produced ankara prints on fabrics such as chiffon, silk, and spandex for clothing such as kaftans, iro, and bubas, bathing suits, sports bars, leggings, and socks to make ankara an even more versatile fabric.
Now that we have been well-grounded in the knowledge of Ankara and its widespread tentacles, we will delve into the types of Ankara materials that are out there. My mum before she started studying for her professorship used to sell Ankara in the busy market of Idumota, Lagos, Nigeria, and Seme, along the Benin-Nigeria coastal boundaries. She always told me that every Ankara material out there had a story to tell, apart from the already known fact that it was imported, we made it our own, we made it our fashion and we made it our history.
Firstly, allow me to discuss the popular Ghanian fabric known as Nsu Bura.
In other climes, Nsu Bura has come to be called Record. Ghanaians call this fabric Nsu Bura (or spelt Nsu Bra), which is from the (Akan) Twi language in Ghana and means, water well. The pattern is said to resemble the ripple effect of water when a stone is thrown into it. The Togolese call this cloth Target, Consulaire Gbédjégan, or Gbedze. This references the large straw hats that were traditionally worn by Royalty to protect them from the sun. The final design is said to be a modification of a drawing of a tie-dye circle pattern from 1926, created by Vlisco in 1936 by Mr. Piet, a Dutch fabric designer. It's incredible how a simple style from so long ago can still be a fashion staple in Africa. The Nsu Bura design has over time, metamorphosed into more than an exclusively royal dress code, African designers have developed a way to style this beautiful fabric into designs for all men. It is now widely worn by young ladies who style it into flowing gowns and head scarfs, young men who sew designer pants with this fabric, and even match the fashion with a white shirt and cap to fit.
This design is also known as Fleurs De Mariage (wedding flowers). The name 'Fleurs de Mariage' is derived from the Ivory Coast, where the pattern is also very common. This design is comparable to a wedding bouquet. This lovely style is a new take on an old classic print.
However, MGBOLODI, which means legumes in Igbo, is the name given to it by the Nigerian Igbo tribe. Just as legume crops are known to improve soil, that particular Ankara was thought to bring its owner and family success and prosperity.
In recent times, most African designers believe that the Mgbolodi fabric symbolizes the beauty of happiness in a marriage. They also believed that when owned or worn, the design will bring uncountable success and wealth to the owner and their family.
So when choosing what material to wear that will literally boost your confidence with its rich design and pattern, ask your vendor for any of these Ankara designs; mgbolodi, Fleurs de marriage, or rolls Royce as it is now commonly known in the Western world.
Sucre means Sugar in many cultures and this inspired the popular Ankara material known as Sugar. This pattern was also introduced into most African pre-colonial society Mr. Piet, a Dutch fabric designer.
This design is also often referred to as Sucre because the pattern resembles lumps of sugar. Sugar comes in many designs and patterns and has come to be widely accepted all around the world. One of the most commonly worn Sugar designs is the squared pattern design which is worn as a traditional outing wear in Africa.
Ankara has taken over the African fashion scene and slowly dominating Europe, displacing other famous fabrics such as guinea, Yoruba adire, tie and dye, kampala and others. The fabric has been used by celebrities and other political figures to create a variety of interesting designs, and it has also become a popular fashion choice for many, having been adapted to a variety of innovative accessories such as bags, shoes, bangles, phones pouches, and so on.
Written by @frankincense_gram (Instagram)