Ankara fabric is a patterned 100% cotton fabric commonly associated with african fashion apparel, such as dashikis, headwraps, and other african formalwear.
The process to make ankara is originally influenced by Batik, an Indonesian (Javanese) method of dyeing cloth by using wax-resist techniques. For Batik, wax is melted and then patterned across the blank cloth. From there, the cloth is soaked in dye, which is prevented from covering the entire cloth by the wax. If additional colors are required, the wax-and-soak process is repeated with new patterns.
Ankara is different from Batik in that it is made through the dutch wax method. This method was created by the Dutch during their colonization of Indonesia in the 1800s, with the goal of flooding markets with cheap machine-made imitations of Batik. Unfortunately for the Dutch, these imitation wax-resist fabrics did not successfully penetrate the Batik market. They did, however, experience a strong reception in West Africa when Dutch trading vessels began introducing the fabrics in those ports.
The dutch wax prints quickly integrated themselves into african apparel. Women used the fabrics as a method of communication and expression, with certain patterns being used as a shared language, with widely understood meanings. Many patterns began receiving catchy names. Over time, the prints became more african-inspired, and african-owned by the mid-1900s. They also began to be used as formalwear by leaders, diplomats, and the wealthy population.
Ghana is Africa's current capital of ankara fabric production, with Woodin and ATL being notable large manufacturers (subsidiaries of Holland's Vlisco and the UK's ABC textiles).
Given that the prints are not native to African countries, and that even the leading manufacturers within African borders are subsidiaries of Dutch and British companies, there is a contingent of people that prefer more traditional African apparel, such as yoruba adire, adinkra cloth, and aso-oke.
But for us here at elevin, it's tough to deny how wonderful the combined Indonesian and African influence has been for the world of fabric :)
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